Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

The Five Senses in the Fourth Season

Jan 01, 2022 12:00AM ● By Alysse Gear Jutrzonka

The author explores Humboldt Park in Milwaukee with her bundled babe.

Please don’t tell the Instagram moms, but I am not into sensory bins (a bin filled with items to stimulate a child’s senses).

They’re messy, a fair bit of prep work for potentially little time in use—and when there are other tiny hands in the home, can be scary for many a parent.

But the main reason that I feel good about skipping curated “sensory stuff” is that our family loves to layer up and go outside, no matter the weather! As the Scandinavian saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Spending time outside every day, even for a little while, provides rich sensory experiences that no box can replicate.

Frigid temperatures may make us Wisconsinites want to hibernate from December to April, but here are some simple sensory ideas—and new ways of thinking about what you already do—to give yourself a nature break while helping your child learn about their body and the world.

No Supplies Needed


T

Searching for winter berries is a lovely opportunity to talk about colors and notice the sounds of the birds that love them. (Save the tasting for other types of berries!)

ake a snowy or slushy walk around the block—or into the nearest woods. Listen for the crunching snow beneath your feet, or the distinct sound of walking on salt if you’re in the city. Stomp into different snow banks and feel how deeply you sink down—and how quickly. This supports your child’s proprioception, a sense beyond the main five that provides awareness of the body parts in relation to one another. Challenge your kids to balance on top of the snow bank, and hold their hands as they sink down into the cold!

Smell plants you see along the way, such as evergreens, and notice if their scent is as strong in the dry winter air. Once you're nearly back home, lay in the snow to make a snow angel, narrating how any rogue snowflakes feel on your warm, rosy face and neck. Take this time to see the different cloud formations and shapes within our not-so-drab grey skies. Depending on your setting, you might even want to taste a snowflake.

Use What You Have


Shoveling not only promotes body awareness, both in stability of the feet and movement of the arms and back, but it’s meaningful work that allows little ones to feel like helpers in their families.

Shovel together. Assign your kids a certain spot and watch as they exert themselves to clear off an area of driveway or sidewalk. Turn it into a collaborative contest if you feel so inclined. Notice together how they stand differently when they're pushing heavy snow (more proprioception), and challenge them to lift the white fluff and create a big pile to form into a slide, fort or even an icy “recliner”.

Use food coloring and water in squirt or spray bottles that you have on hand to decorate their little frozen homes. As a final flourish, sprinkle some fresh bird seed atop the snow near your biggest window before you go in. This makes for fun watching even once you're inside. When you're done, reward everyone’s hard work with a warm cup of hot cocoa to sip through winter-chilled lips—perhaps one of the best winter sensory experiences.

Venture Out


“The Domes” are a sensory stimulating escape when winter just feels a little too long.

 

The Milwaukee County Zoo, area parks and nature centers—we love the Wehr Nature Center, in Franklin—provide much to do and see while exploring the outdoors, during all seasons. The Mitchell Park Domes are rich with sensory exploration when the slushy grey of late winter just gets to be too much. A bummer and a bonus: many of these places can be sparsely attended in wintertime, so you might even have the place to yourself.

Wherever you go, look for tracks. Observe the number of toes, compare how deep they are and make guesses as to which animals might have made them. Try replicating them using your hands, sticks or other treasures you can still find in the snow.

Use this opportunity to pause and listen for bird songs, and spot nests exposed by the winter’s lack of leaves. Discuss what birds stick around when temperatures drop, or how the outdoor winter soundtrack compares to the sounds of spring. Maybe even visit the same spot a few times in different seasons to notice how the sights and melodies change. Finally, playing ‘I Spy’ is a perennial favorite, both for fun and to prompt observation and mindfulness in a place. What a spontaneous and lovely way to spot mosses, bark, burrows and even tiny buds as spring approaches.

The days may be getting shorter this time of year, but there’s no shortage of sensory fun your little ones can get into, even in winter.

Alysse Gear Jutrzonka is a teacher with a Master of Arts of Inclusive Education. She currently uses her education background at home with her children and for projects with Blue Ribbon Organics.