Winter Learning – Inside and Outside

By Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Long ago, in the sparsely populated Dakota Territory, Laura Ingalls and her family experienced a lengthy winter with devastating blizzards. To carry on in their cold and isolated setting, the Ingalls family learned to heat their home with alternative fuel (logs made from hay) and make a small amount of food and water last as long as possible. This is the premise of The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the sixth of nine books in her Little House series. The Long Winter is one of many examples of literature that make good reading during a winter break. 

In The Long Winter, readers learn about the difficulties pioneers faced in earlier times. At the same time, students on break keep their brains active by reading and thinking. To add an element of fun, suggest a blanket fort or curling up in a sleeping bag as two ways to create a safe and warm environment in which to read these winter adventures. 

My students at Wisconsin Connections Academy, a tuition-free public virtual charter school, learn a lot online. Stepping away from the screen and getting immersed in a book is still a wonderful way to keep young minds active and growing. In addition to reading, there are many options for learning during a midwinter break. 

Jan Brett’s books will fascinate young readers and artists of any age. Trouble with Trolls; The Night Before Christmas; Annie and the Wild Animals; Three Snow Bears; The Mitten – the list of winter weather literature goes on and on. Brett’s web site,, features her latest book tours, games, activities, and coloring pages, too. 

Coloring isn’t just for kids, either. Coloring books for all ages, even grown-ups, fill the shelves at craft stores. Look for an interesting theme like cats, flowers, fashion, or butterflies. Mandalas, repeating patterns in a circular design, make especially therapeutic coloring materials. Next, look at the vast and varied inventory of colored pencils – it could take quite a while to gather supplies and make the trek to the checkout!

Reading and coloring can be solitary and quiet pursuits. On the other hand, playing old fashioned board games in a group is a great way to practice both skill and socialization. Look for Yahtzee for the family math whiz. Word games like Scrabble and Bananagrams appeal to the verbal-linguistic types. History buffs often excel at Trivial Pursuit. Games of strategy like checkers and chess can be competitive or not, as best fits the family.

Everyday household activities can be amazing learning opportunities. Bring your beginning cook or aspiring chef into the kitchen to make sandwiches or cook a simple meal. Bake cookies, brownies, or other tasty treats – good luck waiting for these to cool! Math and science are natural extensions of cooking and baking, too. Double a recipe or cut it in half, and computing with fractions becomes a real-life skill. An experience with yeast and sugar can inspire curiosity and lead to research on chemical reactions. Without yeast, how do biscuits or muffins rise? There’s a query for the budding food scientist.

Take time to observe the many creatures that choose not to hibernate or migrate to the south. A small birdfeeder in a sheltered spot under a tree or shrub can attract a wide variety of bird breeds. Watching the visitors to a bird feeder can lead to reading bird guides or learning to use a camera well to document the brightly colored species that visit. Once the birds discover the feeder, however, keep it full. Those feathered friends will depend on their human cousins to provide until spring arrives. 

Restless? Try yoga. The physical and mental focus of yoga can energize both the body and the mind. Weather permitting, go outside! Shoveling snow, snow-shoeing, skiing downhill or cross-country – with snow and a little energy, winter sports are a fun way to fill the short daylight hours of December. Look around your community; some parks maintain ice rinks for skating, and many hills call out for sledding. 

School breaks provide a time to rest – a mental and physical break from school structure. But learning doesn’t have to stop. Opportunities abound during breaks, if parents and students know how to find them. 

Tracy Ostwald-Kowald is a Language Arts, Social Studies and Music teacher at Wisconsin Connections Academy

One thought on “Winter Learning – Inside and Outside

  1. Pingback: Teaching Today and Me | Compost Happens

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