by Meghan Fitzgerald
By design, winter is a time of rest for the natural world. Plants and animals in all different climates slow down in winter and benefit from the chance to restore. Even most cacti won’t set flowers if they do not get their winter break.
Winter also offers unique sensory experiences that, when you slow down to take them in, are inspiring and enriching for all ages. Even through a quick stretch to delight in nature when it’s terribly cold out, we grow more resilient when we learn to manage challenging conditions—something we’re finding kids struggle with more and more.
Increasingly, misconceptions have rebranded winter as the season to stay indoors. On the surface it makes sense—animals hibernate, so humans follow suit and stick inside the house. But, no matter how animals rest in winter, they are never disconnected from nature—they simply shift their approach. Nature remains where they belong, and it’s where we belong too.
We can’t afford to keep our kids indoors and inactive. Studies show that kids today spend, at best, anywhere from 70% to 50% of the time we did outdoors. Kids have lost 12 hours of play time out of each week since 1970—that is a huge loss, and a big chunk of their waking hours. As a nation, we gave ourselves a D- on our US Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth with more than ¾ of our kids failing to get the minimum required daily physical activity.
Worse yet, the increase in sedentary, indoor lifestyles coincides with increases in many chronic childhood health conditions, including childhood obesity, asthma, attention deficit disorder and vitamin D deficiency. Kids have already lost so much time for healthy play outdoors; how can we take 25% of what is left away by eliminating an entire season?
Plus, for many of us, being outdoors is how we will safely see the people we love this year—and that means we’ve got to get out there!
There is so much reason to hope, and the answer is right outside our doors. While alarming trends continue to increase, the evidence that exposure to nature and play directly benefits health continues to mount.
Here are just a few of the wellness benefits of outdoor play:
“To be healthy, children need several hours (not minutes!) of movement a day — preferably outdoors, where the senses are fully alive and their bodies are free to move in many different ways.”—Angela Hanscom
It is not only medically sound, but plain common sense that running around outside in the winter is far more beneficial than being cooped up indoors. — Dr. Michel Cohen, Author and Founder of Tribeca Pediatrics
On board with cold-weather outdoor play? Commit to winter outdoors by trying to get outside every day this winter, even if just for a little while. To truly build outdoor play into your winter routine make sure you’re signed up for our mailing list to receive weekly play breaks—5 minute ideas that will lead to hours of purposeful play outdoors this winter. Or, check out our Tinkergarten classes with a curriculum, designed to fill your weeks with outdoor play and build kids’ Problem Solving skills this winter.
And spread the word! If we all flood social spaces with images of healthy, active time spent playing outdoors this winter, we will shift culture and counter misconceptions. We’ll help you amplify your efforts too—post about your winter play experiences on Instagram and tag @tinkergarten so we can share them in our Stories. Or join our #OutdoorsAll4 Facebook Group — a perfect place to connect with thousands of caregivers, educators, and Tinkergarten Leaders all working to build purposeful outdoor play into their routine.
To make outdoor time last and last, check out our winter gear guide to find affordable ways to make cold and cool winter play comfortable for you and kids. At holiday time, put gear for you and the kids on your wish lists or go online for ways to freecycle and exchange outgrown gear with other local families.
Then, build a great “come back inside” practice. Think hot cocoa, blankets, warm socks on the radiator. Make “returning to coziness” a part of being outdoors. It’s a part that we can easily nail, that kids love and that they start to associate with the joy of being outside.
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