I am a firm believer in spending time with kids outside in the winter. But one problem that comes up repeatedly is the daylight hours lessening as winter pushes on. During the summer months, the days are long and the sunlight is plentiful, we’re typically outside by 7 am and the dark doesn’t force us inside until 9 or 10 pm. In the winter where we are, typically the sun starts setting by 5 pm. With school in session as well, this only leaves us roughly an hour of outside time during daylight hours, which is the busiest hour of our day as well, so finding the capacity to get outside can be hard.
But. If we make some changes and get outside even after the sun has gone down, it opens up so much time! It also proves to have its benefits as well. Simply changing up the lighting in which kids play, changes the way they have to think and problem solve. While riding their bike in the daylight hours eventually becomes a mindless activity to them, riding it during the dark forces them to pay extra attention to their surroundings and their bike, and use their intuition and senses to help guide them. Something that was once a mundane, everyday sport turns into an elaborate thinking process for them.
Our tips for getting outside during the dark hours:
Bring the light with you! Flashlights, lanterns, and glow sticks all work wonderfully. We like to buy our glowsticks on Amazon in bulk, making them more affordable. We’ve invested in LED light beanies also found on Amazon. We keep a handful of Dollar Store flashlights around for use as well as a few bigger, nicer ones that put off more light when needed. Pro tip: attach a glowstick to your child’s coat so you can always spot them. Flashlights are great for them to use, but can be easily dropped. Having something more secure that doesn’t require being held can be immensely helpful.
Get creative with the light. Add in Christmas lights, brighter LED porch lights, or bust open spotlights used for working on cars. Our set typically stays up close to the garage door in the winter so it’s easy to access for when we need them.
Have a set activity when you head outside. I talked about this before in my post about getting outside in the cold, but it’s relevant for the dark, too. Since it’s harder and takes a more active choice to go outside in the dark, choosing your activity before going outside can help.
Visit well-lit areas. Window shop downtown, take walks around college campuses if they’re available in your area, or visit well-lit parks.
Do you try to get your kids outside when it’s dark out? What tips would you add?
Winter is well on its way; each day it’s getting colder and colder outside! The other morning it was a chilly 15 degrees out when I drove my daughter to school! No doubt about it, it is cold! Spending time outside in the cold weather is still just as important as spending time outside in the warm weather, and sometimes is arguably more important. Here are our favorite tips for getting out in the cold months and helping the whole experience become more positive and less awful.
Base layers for clothing! Having a base layer of thin cotton PJs, thermals, wool, or something similar can make or break your experience when you’re trying to keep warm. It makes such a difference. We like to do our base layer, sweats, and a sweatshirt over the base layer, then snow pants and a coat. Waterproof gloves and boots also are ideal. The majority of the snow clothes we own are hand-me-downs or purchased secondhand. It doesn’t have to be expensive!
On a relevant note, make “using the bathroom” part of your prepping to go outside routine. Trust me on this one, you won’t want to spend time undressing for a potty break five minutes into your time outside.
Have a goal or activity set before you get outside, or as soon as you get outside. In the summer months when it’s warmer and doesn’t take as much thinking or prep to go outside, we can easily walk out the door and find entertainment fairly quickly. And even if we don’t find entertainment, it’s enjoyable to just spend time in the sun and nice weather, so it’s naturally easier to spend more time outside. When it’s cold, if there’s not a goal or activity waiting, it makes the time outside feel much, much longer and much, much colder. Have a game plan as you walk out the door on what you’ll be doing.
A few fun outdoor activities we like to do when it’s cold outside- bike rides, walks around the block, soccer in snowsuits, shoveling snow, pushing each other around on sleds, and our personal favorite… ice excavating! To be honest, the majority of what we do in the summer, we can do in the winter too, but with a little adjusting.
Enlist some friends for outdoor play. It’s much easier to stay outside and enjoy your time when friends are involved!
Mind the time of the day when planning outdoor time. In the warmer months, we typically go out first thing in the morning and it becomes a big part of our routine. We obviously have to change this as it gets colder outside! Checking weather apps to know when the wind will die down or when the rain or snow will stop can be very beneficial in planning your outdoor time! Yes, it takes more work than just walking out the door and knowing it’ll be nice enough weather to stay out. But like I always say, the time spent outside is always worth it!
Getting outside may take a little more time and effort, especially with little kids. However, you don’t need to read this blog post or some Pinterest quote on why time spent outside is beneficial. All you need to do is spend the time and you’ll see the benefits tenfold.
It’s 30 degrees outside and there is snow up to your kids’ knees. The recess bell rings and you glance towards the pile of coats hanging on the coat rack; you can already picture the line of students standing next to you to do up zippers, tie snowboots, or pull on a mitten. Do you:
A. Declare today an inside recess day and pull out all of the fun board games in your closet?
B. Take a deep breath and start zipping up coats.
Obviously keeping inside during the winter is easiest, whether you’re a mom of three kids or a teacher of 32 students, winter clothes will always be a chore. But rest assured, your hard work is not going to waste, the benefit these kids have by playing outside is well worth the work in the end.
Many schools are moving to a stance where recess is not an option, it just happens, given outside circumstances are not extreme. Teachers are no longer permitted to use less recess and outdoor time as a consequence in many schools across the nation, so choosing to stay indoors during the winter months is less common. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t teachers out there wishing they could choose option A and stay in sometimes.
Sending kids outside to play in the cold can boost their immune systems. Yes, really! Winter gets a bad rap on sickness because many think the cold weather brings the sniffles. But in reality, it’s us hiding from the cold that creates sick kids by cooping everyone up indoors and sharing more germs. Giving them a chance to be outdoors and in fresh air is just what we need to fight off sickness.
Kids that play outside are resilient kids that will continue to have outdoor winter hobbies throughout their lives. When they have experienced being outside often and how to deal with cold weather, wind, and snow, they have those tools for life and are more likely to continue to use them into adulthood. Providing opportunities for authentic outdoor play as a child pays off well into the adult years.
With warmer weather, it’s common to see teachers out with their students for various lessons, whether they are doing an activity for P.E. or switching it up with a math lesson on the basketball courts, being outside is a great change of pace for restless students. How often are we as teachers bringing our class outdoors in cold weather for lessons? It does take more time and effort to bring kids out in the winter, but again, the rewards are worth it.
Something that often holds us back from outdoor play is the lack of proper snow and cold gear. It can be difficult to spend too much time outside with cold toes and fingers, so making sure our mittens, boots, and coats are weather appropriate can have a great impact on the duration we and our students are willing to stay outside.
In this video, a school in Canada talks about how important outdoor play is. They even give multiple examples of things kids can do outside, such as paint in the snow or observe nature. Trees and ponds and even animals are not the same year-round and observing these changes can be very insightful to watch.
In what ways are you facilitating outdoor play and learning with your students?