By Jamie Bachmann, Wildlife Educator
This is the third and final installment of why I get my kids outdoors in the winter.
Reason #4 – Learning Preparedness
When I was little, I lost so many gloves and mittens. My mom would get frustrated trying to find replacements on our way out the door. And there were multiple Halloweens when I whined about having to put my coat over my awesome costume. As I got older, the whining turned to teenage-angst arguments about putting a hat on my head, which was ridiculous – I had just spent 30 minutes getting my hair just right! Oh, how the tables have turned. I have had these conversations with both of my children on multiple occasions.
Typically, I don’t like to fret or stress over the little things, especially when I only see my kids for a couple hours on most weekday mornings. So, I have devised a sneaky plan that goes like this:
If a glove is lost, someone is going to have cold fingers for a couple days. If a hat is lost, somebody is going to know what it feels like to have Nebraska winter wind blowing in their ears. If you don’t want to gear up for the car ride to school, then you better have the essentials stowed away in your back pack – assuming they’re not lost. Sometimes in order to learn, kids need to experience what it is that us parents are trying to protect them from.
On weekends when we go out during below-zero cold snaps, it doesn’t take long for an 8-year-old to figure out that the one-size-fits-all, thin-knit gloves he really wanted to wear just aren’t cutting it. One snowball, strategically aimed so the broken bits fall into the collar of a coat where a scarf should’ve been, will teach any teenager that looking “cool” is actually being prepared. Also, whining about a snowball fight instigated by their mother won’t do them any favors. No one looks cool when they whine about that.
Don’t get me wrong, these lessons do go against my motherly instincts to protect my children, and in fact, they may seem harsh to some. But let me tell you the result of this sneaky little plan – my 8-year-old son can now get himself geared up to go outside in the cold winters of the prairie ALL BY HIMSELF. Pants, T-shirt, hoodie, coveralls, coat, ski mask, good gloves and boots – all of it. He only requests help with his boots, but then again, my 14-year-old still does the same. I happily oblige.
A fierce prairie winter is our teacher, and children can learn by their experiences with this powerful force of nature. If I show my children the tools they need to be prepared, I can rest a little easier knowing that they can weather any storm.
Reason #5 – Staying Active
Remember those grand schemes you had last spring? Landscaping your yard, getting into shape, getting a head start on the woodpile … Whatever they were, do you also remember the immobilizing crust of inactivity that took hold of your body over the winter? How hard was it to get back into the swing of activity when the days were getting longer? (The last two weeks of winter do not count, people. Do not be fooled. It is still winter!)
Maybe some of us never did get back to being active during the warmer months, and we are finding ourselves stuck in the cozy, sedentary lifestyle of the dark days of winter all year long. So, the No. 5 of five reasons why I pull my kids out the door in what feels like -15 degrees is to keep them active. If we can get out for even a little bit every day, that “crust” falls off that much sooner when sunlight graces us again.
Bear with me – childhood obesity has doubled over the last 30 years and numbers have quadrupled among adolescent children. I realize there are many factors that play a role in this staggering statistic, but inactivity definitely plays its part. With the rise of technology over the last 20 years, Americans in general have become correspondingly less physically active. The serious health concerns that can accompany an obese or overweight child make up a long list. To learn more, visit http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/)
While I’m not overly concerned about my children’s weight, I am, however, concerned about the habits they will take into adulthood. Getting them outside for even just short periods of time each day, even in nasty cold weather, can create habits that may help them to recognize “winter lethargy” when they are out on their own in the world.
To wrap up this series on why I take my kids outside in the winter, I’ll leave you with the following: Despite the challenges and discomforts that come with prairie winters, they have gifts to offer us. First, recognizing and monitoring the lure of screen time in ourselves and our children allows us to cultivate the present moment. Second, embracing this season of rest and death teaches us about the cycles of change and how all things adapt and are reborn. Third, standing face-to-face against a winter prairie wind pushes us out of our comfort zones, building our characters and resiliency. And lastly, the hardships of this season can teach us preparedness, as well as help us lead healthy, physically active lives. All these are lessons given to us by the mighty force of nature called winter.
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.