I recently heard an interview with Linda Akeson McGurk, the author of the book There Is No Such Thing As Bad Weather. It made me think of the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. It also made me think of all of the research regarding getting children outside to play, and finally, I thought about my outdoor play as a child.
I started life in Minnesota. Let me tell you, it was cold in the winter. So, so cold that as an adult, I cannot actually imagine going outside to play, or even considering standing around watching while a little one plays in the snow. I wondered how we (my sister and our friends) stayed out for so many hours playing in that cold weather. Then I remembered that we just kept moving. We went sledding, made snow forts, had snowball fights, made snow angels, and made snow pies. The fun and movement were endless.
And then when there was no snow, we ran and played in the rain, sunshine, and every type of weather imaginable. We lived the title of Linda Akeson McGurk’s book! There really was no such thing as bad weather, only opportunities to play and explore. All of that play taught us a lot — how to embrace being outside, as well as how to climb, balance, math skills (counting, cutting, stacking, sorting, and more), limits to edges and heights, and so much more. Plus, it wore us out so we slept hard. What parent or caregiver doesn’t love a good sleeper?!
How to Encourage Outdoor Play
I know the reality of life and how time feels much less available. I know the opportunities for play have changed. So, what can a parent, or caregiver do to get their little ones outside to play? Well, if your little one is old enough and you feel safe enough, do what my mom did — tell your child to get outside and play. If that is not an option, you’ll have to get outside and play with them. You may have to do it even when you feel like the weather is less than ideal, or feel that your energy isn’t up for it. Perhaps you will have to force yourself to go outside. If you simply cannot stand (or sit) around in the cold, maybe you can go for a brisk walk. If that is not an option, you might consider starting a club or co-op where you and a few parents (or caregivers) create a rotating schedule where each of you takes turns being the person outside with the children. That way you do not have to be the one to go outside in the freezing cold every time.
Outdoor Play Encourages Exploration and Exercise
Why bother putting effort into going outside? Because doing so opens doors of opportunities to explore and often provides a different way of raising our little ones. Books like the ones I mention above cover all the reasons, but I say just go ahead and do your own live research with your own family. For example, what happens when you get outside in all types of weather? Do you all have fun? Will bonds grow? Do troubles disappear for a little bit?
Getting outside in all sorts of weather promotes growth and development in your little one — the opportunity to explore and discover. In doing so, it is possible you’ll find new priorities for your family, or at the very least, helpful tidbits to add to your parenting toolbox.
Push Past Uncomfortable and Discover the Benefits
As I write this, the temperature is a brisk 31 degrees. I recognize winter can be a big challenge because it can be super cold, snowy, rainy, or at least less than bright and warm, depending on where you reside, but it is also magical and marvelous.
I’m reminded of that scene in the movie A Christmas Story. You know the one where the mom gets her youngest child fully bundled up, and he says he has to go to the bathroom. That scene is followed by unbundling and then the re-bundling of the child. The mother is so patient, but her exhaustion is well depicted. The struggle is real! (If you haven’t seen the movie, give it a watch. It is super funny. It includes plenty of parenting tips — mostly what not to do, but plenty of love and quirkiness that shows how families really function.)
Despite the struggles and the bundling and re-bundling at times, the effort is worth it. I promise. Push yourself. Get outside. Look up at the sky and the trees around you. Get the light on your skin. Look for leaves that are still stuck to the trees. Listen to the birds as they call out. Wave to your neighbors. If you live where the snow is, lay down and make a snow angel. You can do this even with a little one in a front carrier, or a stroller with a sleeping baby nearby.
You will feel great when you get home! When you get back indoors, treat yourself to your favorite warm beverage (check out my hot chocolate recipe). And be prepared to be invigorated and full of energy. You’ll have raised your and your little one’s endorphins and strengthened your immune system. Be proud knowing you added growth to your little one’s brain and body. Plus, don’t forget, outdoor time helps everyone sleep better. As a sleep consultant, I’d say that is reason enough to get outside, no matter the weather!
Note: I also recognize that some folks have less mobility than others and that can make getting outside an entirely different challenge. If getting outside is near impossible, do a window watch to talk about what is happening outside your windows. You might also want to read my Parent Pages post about staying busy indoors.