Research Summary

‘Winter children’: An ethnographically inspired study of children being-and-becoming well-versed in snow and ice

Play in/with snow and ice provides opportunities for children to develop knowledge and skills regarding who they are and who they can become

Sport, Education and Society

The developmental and educational importance of self-initiated outdoor play is well documented in the literature. The supporting research, however, has rarely included play in demanding winter landscapes. This study explored how a group of children build their understanding of themselves and their environment during playful explorations in/with snow and ice.

Twenty children (age 4-6) in a Norwegian Nature Kindergarten participated in this study which was conducted during the coldest time of the year. Researchers used observations, children’s photographs, and on-site conversations to gather information about children’s playful movement and experiences in the winter landscape, which in this study is referred to as a “winterscape.” While winterscape is generally understood ”to be a cold, white or grayish environment, partly or fully covered by snow and ice,” in this study it “refers to an environment for play and growth that children shape, understand and make their own through their activities.” This understanding of winterscape highlights how the environment – rather than being neutral and a backdrop for children’s play – is “always becoming” in response to the children’s activity. This concept is consistent with the idea of “affordances” which refer to possibilities for various activities. Affordances emerge “from a combination of the surroundings and the ways in which the individual child understands its possibilities.”

Data collection and analysis focused on how winter weather and winter materials influenced children’s play. The collection of data included visual observation and active participation in children’s play. This “play along” strategy allowed the researcher to engage in “mutual experiences” with the children. The researcher also photographed, video recorded, and wrote detailed fieldnotes concerning children’s playing with materials in the winterscape. Six of the children also photographed situations depicting their interests. These photographs were then used in interviews with the children.

The children found the winterscape attractive and challenging. The winterscape gave them an opportunity to explore who they are in the present and who they could become in a meshwork of relationships. As they played in the winterscape, the children were able to “familiarize themselves with their environment as being-and-becoming winter children.”