By Sarah Gould-Houde, QUALITYstarsNY Quality Improvement Specialist

Winter lends itself to all sorts of exciting ways to explore the outdoors.  We all know it can be a trick to get all of the children ready to go outside, but that too can become a wonderful learning experience, and a necessary step in getting fresh air throughout the year.  One of the ways we support programs enrolled in QUALITYstarsNY is to brainstorm how to implement program changes that enhance children’s developmentWe understand the great importance of daily outdoor play, but are also aware of the numerous hurdles that make this a challengeSometimes reframing and planning can make a difficult task more manageableHere are some things to consider when planning outdoor winter play for children:

The benefits of playing outside during safe temperatures far outweigh staying inside. Though it takes time to get children dressed for outdoor play, think of all they learn, including many self-help skills and sequencing when learning. First snow pants, then boots, then coat, then hat, then mittens, and THEN outsideOnce outside, children benefit greatly from gusts of fresh air, looking into the sky and past the horizon, learning to self-regulate when a bit uncomfortable, navigating snow and ice, etc.  Children can explore and play and tend to have better naps after having some much-needed fresh airIf you are wondering when temperatures are safe to be outside, please refer to the Child Care Weather Watch document that can be found online:  This resource helps you determine safe temperature and wind conditions for having children outside year-round. 

Another hurdle to going outside is making sure children have the clothing they needIt is always great to ask families if they have extras to keep in care, and if families have items they have outgrown that they would like to donate to your program, for you to lend or give to other families.  Rene Leonard is a Group Family Child Care Provider and QUALITYstarsNY participant who has a full clothing lending and take-as-needed closet/community cupboard for families, as seen in the photoIt is stocked with clothing families no longer need and is made available for families who may need them.  Sometimes staff have a difficult time ensuring they have the clothing needed for outside play, such as good boots, snow pants, and gloves. Some centers provide staff with a stipend to purchase the needed clothes to provide outdoor play.

One last hurdle to tackle is having a safe outdoor space for play.  Just like mowing the lawn in the summer, find strategies to prepare an outdoor space. This may mean shoveling to be able to open the playground fence, safely blocking off climbers when the ground is frozen, salting spaces so they do not become too icy, etc.  This is something that needs to be tended to for children to have spaces to play outside.  If you can make a plan and assign staff or ask for volunteers to support preparing outdoor winter play spaces you are more likely to have a space for play and exploration. 

Once you get outside, a fun experiment to try is blowing bubbles when it is cold! Try it and see what happens, I promise you, it will spark the joy of the cold in all.   

If you are interested in learning more about winter outdoor play, check out our blog post highlighting QUALITYstarsNY program Exploration Acres’ visit from New York State Senate lawmakers on their Child Care Listening Tour back in 2022.