Is snow the ultimate plaything?

Over sixty years ago the architect Aldo van Eyck, who weaved outdoor play into the fabric of war-torn Amsterdam, was inspired by seeing how, after a snowfall, children came out of their homes and claimed the city’s spaces for themselves. Even today nothing gets children of all ages out of doors faster, or in greater numbers, than a decent layer of newly fallen snow.

Why is fresh snow such a universal draw? Surely the answer lies in its exceptional qualities as a material for construction and destruction. The invitations, offers and affordances of snow are extensive, inclusive and democratic. Anyone capable of moving their arms and legs can make a snow angel. No assembly instructions are required.

snow angel

Babes-in-arms are by turns delighted and mortified by its touch and feel. Toddlers barely able to walk can get a taste of what it means to make their mark on the world, implanting footprints in the ground, then admiring the impressions they have made. Five-year-olds can make a snowball in five seconds, and a snowman (or woman) in five minutes. Eight-year-olds can conduct whole street fighting wars, safe in the knowledge that the worst battle injury they are likely to sustain is a face full of icy powder. (Not fun, but hardly life-threatening.) Teenagers can strut their stuff for hours building monstrously oversized snow boulders.

Teenagers on a big snowball

Snow is easy to make stuff with, but it also offers real challenges. Building an igloo demands perseverance, practice and a degree of architectural flair. Yet snow is a forgiving substance: you would have to try very hard indeed to build anything that risked life or limb.

I wonder how many children would trade all the toys and gadgets under their Christmas trees for a regular supply of construction-grade white stuff? That is why this winter, I hope you get the chance to appreciate that most creative, engaging and magical of loose materials, snow.

Have a great festive season.

8 responses to “Is snow the ultimate plaything?

  1. love this .. Reminds of a couple of years ago and a fab tale told by Martin M audesley…

  2. Claire Colvine - Play England

    Reblogged this on Love Outdoor Play and commented:
    We think it might be!

  3. Thanks for a lovely seasonal post. I would love a white Christmas.

    And let’s not forget the snowflake quote:

    “Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look at what they can do when they stick together.” (Source unknown)

  4. Hi Tim, I totally agree there is something about snow as the ultimate play thing. We spent last winter living in Moscow, amid the worst winter in 100 years. Having come from a country where we hardly see snow, it was amazing. While there our kids would head outside in any weather, rugged up to the max, with nothing more than a $2 plastic disc and spend hours (or as long as I could handle watching in the cold) sliding down the snow covered mounds outside our apartment, throwing snowballs at each other, or making snow angels (amazing how they never tire of this simple activity….), or alternatively iceskating in the sports cage adjacent to our apartment as well. It never ceased to amaze me just how much enjoyment the snow brought all the kids of the neighbourhood as there were always plenty of them out there having a ball.
    Somehow a few feet of snow make the freezing cold weather of winter more bearable and enjoyable as opposed to cold and wet weather like we are now subjected to in Tokyo.

  5. Jane, Claire, Juliet, Tony – thanks for commenting, and glad you liked the piece. Good to hear that even in Moscow the novelty of snow does not wear off.

  6. . . . . and of course, it is only water, another essential loose parts material!

  7. Monsoon Treasures

    Longing for snow.

  8. Pingback: Snow 1, Snapchat 0 – and why this result matters | Rethinking Childhood

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