3 Questions for the True Hero of Our Pandemic Winter: A Teacher

We asked a few questions that may be on the mind of parents navigating winter outdoor childminding and playdates.

kid playing with snow
Nelly Aran | Pexels
By Brian Kevin

Sarah Schrader teaches first grade at Hope Elementary School, in the midcoast town of Hope, where, like many Maine teachers, she’s taken much of her curriculum outdoors, as studies show virus transmission rates drop substantially outside. While many public school teachers are new to outdoor classrooms, Schrader has a leg up, having formerly taught at Maine’s Juniper Hill School for Place-Based Education, in Alna, where outdoor learning is the norm. We asked a few questions that may be on the mind of parents navigating winter outdoor childminding and playdates.

With visits to museums, movies, tumbling gyms, and the Y all curtailed, what’s the trick to keeping kids psyched about playing outside, perhaps in the same yard, weekend after weekend?

Kids are like wild animals — they belong out there. They notice everything, and there’s so much that sparks their curiosity. If you’re sitting around, and they’re not engaged, then maybe they start getting cold and grouchy. But when they’re engaged, they’re so resilient. Much more than adults. 

I think sometimes we think kids are going to need more to be entertained. Like, we need a trampoline out there! Or even just a sledding hill! But they figure it out. We might see a field of snow, but a kid who goes out there sees it so differently, and they find something to do. A forest can be a really magical place — it’s so dynamic, with nooks and crannies for them to burrow into, and they love those tight spaces. And the more they build a relationship with a space, the more wonder is cracked open and out of it. 

What should parents know about dressing a kid for the Maine winter?

The point I try to hit home is that cotton kills. If you get wet in wool or synthetic layers, you can still stay warm, but if cotton gets wet and it’s a really cold day, you’re done. Then, there’s a real difference between waterproof and water-resistant, and a lot of snow pants aren’t waterproof. Maine has a lot of sloppy, wet, warm-ish days, and that’s the hardest weather to stay safe in, when your snow pants and mittens get soaked.

With outdoor playdates the order of the day, any tips for keeping kids masked and distanced?

It helps to have explicit conversations about why we’re wearing masks. I use language about keeping each other safe — so instead of saying “step away” or “you’re too close,” I’ll say, “let’s keep this person safe.” I also taught them that a coyote is about 3 feet from nose to tail and that a bald eagle’s wingspan can be 6 feet. So I’ll say, “Can a coyote fit between you? Can you imagine a bald eagle between us?” Then comes reflection: how did that go? It’s about helping them build an awareness of what’s around them.

Read more tips about COVID-friendly winter outdoor hangs!