Say NO to cabin fever! How to get kids outside this winter

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Toddler in hat and coat with a squeezy bottle of water. Cubes of ice are on the ground among the leaves.
My youngest experiments with freeing frozen treasures from ice at Tinkergarten. Yes, that’s a perineal squirt bottle- we know all the fancy tricks.

Getting outside during winter with kids can be tough.

My first winter as a new mom was the now legendary New England winter of 2014-15. Snowfall records were broken across the region. It was piled so high that walking down the continuously shoveled streets was like walking through tunnels of ice. At the time, my husband was out at work all day with our only car and so if I wanted to get out of my house I had to walk with my then 9-month-old strapped to me in the carrier, the pair of us looking like some kind of abominable snowman, covered in so many layers to keep us both warm. I will never forget the experience of trying to climb over snow stacked high to the curb and slippery sheets of ice, praying that she and I would just stay upright. Our short journey to CVS at the end of the street, or a friend’s house a few away became fully-fledged missions of daring feats.

A snowy street with a car parked between piles of snow that are higher than the car
The snow in Boston in 2014/15 was higher than the fences and  parked cars.

 

woman walking in the snow with babies hat just visible from carrier in front. Toddler walks behind in full snow gear
I particularly enjoyed (note the sarcasm) this walk on a snowy day after my second was born (she’s strapped to me in the carrier). My then 3-year-old bitterly complained while walking as slowly as possible. I took this photo to remind me that even though it was hard, we did it!

Maybe that experience scarred me, but ever since, and certainly as our family has grown from one to three kids, I’ve found myself becoming more and more reluctant to brave the winter weather. It isn’t just the thought of the cold and the ice that I find off-putting, but even the very idea of trying to get all of us dressed and ready to go out in it. There’s three of everything to wrangle all the layers on before I’ve even thought about myself, and some days it feels like we spend longer putting it all on and taking it all off than we actually spend outside!

But the last two years of covid winters cooped up at home have made me even more determined to change this narrative for me and my family. When we choose to stay inside, we get less exercise, more screen time, and frankly, the inevitable cabin fever makes us ten times more likely to drive each other nuts! On the flip side, experts continually tell us that exposure to nature and the great outdoors has so many benefits in all four seasons.

For children, getting outdoors in the winter is especially important.

girl in snow gear sits in the snow with a bucket full of snow and dolls in the bucket, She holds a bowl of snow and a spoon
Cryogenic experiments with plastic dolls happenig just outside our back door. Sometimes the back door is as far as you can make it.

Fresh air and sunlight increase circulation, builds the immune system, contributes to healthy sleep patterns, lowers stress,  provides unique sensory experiences, and offers the opportunity to develop grit and resilience. so, when I feel daunted at the prospect of getting outside during the coldest month, I remind myself that this experience is a gift to me and my family;an investment in my children’s present and future health and well-being.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t be challenging!

Here are three tips that will make it easier to get your kids outside this winter:
Have the right gear:

When you’re not dressed appropriately for the weather  it’s tough to feel cheerful in it. This winter I have made sure we have all the right gear to be comfortable outdoors, without breaking the bank. I’ve invested in some cozy base layers, warm joggers and fleeces, snow pants, and thermal insulated jackets. I’ve made sure boots still fit and each of us has a couple of pairs comfortabe of merino wool or thermal socks to wear. I also plan to reorganize my entryway so that coats, gloves, hats, and neck gaiters are easily accessible and ready for us to grab.

For a really excellent and up-to-date guide to winter gear for all ages, and discounts on family-recommended brands, check out this Winter Gear Guide from Tinkergarten. You can also check out their tips on how to get wiggly kids to bundle up for winter.

Have the right mindset:

Our children take their cues from us. If we grumble about the weather and express reluctance to go outside, then it’s not surprising that they will not feel excited about it either. This doesn’t mean we just have to suck it up and get on with it for the sake of our kids, rather, if we try to find things that we enjoy about the winter and lean into them, we can put ourselves in a better mindset for dealing with its challenges. I love this ‘What is Your Winter Mindset?’ post, which encourages us to ask ourselves these honest questions:

  • How do I really feel about this winter?
  • How does that change when I take my parent hat off (if that is even possible 😉)?
  • What is hard about winter where I live?
  • What is really special about winter where I live?
  • What do I feel most excited to do/experience today/this winter?

If we are the kind of people who just prefer to be cozy inside with a cuppa we can still honor that preference. It’s possible to have an even greater appreciation for these rhythms when we come in from the cold. They are something we can look forward to, or even take outside. This winter we’ll be taking a flask of hot tea or cocoa for an outdoor winter tea party!

Have the right community:

Like many things in life, getting outdoors in winter is easier when we do it together. Sometimes meeting others is the motivation we need to do what feels hard by ourselves. Leave yourself plenty of time to get ready and meet another family an outdoor winter play date. Take snacks and perhaps have a simple outdoor activity up your sleeve to kickstart the fun; staying active while you’re outdoors will help keep little ones warm! Tinkergarten has tons of free DIY Activities and also produces a free monthly play calendar with weather-appropriate ideas for every day of the month.

I’ve also found Facebook groups like #OutdoorsAll4 Facebook Group and 1000 Hours Outside truly inspiring as it enables you to connect with thousands of caregivers and educators, who are working to build purposeful outdoor play into their routine in all the seasons.

Toddler in hat and coat with a squeezy bottle of water. Cubes of ice are on the ground among the leaves.
My youngest experiments with freeing frozen treasures from ice at Tinkergarten. Yes, that’s a perineal squirt bottle- we know all the fancy tricks.

This winter I’m particularly excited to be a Tinkergarten Leader! The curriculum (which is designed to fill your weeks with outdoor pla) is exactly the motivation I need to get my family outdoors regularly, and I can’t wait to explore the wonders of winter with other families in my community. We’ll turn the outdoors into a discovery lab, as we invite kids to wonder, observe, experiment, and work together (and enjoy warm Tinkergarten tea, too!). If it feels hard to do this by yourself, why not come and join us for a weekly class in a beautiful local space? We’d love to see you there!

This winter I will not to let the weather dictate whether I stay indoors or not. We are saying NO to cabin fever!

 

You can learn more about Tinkergarten and sign up for Vicky’s class here

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