Why it’s so important that kids get outside in the winter months
You wake up on a Saturday morning and the weather is cold and wet. Do you:
- Quickly plan for some indoor play activities for your kids? or
- Get them dressed in their warm clothes, wellies and waterproofs and head out for some puddle splashing?
I’d say many of us would probably choose option 1? It’s tempting during the winter months to spend more time inside but it’s important for our children that we get out just a bit and, with a bit of preparation and the right kit, it can be positively beneficial for our kids and ourselves.
Research shows that British children are among the most housebound in the world – with three quarters spending less time outside than prisoners – less than half an hour a day!
Alarmingly, more than one in nine children in England hasn’t set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least 12 months and one in five British parents interviewed said that on a typical day their children didn’t go outside at all!
When quizzed about their children’s lack of outdoor time, parents cited the weather as the main reason. The British weather is far from ideal but are our winters really worse than those in Scandinavia or Canada? It seems to me that something else is going on.
Why is time outdoors so important?
I believe time spent outdoors and connected to nature should be given the same level of priority when caring for children as their academic education. It is both good for them and good for their parents.
Good for them
Studies show how vital it is that children have regular access to green spaces, with proven benefits including:
- enhanced brain development,
- improved concentration,
- mental health and wellbeing,
- staying fit and healthy.
Recent research from the World Economic Forum even shows that children who have regular ‘free play’ outdoors are more likely to do better at school. It isn’t easy getting our children up and into school five days per week but most of us do it. Why do we choose to forego something that is every bit as beneficial for their health and future wellbeing?
Good for you
My own practical research into this subject – I have been that parent who can’t get their kids outside in a morning – backs the above up. After dealing with too much cabin fever I’ve decided my two sons and I HAVE to go out every day – for all of our sanity! Even if it’s just a walk or cycle to the local shops, spending time outdoors calms all of us and puts us in a better frame of mind. My boys are so much happier and fight less when they’ve spent time outdoors, they often don’t even ask to watch TV when we get home if they’ve had a good stint outside!
How to get them outside in the winter
So how do we get our recalcitrant children and selves away from the TV, games console and warm, warm fire and out and about for the next few months?
Talk it up
How much children WANT to play outside has a lot to do with how we, their parents, perceive the natural world and the interest we take in it: if children are taken on family outings to forests or parks they’re more likely to take an interest in the natural world themselves.
Similarly, how we TALK about the weather in front of our children will make a significant difference to how they perceive it. If it’s raining and freezing for example, we have a habit in this country of talking the weather down. Instead saying something like ‘it’s a dressing up warm day today! Let’s bring a flask of hot chocolate with us to the park!” portrays the weather in a more positive light and makes us feel positive about it too!
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing
Investing in some sturdy full body waterproofs and some warm clothes for your kids during the winter months will help them feel more comfortable. But importantly get some for yourself as well – I feel the cold but I invested in a warm down jacket last year and now I can spend a lot longer standing in the park waiting for my boys before wanting to go home!
Have a list of things to do
Your time outdoors could involve anything from bike riding, gardening, visiting national trust sites or local forests and parks, playing ball games, going for a hike, going on nature scavenger hunts, playing in a playground, exploring a city or just deciding to walk somewhere instead of driving or getting public transport. Going outdoors doesn’t have to mean doing more: it can just mean approaching your schedule differently.
I recently set up a blog and facebook, twitter and instagram pages to share nature and outdoor ideas and activities to help inspire families to get their children outdoors. Please join me on any of them and I’d love to hear your ideas about ways to connect children with nature and get them outdoors more!