by Jenny Kleppe
Every year at All Seasons we make a quinzhee with the children. What’s a quinzhee, you may ask? A quinzhee is a snow shelter, or snow cave originally made by the Athapaskan Indians in central Canada. Quinzhees are big piles of snow that are hollowed out into caves for protection from the elements*. Our typical quinzhee is obviously not for shelter, but instead for fun and for the experience of building it together. This year, instead of a snow cave, we made a snow tunnel instead.
When the teacher first described what we were going to do, the children were eager to start piling up snow. After a few shovels full of snow, the children were ready to start digging out a hollow. When the teacher broke the news that we needed a pile of snow bigger than the tallest child in the class, one boy looked at her and said, “But that’s going to take forever!” And it did, at least in time measured by a preschooler’s standards. It took several days of shoveling and hauling snow with many children working together. It warmed our hearts to see children encouraging and complimenting each other with words like, “Wow! That’s a big one! [chunk of snow]” or “You’re really strong!”
At one point, a group had the idea that if they filled up the wagon with snow, that would be a WAY easier way to make a big pile. So, as we often do here at All Seasons, the teachers hung back and watched the team work play out.
First, the “discussion” had to occur about who would pull the wagon, who would push, and who would fill it up with snow. Then, once filled with snow, the now heavy wagon needed to be moved from its easily accessible spot to the snow pile. This took a quite a bit of muscle power, and the group needed to enlist more of their peers to help. Cheers rang out when the group could get the wagon to the right spot. After dumping the wagon, some children returned it to the bottom of the hill to get more snow while others worked to pack the load down tight. A well-oiled, quinzhee building machine!
The preschoolers were the most excited to start digging out our cave, which would eventually turn into a tunnel. But alas, a group of sixteen excited children, four with digging shovels, is not necessarily a wonderful equation. Unless, of course, you want children to practice skills like self-advocy, compassion for others, and sharing. With minimal teacher involvement, everyone who wanted to got a chance to try digging out the snow to slowly chip away at the tunnel in our quinzhee. Children dug from both sides of our tunnel, and shouts of joy erupted when the first shovel and boot poked all the way through. “We did it, we did it!” was heard over and over.
*As taken from The Four Seasons at a Nature Based Preschool Curriculum Manual