By Jamie Bachmann, Wildlife Educator
Wow — the last couple days have been beautiful during this prairie winter, and warmer temperatures are forecasted to hold out through the weekend. I’m sure many of us are grateful for a reprieve from frozen nose hairs, children crying from painful, cold, red fingers, and the time it takes preparing kids to get out the door. I left the house this morning with no gloves at all. No gloves! I don’t even know where they are right now, and I’m the type of person who can get obsessive about my gear, especially during frigid months on the plains.
While we are basking in all this early-spring time-feeling glory, let us not forget to mentally prepare ourselves for the inevitable plunge of the thermometer. It is only February, folks. So, with that in mind, I have created a list of reasons why I coax my children out of doors on cold winter days, even days that drop below zero. I will share this five-part list throughout the next couple weeks.
Reason #1- Teaching Electronic Media Self-Monitoring
I am deeply concerned about the amount of time my children indulge in electronic media. Time in front of a screen takes away from the time children could be doing other things. You know — like simple, everyday activities that are better suited to cultivating life-long skills and character building. Creating a space away from electronic media enables children to learn how to be alone, to know themselves, to understand their creative minds and to observe the world around them long enough to ask questions about it. Statistics say that without intervention, the average child can spend more than 40 hours per week on electronic media. What are parents to do?
I once held a strict, authoritative hand regarding my children’s time in front of the screen. Now, my kids are getting older, and school, peers and society have created an outright revolution in my house. Especially during the dark winter months, the pull of all things electronic media is even stronger. So, to avoid a coup, I might be a bit more generous with screen time during the colder months.
When that need is satisfied, I begin the slow and patient process of getting two boys geared up to experience what a “feels like” -15-degree day is like. We don’t go out long, but the experience inevitably brings out smiles, rosy cheeks and an exuberance that children should feel as often as possible. After we head back in and put away gear, I always notice my kids are filled with an energy that was non-existent during their phone or computer time. This is the moment when I “sock it” to them.
While preparing tea or hot cocoa, I begin a casual conversation in order to tap into the way they felt before they went outside and the way they felt after they went outside. Although my teenager is totally on to me, I nevertheless try to connect both boys to those emotional states. I know they will inevitably make their own decisions one day, but while they’re young, I want to do all I can to establish their familiarity with the outdoors.
As parents, we know that allowing children to indulge in extremes can be a detriment, i.e. too much soda, too much cake, too much excitement, too much sun, etc. It’s no different with electronic media. As parents in the modern world, we must teach our children moderation and healthy use of technology.
There is strong evidence to support that spending time in nature can have positive effects on our bodies and our minds: reduced blood pressure levels, reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, exposure to germs and bacteria that strengthen our immune systems, and increased production of chemicals responsible for mood balance in our brains. It’s no wonder that with the rise of technology in the last 20 years, we have seen a corresponding rise in childhood obesity, childhood diabetes and more cases of ADD and ADHD symptoms in children.
During these dark days on our Nebraska prairie, it is more important than ever to pay attention to the hypnotic lure of screens and set healthy boundaries for our children to follow. As adults, we might even need to set boundaries for ourselves in order to become good role models. ■
Read Part 2 of why I pull my kids out in the cold Nebraska winter: http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2022/02/why-i-take-my-kids-outside-in-winter-part-2/
About Jamie Bachmann
Jamie Bachmann is a wildlife educator in partnership with the Nebraska Game and Parks and the Northern Prairies Land Trust, among other things. Her true passion is in connecting folks emotionally to nature. She can be found in the hills of the Elkhorn River valley, cutting cedar trees, coaxing a teenage child outside and failing miserably at convincing her dog he is a cow herder.