By Jeanine Silversmith
With the temperatures near or below freezing and the number of daylight hours still far from equaling the dark ones, it can be difficult for even the most nature loving amongst us to get our kids outside.
1. Understand why it’s important to play outside. Research shows that children, as well as adults, are happier and healthier if they regularly spend time outdoors. And I submit that we eat, sleep, and get along with each other a whole lot better. (I’m probably not the only one playing referee with my kids more lately than I did during the summer.) For more information about the numerous benefits of unstructured time outside, visit the Children & Nature Network.
2. Establish a Green Hour. Whether it’s when your school-aged child returns home or early in the day just after your infant’s first nap, schedule in some time each day for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. Start with a goal of just 15 minutes if a whole hour is overwhelming. You might be surprised how long you actually stay out there.
3. Enlist the help of others. Tell your neighbors and friends you’ll be outside and why. Forward this article to them. I promise I won’t mind! Establish a regular play date, either in your neighborhood or at a nearby park or playground. If all else fails, just go outside with your kids; others might just join you. (By the way, I call that “the lure” technique and use it on a regular basis with much success!)
4. Wear the right clothes. I’m not sure who first said, “There is no bad weather, just bad gear.” But I do know that it’s usually true. Unless it’s sleeting or a meteorologist tells you to stay inside, bundle everyone up and get out there. Here are some tips:
-Â Layer it on. Start with a snug – not too tight – inner layer of synthetic thermal underwear. Layer fleece or wool on top for warmth, and finish with water and wind-resistant pants and coats. Remember that kids will be running around more than you will (perhaps), so remove layers or lower zippers before they get too warm and add them when they’re resting before they get too cold.
– Take care of tootsies. Cotton socks are the enemy! Invest in wool or synthetic socks, which stay warm even when they’re wet. Add lined boots with a waterproof exterior.
– The extra essentials. For the best heat retention, choose water-resistant mittens rather than gloves, wool hats instead of fleece, and add a ski mask, neck-up, or scarf to protect exposed skin.
5. Don’t forget the toys. Believe it or not, sidewalk chalk still works in the wintertime! Bubbles blow themselves, balls keep the little ones moving, and bicycles keep them from rolling around in the mud (which isn’t always a bad thing, I promise). So grab a few things that haven’t seen the light of day since the early fall and get everyone playing.
Remember, contact with nature is necessary for healthy development in children as well as the physical, mental, and emotional health of both children and adults. Besides, it’s fun and helps keep cabin fever in check. Spring is a ways off, my fellow New Englanders!
Jeanine Silversmith is a self-described tree-hugging science-and-math geek whose love of nature, coupled with her absolute certainty that people, especially children, are happier, healthier, and wiser when they regularly spend time in nature, led her to establish Rhode Island Families in Nature. She loves to run, garden, bake, hike, and go camping, especially when accompanied by her husband, Ian, her 4-year-old daughter, Sierra, and her 1-year-old son, Devin. They live in Wakefield, RI.