Growing up in Kentucky, we are fortunate to experience the transition of seasons. Who hasn’t been asked about their favorite season? We love summer for the sunny days, fall for the beautiful colors and cool nights, spring for its blooming flowers and winter for its time of quiet and revival. However, not all of us are fond of each season and the weather they bring.
We have all stepped outside the comforts of our home to say, “It’s too hot”, “It’s too cold”, “yuck, it’s raining”. As adults, we tend to shelter children from unfavorable weather. Instead, we should encourage play in all types of weather. Allowing children to play outside in imperfect conditions teaches resilience, patience, improves critical thinking skills and creates positive viewpoints about the natural world. Let’s go over a few reasons why outdoor play is important and how we can get kids (and adults!) outside.
Did you know? Sun exposure allows our body to create Vitamin D, which promotes bone growth, enhances mood and energy, and helps our bodies absorb calcium while supporting other important body functions. Once the weather cools down, people are less likely to spend time outdoors, limiting their body’s ability to produce Vitamin D and occasionally leading to seasonal depression.
“Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem year round, but because sun exposure is critical for Vitamin D synthesis and production, the winter months further exacerbate what is a perennial problem,” says Johns Hopkins Children’s Center endocrinologist Dominique Long, M.D. in a memo to pediatricians encouraging them to screen kids for Vitamin D deficiency. (1)
Getting kids, and yourself outside can help to alleviate problems associated with Vitamin D deficiencies.
Providing opportunities for children to run, jump, climb and play with friends in nature year round keeps children healthy – physically, mentally and academically. When kids are playing, they’re developing fine and gross motor skills, increasing flexibility and learning balancing skills. Physical activity helps to build stronger muscles, improves heart and lung function and prevents obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Playing outdoors also challenges children to make decisions during “risky” situations – Should I climb higher in this tree? Can I jump from this rock to that rock? Risk is an integral part of progress. Children are not born knowing their strengths and weaknesses. They must learn these things about themselves through real life experiences. When kids take that risk and overcome challenges, they develop a sense of accomplishment that leads to higher self-confidence.
Some researchers have even found that there is a reduction in symptoms of attention-deficit-disorder when children engage with nature. In an even more general sense, nature can enhance focus, clarity and creativity. (2)
It is easy to go outside when it is warm and sunny, but we must remember to allow ourselves daily exposure to the natural world even during the winter. One way to ensure a positive experience in the colder months is to dress appropriately.
Dress for success:
- Keep warm with a hat, gloves, scarf, coat and ear muffs.
- Dress in several thin layers to keep dry and warm.
- Periodically alternate outdoor and indoor play to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
- Remember to wear sunscreen! Though the sun is further away in winter, its rays, especially when it reflects off snow, can still cause burns.
Some days it is tempting to stay indoors, but encouraging outdoor play can improve quality of life. I challenge you readers to start adventuring outside on the less favorable days – you might be surprised at how much fun it can be!
If you need a little inspiration, here are some fun activities you can do this winter season:
- Create a nature journal/record wildlife – Practice observation skills by drawing pictures and writing stories about experiences in nature. Try to visit some of the same locations throughout the year to record seasonal changes. Like to take photos? Bring along your camera!
- Go on a scavenger hunt – Scavenger hunts are easy, fun and adaptable. Visit the PNC Achievement Center in Beckley Creek Park to pick up a scavenger hunt worksheet to use on the Osage Orange Explorer trail behind the playground and sprayground.
- Plan a bike ride – Take a family bike ride around the neighborhood or on the Louisville Loop at The Parklands.
- Do you have a pet? Take them for a walk with the family or join the Louisville Dog Run Association so you can enjoy The Barklands!
- Play in the Snow – Winter time brings us blankets of snow! Enjoy the snowy days by taking a hike to look for animal tracks. Go sledding, build a snowman, have a snowball fight or make snow angels!
- Community Events – Check out community calendars to help get you out of the house! Remember to visit our events page to see what’s happening at The Parklands!
We hope to see you out here this winter!