Snow drifts. Subzero temperatures. Air that literally hurts your face. Not exactly most people’s idea of a good time, and certainly not what many would consider ideal conditions for nature play. That being said, don’t let winter’s wrath discourage outdoor exploration and nature play. Embrace the chill.
Whether it relates to healthier immune systems, increased exposure to Vitamin D, improved mood, or muscle strengthening, the research is irrefutable. Winter play is extremely beneficial for children and adults alike. Yet, for many, it is avoided. Maybe people don't like the monotonous nature and time-consuming process of gearing up. For others, a landscape blanketed in glistening snow doesn't scream beauty and adventure. Many others just despise the cold. Either way, winter play should not be ignored. Winter play is all about mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn't matter. And being able to embrace the chill starts with preparation.
To embrace the chill, planning starts well before the flakes fly. This preparation takes many forms. First off is a shift in the mindset. One must understand and accept the mantra, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Even the hardiest of children will struggle in winter without proper gear. The excitement of playing in the snow disappears as fast as a snowball in July once a child’s hands get cold and wet. Two words can minimize this issue. Waterproof gloves. Cold is tolerable. Cold and wet is miserable. Waterproof gloves are a must, but other gear certainly doesn’t hurt. Warm, waterproof boots and/or socks are crucial when there’s more than a dusting of snow on the ground. Snow pants are a great luxury with or without snow. In fact, I like to call them “warm pants” because they are wonderful for cold weather. Warm coats and a breathable but cozy hat and scarf are also quite helpful accessories. That being said, you want to make sure that you don't “over gear.” You want to be able to move comfortably and avoid overheating, which is something you don't really think about in winter.
Secondly, after the aforementioned gear is acquired, it is crucial to get used to wearing it all. It might seem odd to practice gearing up in winter attire while the summer sun still shines and the autumn leaves still cling to the trees, but trust me, repetition and building muscle memory go a long way in embracing the chill. Anyone with experience with young children can painfully attest that the zippering and snapping struggle is real. Getting children familiar with the process of getting the gear on, practicing the correct sequencing of gearing up, and getting used to moving around while wintered up helps children gain familiarity with the entire process and potentially identify molehill issues before they spiral into mountains of trouble.
A third (and probably most essential) way to embrace the chill is to spend time outside every day, especially as the temperatures begin to dip. Enjoying the outdoors on a bright, sunshine-filled day is easy. Committing to outside time when the weather is not optimal takes a bit more work. As winter approaches, those who shelter inside and avoid the outdoors are destined to struggle when forced to head outside. Just like learning to ride a bike, practice makes progress. Simply put, the best way to master being outside in winter is by being outside in winter. Get acclimated to the falling temperatures by spending time outside each day. You’ll notice that regular trips outside automatically adjust you to the changing temperatures. In doing so, you don't really notice that much of a change, and the bitter cold loses its bitterness.
Winter is on the way. You’ve got the gear. You're used to putting on and wearing the gear. Your stamina for the season is strong. You are ready to embrace the chill and enjoy nature play in winter. But how?
The winter season provides many unique opportunities for play and exploration.
- Search for animal tracks - Grab one of many delightful picture books on winter tracks. Then, find and identify tracks and see what imaginative stories you can create about your observations.
- Go snowshoeing - With various kid-friendly models are available, snowshoeing is an excellent opportunity for winter exercise and discovery. Get out there and make your own path!
- Build a mouse house - Let your inner architect blossom as you design and build small homes with natural materials. Fill your home with nuts, seeds, and berries and monitor the visitors. Check for nearby tracks or better yet, set up a trail camera and see what winter friends make an appearance.
- Go birding - Not all birds migrate. Grab some binoculars, find a comfortable space to observe, and search for our feathered friends.
- Create a color castle - Using food coloring, water, and ice cube trays (or other freezer-friendly containers), create color cubes. Then, take the color cubes outside and construct your very own color castle.
- Paint in the snow - Hopefully, you still have some food coloring leftover after creating your color castle. Mix it with water in either spray bottles or squeezable water bottles and make a snowy masterpiece.
So with winter on the horizon, don’t let the frigid frost and blustery blizzards stop you from heading outside to enjoy the winter wonderland and embrace the chill.