Parents and guardians may be tempted to dial back outdoor activities when cold temperatures arrive, but getting outside is good for children and their families, even in the wintertime. The TurfMutt environmental education and stewardship program encourages families to appreciate and use the outdoors and offers the following tips:
Do outdoor activities that are fun. Winter weather that adults consider to be “messy” can be a huge canvas for children and their imaginations. Fall leaf piles, snowball fights, and snow forts offer a wealth of opportunities for parents to play with their children and to explore and experiment in our living landscapes.
Encourage exploration. Ask your child to look at how the landscape changes with the seasons. Talk about what happens after leaves fall, when snow arrives, when it’s windy, and more, linking these seasonable changes with basic science about clouds, rainfall, temperature changes and the earth.
Try something new. Try your hands at cross-country skiing, igloo-building, fall or winter hiking, ice fishing, ice skating, snow sculpting, snowshoeing, or something else that your children want to try to give them an appreciation of the outdoors in all seasons.
Do yard work as a family. Involve everyone in seasonal yard chores to make the work go faster. Children can help put outdoor toys into storage and help tidy the yard. Just remember that if using outdoor power equipment like a lawnmower or leaf blower for your cleanup, children should be indoors and supervised, and they should not be near the equipment when it’s operating.
Mention how getting outside helps our happiness. Even winter sunshine can make kids happy—literally. Sunlight boosts Vitamin D, which helps regulate emotional and mental moods by increasing serotonin in the brain. Even exposure to weaker sunlight in the winter can cause this joy boost.
Tolerate some mess. It’s a given that kids going outside in all sorts of weather will often return wet, muddy and messy. Be prepared for wet and cold kids and get them warmed up when they return from playing outside.
Process what they did. Ask kids to share what they did outdoors or ask them to write or draw out their activities and observations. Did they see something new? Did something surprise them? What was fun?