Creating a Rich Winter Learning Environment
Whether your children board the iconic yellow school bus and head off to the local school, or pull on their slippers and head to the family table for school, there are many ways to create a rich learning environment in your home. Learning doesn’t have to be compartmentalized into school or homeschool hours; it’s all about keeping curiosity and a love for learning alive, and that can happen any time, in any season.
The backbone of a rich learning environment in the winter season is a warm, inviting space. After all, that spark of curiosity can dwindle when we’re chilled from nose to toes. We haven’t reached our goal of installing a wood stove yet, so we find other ways to bring warmth into our home:
- Slipper basket – we keep a basket of slippers by the door, with one pair for each family member, plus extras for guests.
- Blankets & cushions – several cozy blankets and cushions don our living room and the children know they’re welcome to shuffle them around to create cozy nests where they can sit and read, draw, watch birds and more.
- Area rugs – there is always one area rug in our living room, yet in the colder winter months we sometimes bring down a second.
- Light – the idea of celebrating light in the dark season of winter is big in our home, and we love to have plenty of beeswax candles around. They not only bring a warm light, they also smell so lovely. All the better when the candles are crafted by a local artisan with beeswax from a local apiarist, creating one more layer of warmth – the warmth of community.
Yes, you read that correctly! I am a food-lover all around – I love to grow it, cook it, eat it, gift it… and so when thinking about a rich, warm learning environment in the dark, cold months of winter, food is top of mind. Below are a few of our favourite winter treats that are often a part of our story time or set out on the table for rosy-cheeked littles who have just come in from outdoor play:
- Popcorn – there’s nothing like a large bowl of warm popcorn to warm your hands and your heart! Try it with melted butter and honey, or a butter-salt-nutritional yeast combo. Delicious.
- Muffins – we have some family favourites, and also love to make muffins using the herb we are learning about at the time, like these Calendula Banana Muffins.
- Tea – so popular around these parts that it officially worked into our daily rhythm as Tea & Story Time. There are so many amazing, caffeine-free teas out there to explore, some right outside your door (look up Pineapple Weed, for example)!
- Hot cocoa – I think a strong memory for our kids will be coming in from outdoor learning and exploration to a mug of warm and nourishing hot cocoa. Check out our favourite Nourishing Hot Cocoa recipe.
Learning baskets & stations
Are there areas in your home where the cold is more intense? For us, it’s in our dining room, where the floor hangs over the basement a bit, or close to some of the older windows in our home. In an older house, where there can be chilly spots, learning baskets are a great option so that children can take a project with them and cozy up in a warm nook using blankets and cushions. Try these baskets as a starting point, and get creative with topics your children are into.
If there are winter birds in your area, and you have somewhere to hang a feeder, this is a great calm and quiet activity. Ideas for your bird-watching basket:
- Local birds field guide (Peterson is great)
- Binoculars (the key here is to get ones that really work, not just a toy version)
- Bird-watching checklist (download a free printable version).
- Pencils and paper or a sketch book for bird sketches
- Origami paper and instructions to make a paper bird
Seasonal Book Basket
With so many great books to read, it helps to save certain ones for special times throughout the year. A simple basket kept in the living room is a great place for seasonal books. Get Tiny Peasant’s free Winter Book List.
Board Games Area
Board games are a great way to encourage skills like cooperation, team-building, turn-taking, and problem-solving. Create a cozy gaming or puzzle area on a special table or on the floor with cushions and blankets – and maybe a big bowl of popcorn. Check out the Winter 2015 issue of EcoParent for 4 pages of board game suggestions for various ages!