On Parenting In The Winter (When You Hate The Cold)

We suck at getting outside in the winter.

I don’t mean getting out of the house. We’re fabulous at that. I’m an introvert raising at least one extrovert: I lean heavily on local playgroups and library programs. Isabel wakes up in the morning asking where we’re going that day. Rather, I mean getting all our winter clothes on and getting our butts out into the back yard, or down the street to the snowy park, or even just into the stroller or wagon for an outside walk. If more layers are needed than a sweater or a pair of shoes, we just… don’t.

But, here’s the thing: there is no denying that getting your kids outside is second only to reading to them when it comes to early child development and education, even when the weather turns cold and frigid. It’s good for their mood, their health, and their energy levels. And, they learn so much when given the opportunity to explore, observe, and question their surroundings. Get my girls outside and you can almost see the synapses firing in their brains.

The summer we moved out of Toronto, I was home full-time with Isabel, waiting patiently for our second baby to join our family. Early on, I learned about an outdoor playgroup that Family Space, the local government-funded child and family support organization, hosted at one of the nearby conservation areas every Friday. Thrilled, I happily loaded a 2 year old Isabel up nearly every week and dragged her around the trails, feeding the birds, making stone soup, catching bugs, baking mud muffins.

I loved Fridays and she loved them too.

Obviously, all that ended when I found a job, but now that I’m home again with my little people for a while, I’ve been itching to get back to the playgroup. The only problem? Winter. I’m not a winter person. I never will be. It doesn’t help that, for years, I’ve muddled by with a coat that is one layer shy of being warm enough and boots that turn my feet to frozen bricks almost the second I step outside. Why should I need anything better when I’m just going from house to car, from car to destination, and back again? This winter has been particularly cold and has provided me plenty of excuses to stick to nice warm, inside locations.

This past week gave us temperatures that were just a little warmer. It even rained, melting all but the biggest banks and hills of snow. Friday was chilly, but I was certain we could handle it. But here’s something that happens when you avoid dragging your kids outside during the winter: they pick up on your distaste for the cold and wet. They don’t really want to go either. So, once again, we ended up at one of our regular playgroups instead, bouncing between the dollhouse and the craft table and the big plastic slide in the two, temperature controlled playrooms.

Thankfully, we didn’t miss our chance. Once a month, Family Space runs their outdoor playgroup on a Saturday as well as on the Friday. This past weekend just happened to be the weekend and, without telling Isabel too much about where we were going, Mark and I loaded up both girls with all their warm outside gear and headed to the conservation area.

Oh, it felt so good to be outside. We sprinkled bird seed for the chickadees, made our way through a story walk (a book, deconstructed and set up along a path), spent time in the mud kitchen, and finished the morning by making “fairy fires”, and roasting apples over a full-sized fire. We left with rosy cheeks and frozen toes and the sort of pleasant fatigue that can only be experienced after hours spent in the crisp cold of a winter day.

As I put the girls to bed later that night, I wondered if this is the element our days have been missing. Will the girls be happier, sleep better, communicate more, get sick less, run faster, learn their alphabets, get the order of numbers right, tantrum less, be perfect children if we just get outside more? Will our days suddenly go more smoothly? Would I be happier with a regular dose of forest bathing?

It seems so simple. As long as the weather holds, it will be an easy thing to incorporate into our life. But, there are two long months remaining of cold, and snow; it’s not going to be easy. So. Those of you who get outside every day, or even just every week, help me out! How do I manage this in the winter months? Can I foster a love for winter in my children when I dislike so much about it myself? Share all the tips and advice you’ve got: I’m going to need it!


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One response to “On Parenting In The Winter (When You Hate The Cold)

  1. Kristin Walker

    Being forced to go outside by tiny humans made me realize that I didn’t hate going out in the winter, I hated being cold. So, I invested in some really good winter boots and assorted gear. Preheating my boots by putting them over an air vent helps a lot, too. The warmer that your feet are to start, the longer it takes for them to freeze solid. When I stopped being painfully cold, I started enjoying being out. Also, sand toys = equally as much fun as snow toys and bubbles freeze when it is cold enough.

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