Play, come rain or shine

Written by: Ailsa Chapman
12 July 2018

We resume our series of articles that look at the possibilities for play and learning inherent in certain popular and common early years resources and materials – this month, the weather.

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The weather is a fascinating topic for young children and one that they are usually familiar with as they hear their parents and other adults discussing it frequently. Weather can also be emotive, reminding children of holidays in hot places or conjuring up the magic of Christmas with the hope of snowfall. Especially in Britain, children have fantastic opportunities to see different types of weather first-hand and very often in the same day. Utilise this inclement weather and allow the children to be outside experiencing the rain and sun, cloudy and windy weather, and hopefully some snow during the course of the year.

Remember that early years mantra, that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!’, and remind parents that children have access to the outside area in all weathers and that their clothing needs to be appropriate. If funding allows, try and invest in some all-in-one waterproof suits and Wellington boots for the children in your setting so they can really explore and experience the outside in all conditions.

Parental concerns about the weather and being outside

I do think it needs to be acknowledged that some parents/carers are very reluctant to allow their children to be outside in very cold or wet conditions. As educators of young children who know and understand the huge physical and mental health benefits that being outside brings, we need to ensure we are armed with the correct information to allay parental fears and concerns regarding the weather.

For the vast majority of healthy children, being outside in all weathers will have no ill effects. In fact, it is far healthier for the children to be physically active outside in cold weather, rather than in an overheated classroom where the germs can spread far more easily. Children do not catch colds from being cold; colds are caused by viruses. Children do, of course, need to be protected from the sun and shade needs to be sought in hot weather, as well as using sunscreen, hats, and encouraging that they drink plenty of water.

Educate parents of the benefits of outside play at parents’ evenings, ‘New to nursery’, or reception meetings, via leaflets and displays. If a parent says to me that their child is too unwell to go outside, I say that ‘I am sorry but they are then too unwell to be at school/nursery’, because free flow to the outside is a non-negotiable. Of course, health conditions, such as hayfever, asthma and compromised immune systems must be catered for and taken seriously.

All aspects of the foundation stage can be covered in a topic about the weather and it allows for first-hand learning experiences and opportunities for active learning.

Starting your topic

Always start from what the children know and build on this knowledge.

Brainstorming ‘what we know about weather’

Encourage the children in your setting to talk about the weather as a group and find out all the things they already know. Ensure that you act as scribe and jot down the pertinent things that they say. As you write, you are modelling the writing process to the children, which is an essential skill to teach; also, as you read the words back to the children you are modelling reading skills. Get the children to help with sounding out the words with you. You will probably be amazed at how much the children know and their conversations are likely to go off at unexpected tangents during the session!

Ask the children if there is anything that they would like to find out about the weather that they do not already know and ask them if they can think of ways that they could find out that information (books, internet, asking people, observing first-hand)? Ask the children, if not already mentioned, if they can think of different types of weather and make some sub-headings from which to scaffold your topic in to manageable chunks! For example, the sub-headings could be: Sun; rain; wind; clouds and fog; snow and ice.

Obviously, these sub headings can be rearranged to suit the current weather conditions at the time of your topic. If it is snowing, carry out the snow and ice part first, and so on.

Sunny days

  • Talk to the children about their favourite type of weather and they will often say it is ‘sunny days’. Discuss the importance of wearing sunscreen and hats to protect their skin from the sun, and keeping out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. Ask the children if they have been on holiday to any hot places and ask them to bring in photographs and postcards of those places.
  • Make a display using a world map and string, pointing from the places to the photos and postcards, and any captions the children have written about their memories of the holiday. You could also:
  • Make a bar chart to show popular sunny holiday destinations, both at home and abroad.
  • Set up a desert small world scenario in a tuff tray by using sand, camels, snakes, spiders, and lizards, and talk to the children about what it must be like to have so little water and how the wildlife must adapt itself to these barren living conditions.
  • Set up a beach area (preferably outside) using tuff trays or sand pits with buckets and spades, flags for the sand castles, and so on. Get the children digging and creating sandcastles. Alongside, you could create an ice cream kiosk and the children can help to make pretend ice creams and write labels and price labels for the items sold. Provide a cash register and some money and purses.
  • On a sunny day, investigate shadows by chalking around children’s shadows and then standing the children in the same spot every hour and re-chalking it to show how the shadow moves as the day progresses. Talk about how the sun does not move, instead, it is the earth that moves around the sun during the day, giving us day and night.
  • Carry out some close observational drawings or paintings of sunflowers (provide a bunch of real sunflowers for the children to observe). Show the children a print of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and discuss. Plant your own sunflower seeds and have a competition to see whose grows the tallest. Take a full-length photo of each child, cut around them, laminate and stick to lolly sticks or bamboo canes to put in each pot so the children can see at a glance how their seed is growing in relation to everyone else’s. This is a fantastic opportunity for using mathematical language, such as taller, shorter, longer, and so on.
  • Read The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle, and talk about how things grow and the conditions in which plants need to grow and flourish. Plant a variety of seeds, such as nasturtiums and cress, which grow quickly and easily.
  • Write poems about sunny days and scribe for the children as necessary. Perhaps you could write a group poem, incorporating ideas from all the children?

Rainy days

Start by talking to the children about the rain and what they like and dislike about it. Do they know any songs or rhymes about the weather? Try singing some old favourites, especially on rainy days: I hear thunder…; Incy Wincy Spider; Doctor Foster; The rain in Spain….

