Teaching children about seasons

What is summer like in your hometown? If you live in Phoenix, summer means temperatures of 100 degrees or higher before the end of May followed by monsoons, dust storms and other intense weather patterns until late October. But if you live further north in Montana or Wyoming or west in California you would have a very different experience of summer.

While the days get longer and the weather warms up, experiencing seasons varies a great deal depending on where you live. While this seems obvious to adults, kids may struggle to understand the four seasons when they do not experience them in their archetypical form.

For children who rarely travel, the idea of snow and constant rain can be mystery. Because of it's desert landscape and proximity to the equator, Phoenix is said to only experience two seasons: summer and winter. These waterless weather patterns can make teaching about four distinct seasons very difficult.

The change of the seasons is a great learning opportunity for children. While learning about the seasons, kids in Phoenix also get the chance to learn about geography, and why seasons look different here than they do in books and on TV. Here are a few clever ways for us to teach children about the changing seasons in the Phoenix area.

Year-round activities

To measure the gradual transformation between seasons we can start year long projects with children to keep track of the changes. Consider keeping a daily weather journal from January on through the year so you can keep track of the slow rise in temperature and the sunset and sunset times to track the length of the day. You can even play games like guessing when the first 100-degree day will come!

Local Activities and Exploration

Despite the desert climate, there are a number of places to explore around Arizona to help your kids understand the changing of the seasons like the Arizona Science Center.

Spring

Springtime in the desert is just as gorgeous as anywhere else. Rare flowers bloom on cacti and local birds begin to gather. 

To see the desert changes, bring the kids to the Desert Botanical Garden and explore the orange blossoms and other native plants. The garden is filled with colorful plants many non-natives would never dream of seeing, and the kids can spend time in the butterfly exhibit. 

While you’re looking at the flowers, Teach the children about cacti. Cacti will hold the water inside their stems to combat the harsh conditions. This is a great time to explain why the desert has less water than places like Michigan. 

Summer

Arizona in the summer can be a hot subject. When the kids want to go out to play, take them to the pool. Explain to the kids that other cities like Reno have rivers running through town. This is a great way to explain how other cities are built around bodies of water. 

One fun art project is to create melted art masterpieces. While you wait for your crayons to melt in the sun, explain how Phoenix’s closeness to the equator brings the city into the direct line of the sun’s heat. This could help children appreciate just how powerful the sun’s heat is.

Fall

During October, bring the kids to take part of the harvest season at one of the many fall community festivals like the month-long Mortimer Family Farms Pumpkin Fest and Corn Maze. This will teach the children about how different vegetables grow better in certain climates. 

Consider taking a drive up to Flagstaff to see the leaves change colors. A quick road trip is a great way to show the kids that not all of Arizona is a desert. This is a great opportunity to explain the importance of mountains and how they affect the weather. 

Winter

Although states like New York and Wisconsin may be filled with snow during December, kids in Arizona will notice the distinct lack of snow on the ground. We should take advantage of the weather to take the kids on a little hike and explain the difference between areas that experience four seasons while Phoenix only sees two. 

Another great winter activity is visiting the penguins at the Odysea Aquarium. The penguins are a great example of animals that can only live in certain regions based on the weather. This is a great way to teach the kids about the importance of climate. 

No matter where you live, experiencing change in the weather is a wonderful time to learn something new. The weather is a tool to explain to children the environmental importance of diversity. 

Ways to Immerse children in Culture

In this integrated and globalized world, it is increasingly important to raise children in a diverse, inclusive environment. However, it can be very difficult to know how to approach this in a child-centered way. Introducing children to culture locally is a great first step.

Communication and language are the primary bridges across difference. A growing trend in parents today is to teach infants and toddlers American Sign Language before their children are able to speak and even hired bilingual caregivers. While this is a practical way of communicating with a child, it also breaks down stereotypes associated with deafness. This concept can also be transcended to other spoken languages and cultures. Young children in particular are primed to learn a second or third language, as their brain is still rapidly developing their first. Exposure is the key; parents and teachers can use foreign language words interchangeably in casual conversation in place of the child’s first language. For a more structured approach, and for older children, foreign language classes are a great way to immerse a child in a new culture. Most language classes not only teach speaking and writing, but they will also teach children about cultural practices, traditions, and histories associated with the language.

The arts are an integral part of any culture, and are also a great tool to connect children to other ways of being across the world. Children thrive in imaginative environments, and love to explore new materials, sounds, and experiences. Visual art, music, and theater classes not only provide children with unique ways express themselves, but also give them tools to engage with the world and with each other. Community colleges, after school programs, group classes, and private instructors offer a menagerie of classes to children of all ages. Musical instruments, such as the guitar, drums, and piano, are versatile and accessible, as many cultures have either have similar instruments, or have adapted their musical styles to those instruments themselves. Visual and performing arts are similar, and local community centers will often offer classes that focus on Native or some form of non-Western art. Writing and poetry classes, too, can introduce children to important authors, scholars, and cultural figures that aren’t traditionally taught in Western schools. Books are also perhaps the easiest way to expose children to new cultures early; reading stories about and by people from other countries, religions, family structures, and gender norms teaches children to think less about how different we are, but how we can connect.

Other cultural experiences revolve around food, holidays, religions, and traditions. Cooking at home is an enriching way to learn a variety of different skills, including reading, measuring, time management, and cultural competency. It’s truly an immersive, integrative activity that can be scaled for all ages and learning levels. Planning home meals from around the world will also teach children to love trying new things, even if they aren’t food related! Festivals will usually have foods from the cultures they are celebrating, as well as traditional music, art, and dance. Getting children involved with performing or volunteering at festivals and other cultural celebrations is a more involved way of immersing children in culture, but often helps them build relationships and understanding across difference. For very young children, exposing them to international playgroups early on can immerse both them and their families in new ways of being. Similarly, nannies play an important role in a child’s perspective on the world, as they are often a primary caregiver. Nannies enrich children’s lives by sharing their language, culture, food, and values with the children in their care.

Phoenix is a multicultural, metropolitan area with plenty of opportunities to expose children to a variety of cultures. The Phoenix Art Museum and Musical Instrument Museum are great places to start, as they feature exhibits from artists and musicians from across the globe. The Heard Museum features American Indian Art, which is essential for an area with a long history of Native culture. Similarly, there is the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, which allows visitors to tour a real historical site will interacting with its rich history and culture. The Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center is also very immersive and interactive, and allows children to explore the vibrant Latin culture that exists in and around Arizona. The Fiesta de Las Americas is an annual festival held in April that also celebrates Latin culture from the US and Mexico, all the way down to the tip of South America. Near the end of March is the Italian Festival of Arizona, which immerses visitors in Italian music, food, and commerce. Finally, there is another European cultural celebration called the Tournament of Kings Dinner and Jousting show, which is held year round and is more of a performance than an integrative experience. However, it simply goes to show that there is a new cultural experience for every child in Phoenix!