[Note: This is a Sponsored Guest Post contributed by Alia Goodyear, Director of Communications and Marketing at Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, MD.]
I have this nostalgia about the time I spent outside as a child – sitting high up in the mulberry tree in my grandmother’s backyard eating berries and swinging my purple feet above her brick patio. I remember long hours “perfecting” handstands and cartwheels on the prickly zoysia grass in my family’s front yard. I want my 5 year old to have more outside time and more unstructured play. Being a parent in this information age, I want her to benefit from connecting with nature, building her core strength and risk assessment skills while navigating unpredictable terrain. I want her to grow her creativity and executive functions using whatever resources are at her fingertips. As any parent, I want her to be happier, healthier, to sleep better, to have better concentration, and to build lasting friendships with her peers. (See supporting articles at the end of this post.)
But it’s hard.
As a parent working full time and commuting in the DC area, I know it’s hard. My daughter is still too young to truly have unsupervised time outside, and I’m working on my anxieties about what that will look like when she’s older. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to cultivate a kid that thrives outside no matter the weather. There are, of course, all kinds of outdoor activities that we and our children can get involved in – which is great! I think there is also something to be said for the simplicity of “send a kid outside and let them figure it out.” However, what I found in writing this was the realization that this is more about me changing my own mindset and everyday behaviors. Here are the areas I’ve identified that I need to work on…
1. Be intentional about it
– We have a family calendar with activities and such, I’m going to add blocks of time for unstructured outdoor play on the calendar.
– Our townhouse has a little outdoor space with a fence. I’m trying to make it a priority to send her outside over other activities when she is looking for something to do, even if it isn’t bright and sunny.
– If we don’t have big yards, I think we can still find ways to take advantage of whatever outdoor space we have available.
2. Push my own boundaries
– As much as I want this for my daughter, at 44 I’ve become a bit of a wuss about being out in all weather myself. However, because I’m thinking about what I want for her, I have to think about what behavior I’m modeling.
– Case in point – a couple of months ago, during that unseasonably cold patch at the end of spring, my daughter and I were home on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I looked outside and my gut response was to curl up with a book and a blanket. But first, I decided that I wanted to get my daughter outside and that meant I had to go outside too. And we did it. We ran around in the rain and played tag and laughed and had a fun time. Then we chilled out and were cozy indoors.
– The thought of walking the dog in the rain generally makes me heave a big sigh. But the next time, I will invite my daughter and encourage her to splash in puddles and dance in the rain.
3. Change how I perceive and talk about the weather
– I realize that I use words like “dismal” and “miserable” to talk about cold and wet days. Watching kids on the playground on days like that can be instructive. They can have a ball making a mudslide and going down it over and over again.
– I need to remind myself, and my kid, that we can still play on a gray day.
– Unless the weather is truly extreme, you can encourage your kids to spend time outside even if it’s wet – even if it’s cold – even if it’s cold AND wet.
– Some of this is about having the right gear! Be sure to check out the gear tips below.
4. Expand my definition of indoor vs. outdoor activities
– Writing this, I’m reminded of a stick house I built for myself when I was a pre-teen. I loved it because it was a space that was just mine and I’d created it for myself. My mother took a picture of me sitting, reading in the stick house on a rainy day with an umbrella stuck into the “roof” to keep my book dry. I want to reconnect with that girl and stretch my ideas of what I can do where and when.
– Eating a meal outside can be a great way to shake up your routine.
– I get wistful thinking about the “summer feet” I had as a kid. I generally like being barefoot in the house – but these days I almost always put on shoes to go outside. I truly think it would be beneficial for me to ground myself with more barefoot connection to the earth.
5. Focus on what I can do with the space I have
– For me this is keeping a small potted garden on our little deck. While this one is an activity – it’s one where I know I can include my daughter on a regular basis. It’s a good one too because it’s relatively simple, at the house, and has a set routine.
– My daughter lights up when she waters our plants and helps to keep the soil free of invasive tree propellers etc. I need to celebrate that and let her regularly dig in the dirt, splash some water around, and harvest the herbs.
– In the colder months, if you get super into it, there are some plants you can cultivate outside in the DC area. I had an intrepid potted kale plant that stuck around even in the snow one year. Here’s an article from a Maryland gardener about keeping a potted garden going all year round.
6. Let my kid get dirty
– Let’s be honest, we already do a lot of laundry. Sometimes I wonder if I’m washing things that don’t really need to be washed. Let’s make our laundry count!
– We keep a towel by the door for the dog’s paws on rainy/snowy days. Why not keep one or more for the people too?
7. Don’t go it alone
– If your child has other caregivers, make sure to tell them that outside time is a priority for your child.
– If you think that your child’s school doesn’t provide enough outdoor time, advocate for more and find other parents to join your efforts. See the links at the end of this post for supporting information.
– During a snow day last year, I had an important conference call and my daughter was stir crazy. Some neighbors texted that they were going sledding nearby. I replied that we’d have to join later because of my call. But then I pushed myself to ask for what I really wanted and what would be best for me and my daughter – I asked if she could join without me while I took the call and they were happy to oblige. It can be hard to ask for help but I’m glad I did! I was able to complete my call without distraction and she had a great time.
These are some areas I’m working on… If something here resonates with you on your parenting journey, I hope this gives you some inspiration. Enjoy your day — whatever the weather!
Outdoor Gear Tips:
Linc Kinnicutt is venturing on his 6th year teaching the Washington Waldorf School “Waldorf in the Woods” forest kindergarten program – where class is held outside all school-year long. Here are his tips and suggestions for must-have gear, based on his experience teaching kids outside — no matter the weather:
– Make sure that gear is waterproof rather than water-resistant, which is almost useless for real rain.
– Layering is key. Make sure that the outer layer will keep the inner layers dry. As soon as water or wet gets to the inner layers on a cold day, it is almost impossible to stay warm.
– Rubber rainboots, with no lining, are very cold, even with most socks. We recommend Boggs style boots, even though the neoprene is not fully waterproof.
– Gloves and mittens with cuffs that go over the sleeve tend to work better.
– Rain pants should go over boots, otherwise the rain will run down the rain pants into the boots.
– Warm hats are essential.
– When venturing into the woods in the warm months, long pants and long sleeves are recommended, even if it is hot, to protect against ticks.
– If you are looking for a specific brand for gear, Linc’s favorite based on his observations is Polarn O Pyret.
Further reading on the benefits of outdoor play:
– 6 reasons children need to play outside -Harvard Health Blog
– Kids do not spend nearly enough time outside. Here’s how (and why) to change that. -The Washington Post
– Cold Weather Outdoor Play Boosts Immune System! -Pennsylvania Dept of Health
– 5 reasons why every kid should play outside -Today’s Parent
– Let Your Kids Get Dirty -Outside Magazine
– Could walking barefoot on grass improve your health? -Washington Post
Alia Goodyear grew up in the MD suburbs of DC. She is an alumna of the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, MD where she currently serves as the Director of Communications and Marketing. Her background ranges from Theatre Artist to Software Analyst and many spaces in between.