Ensure that, when it rains, the children can go outside and really experience it. Put wellies on and allow the children to splash in the puddles and use umbrellas to investigate how they can shield people from the rain. Get the children to really listen to the sound of the raindrops and talk about the sound they make. What materials could you use to make the raindrops sound louder or softer? Talk to the children about why we need rain and why it is important to conserve rain water. How can we save water? Can you make rain gauges to collect water and to measure how much is in the containers? You could also:

  • Paint rainy day pictures by mixing powder paints to make the appropriate shades.
  • Investigate materials to see which are waterproof and which are not.
  • Set up water tray activities that involve pouring using watering cans, and so on.
  • Create storm sounds using percussion instruments.
  • Create a rain forest small world scenario using a cement tray with greengrocer’s grass, and plastic models of animals, such as monkeys, butterflies, frogs, snakes and leopards. Either make trees or use foliage, such as spider plants and tree bark. Talk to the children about rain forests and how it is important that we look after the environment – talk about why rain forests are in danger.
  • Make a rain chart and check the rain each hour. Record using labels, such as an open umbrella and a closed umbrella to record whether it is raining or not. At the end of the week, you could talk about which day it rained most and which days were fine.
  • Buy some transparent umbrellas (easily available online fairly cheaply, from places such as ebay and Amazon. When these are put up, they can be held by a child (they could sit down with their legs crossed to make the umbrella more accessible) while another child paints on the outside of the umbrella with ready mix paints. This is a fantastic sensory experience for both the painter and the child observing from under the umbrella!

Wind

Start by taking the children outside on a windy day to observe the effects of the wind on the trees, leaves, grass, flowers, and litter. Ask the children to notice all the movement and to think of words to describe what they can see. Talk about the things they can see and also what they hear and smell. Encourage the children to move freely in the wind; walking, running and jumping in all directions and spinning around. As they move, ask them to describe how they feel.

Try giving the children each a balloon on a string and ask them to move around with the balloons, holding on tightly to their strings. What is the wind doing to the balloon? Ask the children questions, such as: Can we see the wind? How do we know it is there? Can you hear any rustling? What other sounds can you hear? How do your cheeks, eyes and fingers feel? You could also:

  • Create group windy poems by writing down children’s phrases in a list, which the children could illustrate.
  • Fill a washing up bowl almost to overflowing, so that the wind will ‘catch’ it and create small waves and ripples. Make some simple sailing boats with the children and investigate what happens when they are put to sail on the water.
  • Make simple kites and try flying them outside on a windy day.
  • Wash the dolls’ clothes and let the children peg them outside on a washing line on a windy day to watch them dry.

Cloud and fog

Discuss what they think clouds are. Explain that they are filled with water droplets that turn in to rain and that fog is when the clouds come down really low and make visibility difficult. Some children may have been in an aeroplane and experienced being above the clouds. Ensure that the children go outside and look at the different shaped clouds and move around outside on a foggy day. Can they see far in to the distance? You could also:

  • Cut out pictures of cars, houses, people and animals from magazines and stick them on paper. Assemble these on paper to create outside scenes and then cover with tracing paper to represent fog.
  • Create foggy day scenes using wax resist technique and painting over their drawings with thinly mixed grey powder paints.

Snow and ice

Snow and ice are perhaps the most magical weather conditions for young children. If you are lucky enough to have snowfall, wrap the children up warmly and get them outside. Help the children to walk safely on snow and ice, and help them to make snowmen and snowballs. Let them touch the snow and describe the feeling. Who can forget the excitement of tasting snow as it falls from the sky?

Give the children wonderful memories to treasure by encouraging a sensory experience of the snow. Similarly, on an icy day, go outside and see how busy Jack Frost has been. Look at and touch the icicles; see how puddles and other bodies of water, such as in the water tray, have frozen. You could also:

  • Make snowflakes by folding and cutting paper.
  • Freeze coloured water in rubber gloves or balloons and then cut off the rubber and let the children investigate the frozen hands/balloons. You could also freeze objects in to them, such as leaves or flowers, mini animals, and so on.
  • Make collages of snow scenes using cotton wool, glitter, white paint and wool, and so on.
  • Make your own fruit sorbets and ice lollies. There are a huge variety of lolly moulds available from most supermarkets in the summer months, at a reasonable price.
  • Talk to the children about real-life explorers, such as Scott of the Antarctic and Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who travelled to cold places to find out more about our world.
  • Pour out a couple of bags of ice cubes on to a tuff tray. Sprinkle with powder paints of different colours and provide paintbrushes so that the children can mix the paints. Lay a length of a roll of paper (for example, wallpaper lining paper, backing paper, and so on) alongside the tuff tray so that the children can ‘paint’ using the ice cubes covered with the powder paint. It should make for some interesting results!

Conclusion

There is not enough space here to list all the activities that could be explored in a topic on weather. However, I hope the above article has given some pointers to help your class get started. It is something that children experience every day and that they will all already know something about. Make the most of our sometimes frustratingly inclement weather conditions and the children cannot fail to learn more.

As educators, it is essential that we give our youngest children the opportunity to experience weather fat irst-hand, armed with the necessary precautions (waterproof jackets/boots/sunscreen/hats…), so that all the sensory pleasures of being outside and actually ‘feeling’ the weather, in the moment, are not denied. eye