How to Make Outdoor Play Possible All Year Long
It is so important that children get outside to play. When children step outdoors their senses activate and they experience the world in a heightened state—seemingly more excited and dramatic than our seasoned adult sensations in the outside world. Many of us have forgotten the beauty of the sound of rain and the smell of an incoming storm. Do we still care about ants meandering through blades of grass? Or the slosh of mud in a puddle? Who has time to care about discovering and rediscovering the mysteries and marvels of our world? Children! It’s the lucky adult who gets to experience the wonders and marvels of mother nature with a child. It’s still all happening around us whether we stop to notice or not.
But it’s cold outside! And wet. And muddy. And our kids might get dirty! And then what will we do?! Deep breaths. Be calm. Rest assured that parents and caregivers have been grappling with these very same questions for eons. As long as there have been children there have been muddy children—and adults dealing with muddy children. Clean up, warm up, hot soup and fresh clothes. It’s not that big of a deal. And yet these are the very issues that often stop adults from letting children play outside in various weather conditions and getting a little dirty. We think it’s more work for us. It might even be dangerous. Jack Frost nips! And yet there are simple ways to handle inclement weather. Proper clothing, the right footwear and the right layers make all the difference! In fact, there is a famous saying in the world of early education and outdoor play: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.
But what does that mean? To me it suggests that all weather is interesting and children should experience all weather conditions. It also means any weather and temperature can be safe for children if they are properly dressed. I first heard this saying from educators at forest schools in Norway and Denmark—places where children are outside all day everyday layered up in puffy snow suits loving life and exploring the woods. If cold and wet weather doesn’t stop Norwegian children why should it stop us? It takes careful planning and shopping and a little extra time to get clothes on and off. It could feel like more work for us. But if we take a step back and remember the deeper goals we have for our children to grow and experience life on our planet then it is not more work for us. It is simply the work. And it is work we can put our love and creativity into like everything else we do for our children. It just takes committing to the idea that children should play outside and explore their world and our job is to do everything we can to facilitate that happening—with love, humor, and the right clothing (for ourselves too!). Layer them up and then let children be our guides to the magic and mystery of our natural world. Everyday is different. Go outside and see!