Outdoors in a Heatwave

This week in Perth we have been experiencing a heatwave. Our mission at Educated by Nature is to build resilience through connection, learning within and from nature. Building connection during summer is important as it supports not only building resilience to hot weather, but an understanding of it. This is important for children as they are likely to experience more hot days and heatwaves as our climate changes.

When the weather starts to get warm, caregivers respond. We change the winter flannelette sheets, wear appropriate clothing and use external elements such as air-conditioning and fans to keep us cool. We have noticed that children often don’t know what to do when the weather gets hot. They are aware of the 5 SunSmart S’s (slip, slop, slap, seek and slide) but are unaware of how to keep their bodies cool and hydrated when air-conditioning is not available.

Summer KIN Village provides a wonderful opportunity for children to connect to their bodies and learn how to keep their bodies safe and cool in the following ways.

  1. UV and Sunscreen

We have been calling the group together every 1-2 hours to reapply sunscreen. Practising putting on your own sunscreen and taking care to cover every area exposed to the sun is an important skill to learn. We have been giving sunscreen demonstrations and checking children cover all those ‘forgotten spots’ like the back of the neck, ears and knees as well as the backs of hands and tops of feet. Hats, of course, are also a must even in the shade and we have been highlighting to children how the sun penetrates the leaves in dappled light.

  1. Drinking Water

Frequent reminders about the importance of drinking water are provided and the group is gathered at regular times throughout the day for ‘community drink breaks.’  We talk about the ideal amount to drink across the course of the day and celebrate these successes as children reach their water goal and care for their bodies. We discuss the link between going to the toilet and drinking, and if children haven’t needed the toilet much during the day, they likely need to drink more water. Teaching children about body indicators assists them to make connections with their body, and this also goes for other signs of dehydration like headaches or dizziness.

  1. Keeping Cool

We choose our KIN Village sites with weather in mind and you will notice that our summer sites are all located near water. Being in the water is one way to keep cool and is a favourite of ours. Another way is moving to areas that provide us with shade and the cool breeze. This provides children with the opportunity to connect with the land, finding spaces that provide relief from the elements. At the hottest point of the day, we gather under the shade. Children will fill up water bottles, grab some food and enjoy ‘down time’ where we eat together, tell stories and play quiet, low energy games. We talk through changes in our program, like packing up in stages, alternating between taking time to care for ourselves with caring for the community. Of course, there is also the fun of filling your hat with water and then dumping it on your head, and at some of our sessions we have enjoyed playing with ice and using it to help us cool down.

Not only are these three elements talked about throughout the day, all staff model ways that we care for ourselves in the heat. We let the children know why we make certain decisions, like asking everyone to find a shady place to play in the middle of the day when the UV rating is extreme. We let them know the UV numbers and let them know they can go back in the water and sunshine when the UV goes down. We want children to know the reasons adults ask them to do certain things for their safety.

One of the challenges with outdoor play during hot weather is the inconsistency in guidelines and recommendations. A recent Australian study stated the individual nature of programs needs to be taken into consideration so the safety of all participants is ensured and activities aren’t cancelled where they could safely occur with appropriate modifications (Hyndman, 2017).

We take children’s health and safety seriously and believe the valuable lessons hot weather has for children will help them to care for their bodies when outdoors now and in the future. We do not know what lies ahead for children but if our world gets warmer, we want them to be ready for it.

Hyndman, B. (2017). ‘Heat-Smart’ schools during physical education (PE) activities: Developing a policy to protect students from extreme heat. Learning Communities Journal: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts (Special Edition). https://www.cdu.edu.au/sites/default/files/the-northern-institute/heat-smart_schools_during_physical_education_.pdf