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Planning and Preparation

This is an excerpt from Get-Outside Guide to Winter Activities, The by Andrew Foran,Kevin Redmond & TA Loeffler.

Planning and preparation (P&P) creates an outdoor foundation in the schoolyard, at the local park, or as part of a camp experience. The bottom line is that you must maintain a consistent, solid P&P practice: A poorly planned winter excursion is a reflection of its leaders. There is very little room for half measures when leading people outdoors during the winter. The good news is that when the little things are in place, you can focus on delivering quality experiences.


Winter by nature presents environmental challenges: cold, wet snow, rain, freezing rain, and wind chill. The seasonal impact is magnified by the possibility of cold-related injuries when leaders and participants are not prepared. Being outdoors in winter is fun; you just need to be a bit more on your game. Know your group, know the terrain, and respect the weather.


At this stage of program planning, you want to know the following:

  • What is the purpose of the lesson?
  • Who are the participants?
  • What activity (or activities) do participants want to do?
  • Do participants have any special interests based on the terrain or prior knowledge and experiences?
  • Will we be on the school or community center site or off-site?
  • Will transportation be arranged?
  • Will we need park permits and permission to use an existing shelter?
  • Are we responsible for food and drinks?
  • Who is taking care of what?


In addition to these questions, you will also need to consider the following issues in your planning:

  • Risks. Do you have first aid training (emergency, standard, or wilderness and remote first aid) to support the health of your participants? Do you know the medical conditions of your participants and, if required, adult chaperones? What risks are present in the area? School sites - which offer an existing shelter base and easier access for 911 response - require a different kind of risk assessment than parks or camps do.
  • Equipment. Do you have the equipment needed for ensuring a positive and comfortable learning experience? To make sure participants are prepared, send home a preparation list that includes the appropriate clothing and footwear (including a change of clothes), drinks, snacks, lunch, and any special considerations.
  • Weather. We know you cannot control the weather, but you should have a good idea of what to expect in terms of rain, snow, sun, and so forth.
  • Terrain. It’s always a good idea to do a site examination of the terrain before the program. Clear away obstructions, and note areas that could lead to injuries (e.g., hollows, stumps, or obstructions that may be covered in snow if you are leading a running game, and even dog waste).
  • Behavior and group dynamics. Before the program begins, communicate to the group your expectations for their behavior, and note group dynamics in advance if possible. Note who may need additional support outdoors (from you, your teaching assistants, or chaperones). Also review a few key etiquette practices regarding respect for the environment (e.g., Leave No Trace).
  • Shelter. Do you need to bring a shelter to support the lesson (e.g., a portable base camp, a tarp for rain or snowfall), or does the site have an outbuilding?
  • Maps and routes. If your program is taking place off-site, do you have maps? Be sure to identify walking routes, and determine an evacuation route in case of emergencies.
  • Plan B. Having a backup plan is a must outdoors.
  • Itinerary. Leave a trip itinerary with the program administration team, along with your outdoor instructional plans.
  • Roles and responsibilities. If your program requires additional adult supervision (e.g., parent helpers), conduct a preprogram meeting to define roles and responsibilities. This puts everyone on the same page and avoids communication issues later on.

Learn more about The Get Outside Guide to Winter Activities.