So, we know that 'outside is the best side', but when the temperatures drop and it’s all a bit BRRR, how do we resist the urge to hibernate?
Is it good for kids to play outside in the cold?
Yes! It’s official. Think Scandinavia where, even in the depths of their freezing winters, you will find pre-school children playing outside at every opportunity. Wrapped up warm they spend their days exploring and playing in their natural environment. Scandinavian children are said to be more attentive, fitter and generally healthier than British children as well as outperforming our children in academic subjects up to age 18. But why?
Why playing outside is important...
Children Escape from Indoor Germs
We learned during the Covid pandemic that the perception that we can catch a cold by getting cold outside is simply wrong. Stagnant, indoor environments breed all kinds of germs. Fresh cold air is good for us. Outside, children come into contact with bacteria in a natural setting and the more time they spend outdoors, the less likely they are to develop autoimmune disorders and allergies in the future.
Playing outside in the cold - yes wrapped up warm - but with some skin exposed e.g. their little faces, is very beneficial.
Cold Water Immersion Research
Many of us have already digested the latest science on the benefits of getting cold, indeed you may have a cold-water immersion tank- or a wheelie bin full of cold water- in your back garden which you regularly sit in. Or you may end your morning shower with a blast of icy water. The research into the health and well-being benefits of getting ourselves cold is compelling.
In her book Winter Swimming (2022), Professor Susanna Soberg (PHD) explains the benefits of exposure to the cold and how it triggers chemicals in our bodies to regulate our body temperature. This is profoundly positive for our health.
‘Most of us spend our lives finding solutions to protect our bodies from discomfort, challenges and life-threatening situations and our bodies are weakened in the process. We live in a constant bubble of carefully controlled temperatures, from our own home’s central heating system …to the heating systems in our cars’ - Susanna Soberg
And if you’re still not convinced, being outside in a natural setting also:
- Gets our circadian rhythms in order by exposure to natural light, especially early in the day, reinforcing the strongest circadian cue and helping us sleep peacefully at night
- Is restorative for both children and adults, reducing anxiety and the production of stress hormones
- Provides a different experience, stimulating the senses
- Gives us doses of vitamin D and increases circulation
- Develops resilience: winter provides opportunities for children to learn that they can manage when life gets a bit challenging - a life-skill we all need to nurture
The secret to embracing winter outdoors is to dress appropriately, keep moving, keep fed and know when to call it quits.
- Outdoor Clothing
Dress Appropriately. Layers are the key. We invested in merino base layers in last year’s sales - I’m now a convert. Waterproof trousers (for adults and older children) and puddle suits are game changers. With these you can kick the slush, slide on the mud, jump in the puddles, and lie in the snow - all worthy activities. Keep your head warm (fleece-lined hats avoid the dreaded wool-itch), wear thick socks, with wellies and get some waterproof gloves on all the fingers. For outdoor gear, we love Muddy Puddles.
- Children's Winter Activities
Keep moving. Don’t get cold in the first place - so avoid hanging around watching those children and run around with them! A long walk, some Winter Olympics (think snowball target-practise) or outdoor PE (try before you mock) are all great ways to keep the blood pumping. Build a den to provide a safe base to shelter from rain and be a snack café, and take along easily portable activities to keep children moving and engaged. You can pop them in your pocket or back pack and they are just the job! Some of our favourite, engaging outdoor activities are gofindit cards and activity guides from Go Wild Go West.
- Food to Keep you Warm in Winter
Keep fed. Tummies filled with slow-burn calories will keep bodies warmer for longer. Porridge with honey is a winner here on a cold morning - as is a thermos of hot chocolate outside. You could even light a fire and try making damper-bread or toasting some marshmallows.
- Feel Cosy in Winter
Know when to call it quits. For us, this is when it stops being fun - for any one of us. Keep going when someone has had enough, and you risk putting them off going out next time. Make going back inside really special with hot drinks, warm socks on the radiator, and blankets to snuggle up in. Children will cherish the adventure and the sensory pleasure of the whole experience.
Though being outdoors in the colder weather takes a little more preparation and a lot more clothing than the summer months - there are so many fabulous opportunities for fun and for learning and you’ll never regret making that effort.