Greenplay Northwest, a non-profit organization that provides nature-based early learning opportunities for children and their families, believes young children should have access to outdoor play in all weather. Even during the coldest days of winter. At Vinegar Flats Farm School, the organization’s Spokane location that opened in 2018, you can find 3-6 year-olds outside four days per week all winter long.
Children at the farm spend their time stomping frozen puddles, painting the snow, sledding and building shelters in even the coldest eastern Washington weather, says Hope Helms, program administrator for Greenplay Northwest. “What we know is that children learn best through play, and yet traditional preschool programs offer very little time and space for true play to occur,” explains Helms. “True play is intrinsically motivated, freely chosen, and creative! I am driven by the belief that this play is absolutely essential, and that it happens best outdoors.”
One of the most common questions that the outdoor educators at Greenplay Northwest get asked, says Helms, is how do the children manage the cold winter weather. In order for children to be outside for extended periods in the cold, she always explains, dressing appropriately is essential. Children in outdoor nature programs like those provided by Greenplay Northwest typically wear at least three layers for cold-weather play. That includes a wool or synthetic baselayer, a warm mid-layer (wool or fleece), and a waterproof outerlayer. Waterproof mittens are essential too, she says, as well as warm insulated boots.
While wearing weather-appropriate layered clothing is essential for kids to have a positive experience outdoors in the winter, Helms says attitude is also critical. “When adults respond to different weather with curiosity and acceptance, children will tend to follow suit,” explains Helms. “The changes that we see in the environment each day are one of the biggest benefits of outdoor programs. The environment determines what we will experience, and therefore what the children will be learning, each day.” When children feel connected to the land that they are on, says Helms, they are excited to see these changes throughout the year. “It makes even the coldest days ones that are full of adventures!”
For the 2024/2025 school year, Greenplay Northwest will offer 2-day nature immersion programs for children ages 3-6 at two farms, one in Spokane and one in Spokane Valley. Registration for these programs will open February 12. Interested families can email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information about upcoming tour dates. Greenplay Northwest will also be hosting Summer Nature Camps for children ages 4-7 at Vinegar Flats Farm throughout the summer months. Vinegar Flats Farm School will host tours for the 2024/2025 school year in January. Learn more about these and other outdoor programs at Greenplaynw.org.
Cover photo courtesy of Greenplay Northwest