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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Winter Whispers: A Weekly Drop-off Program for Young Children

After several stormy grey days, I looked out the window this weekend to see the sun illuminating a stunning winter wonderland. A sparkling white blanket laid out across the fields behind my home and, with every tree branch laced in white, the frosted mountains in the background seemed to glow. I set out on skis across the expanse of my neighbor's pasture while my eyes feasted on the landscape's offering of eye candy. I moved over the crusted blanket and felt like a child brimming with excitement. It seemed as though I was transported into a magical land. The cool air on my cheeks was invigorating. The sounds of my skis moving over the snow and light wind blowing through the crusted branches filled my ears.

My excitement grew as I encountered story after story written in the snow by local wildlife. A snowshoe hare left tracks darting across the expanse. A coyote had wandered the tree line along a brook and circled twice around mink tracks before sauntering on. My senses were fully awake as I made my way through the stories and the frozen landscape. Winter whispers many secrets.

I realized the frosty view from inside my cozy home was lovely, but it did not compare with the experience of becoming a part of the landscape - making discoveries and experiencing the inherent wonders of winter first hand. I could not possibly hear the whisper of winter until I was out in the snow, surrounded by frosty air and a world of white!

At that moment, because I work with young children in a classroom without walls, I thrilled to think of sharing many similar wonders of winter with wee ones this season! Every moment, young children are learning about their world and rapidly building strong neural connections. They do so largely through their senses with curiosity as the driver. The more senses that are engaged, the deeper the learning process. Natural spaces in winter provide an exciting, rich learning and play environment. I am pleased to share that for six weeks starting mid-January, the North Branch Nature Center will offer a drop-off program for children, age 3.5 to 5, to discover what winter is whispering about.

Winter offers not only myself but also young children a wonder-filled season to imagine, play, and learn. Winter Whispers is a program that supports children's innate curiosity and individual learning process through play, open- ended art, and exploration of the natural world in the frosty months of January and February. Children will spend a portion of every morning outdoors, having an opportunity to engage all their senses while encountering winter's many wonders. In addition, our program offers time to cozy up indoors for winter related stories, songs, and art as well as exploration of Vermont wildlife's winter habits.

Althea Brown, assistant teacher, and I look forward to looking, listening, and feeling with young children outdoors as we play and learn about ourselves and our connection to the natural world we are a part of in Vermont - all amidst the whispers of winter this season.

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