Winter wonderland in February?

Well, we knew there was some snow in the forecast, but we weren’t quite expecting this much! Monday morning arrived with a skiff of snow decorating the park. It was also covering all of the ice which made things a bit hazardous. It was a learning experience for all of us to figure out how to navigate the park. The children seemed to find it very entertaining and went straight to work clearing off one small area of the field to slip and slide on. In fact, the children kept returning to the same spot all week and uncovering it every morning, even as the snow piled up. By Thursday, the snow was almost too deep for much sliding but for the rest of the week, most of the morning was devoted to sliding on our own little ice rink! Some of the children realized that if they took a run at it, they could really fly.

Monday was our sunniest day this week, so of course we ended up at our shadiest play site. Krystal and I were trying to decide if we had ever noticed just how much shade that bid red bridge throws out in the winter. Our conclusion was that it’s more often than not cloudy this time of year and so usually irrelevant. The children didn’t seem to mind at all. They climbed trees and made good use of the old fort at Cottonwood Forest. The snow was perfect for finding animal tracks, so some of the children spent some time exploring what animals had been visiting Cottonwood Forest without us. Some of the children even braved the chilly air to take off their mitts and practice some tying. We did eventually decide to try and find some sunshine so we moved just past the juniper tree the children use to climb and explored the bridge over the creek. The path down was very icy and several of the children spent the rest of the morning slipping and sliding.

When the children arrived on Tuesday, there was another skiff of snow and another round of clearing off our slip and slide and another morning of sliding! However, when we went off to our play site, we discovered that the creek has already begun to rise! Those warm days last week have done their work and our beloved Woodpecker Woods was too flooded to play at today. Up the hill we went, then, to spend our day climbing, sliding and bird watching. There was a bit of a chill to the air on Tuesday so it turned out to be a lucky strike for us to be somewhere with so much climbing to do. All that climbing made for some toasty preschoolers. One of the nearby backyards has several well stocked bird feeders, so one of the smaller children decided that climbing was just too much work and instead spent most of her morning watching all of the birds flitting around the tree. We spotted a downy woodpecker, chickadees, some juncos, sparrows and even a magpie or two. We did get quite the surprise at the end of the day though. As we were watching the birds flutter from tree to feeder to tree again, a sudden flash of dark gray tore through the yard and straight through the giant pine tree at the yard’s edge. As it emerged, the kestrel showed it’s white striped belly as it grabbed for an unfortunate songbird and as quickly as it came, it was gone, with it’s lunch clutched in it’s talons.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we were completely shocked to see our park tucked back under her winter blanket once again. Snow, snow and more snow. It just kept coming down. However, it was pleasantly warm and it sure was a lot of fun to play in. All the snow meant our original plan for these two days went out the window. This late in the season, we know our days of shin high fluffy snow are almost past and we didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to make the most of it. We ate out at the picnic table without our tent and we spent those two days at the far end of the field, sliding and climbing through the snow. We chose this new hill instead of returning to Sandy Sliding Hill because it’s always fun to change things up but also because we want to make sure we’re modelling proper stewardship for the park and letting out play sites properly recover before we return. This sliding hill is a bit smaller, but it offers a new unique climbing challenge. It’s steep and slippery. To make it a little easier (and coincidentally, to allow the children to discover a new skill), Krystal tied some guide ropes to the sturdy Russian Olive tree at the top of the hill. The children used the rope to learn how to lean back and leverage their bodies to help them climb. Some of the children seemed to pick up this new skill almost intuitively. Others watched their friends trying it out for themselves. And some of the children needed a more hands on help to master the challenge. However, by the end of Thursday morning, all of the children who had showed an interest in climbing up the hill had made it up at least a few times. On Thursday, we also had one of the children bring their snow shovels to share with the class again. It was such a fun and creative way to play with the snow that it got me and Krystal talking about how/if we can get some for the program so we can use them more often! The children worked together to shovel pathways in the deep snow. Just a few, at first. As the pathways got longer, the children decided they were, instead, a race track. This concept drew a few more children to the shovels and more children meant longer pathways and before the end of the morning almost all of the children had found their way to the pathways and shovels! There was a lot of discussion about when the race would start and who would race. We were given a three minute warning and admonished to make sure we watched…but the shoveling was so engrossing, we never made it to the racing part!

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