If you’re like me, the holiday season is always a whirlwind of stress, exhaustion, obligation, guilt, forced conversations with distant relatives with a little bit of cheer thrown in here and there. This year, two weeks off from daycare for winter break was also thrown in the mix, making my Scrooge attitude reach ultimate intensity. While the holidays are over, daycare is still a week out from starting up again, and I’m here to let you in a few secrets of how I keep my sanity, and my daughter’s, by using something that’s readily available to all: nature!
I totally get it, when the weather is cold, it’s REALLY hard to convince yourself to go outside… but the benefits of playing outdoors for littles is hard to ignore. Nature is healing. It’s our home. Humans crave a connection to nature. Nature provides the perfect platform to practice tuning into your five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. By being outside, you are forced to be present. This mindfulness helps your mental health, physical health, and social health.
Here are a few of the reasons braving the winter weather is worth it:
Vitamin D Exposure: Ahhh, vitamin D aka the sunshine vitamin. In addition to the benefits like aiding in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus (hello strong, healthy bones!), Vitamin D also reduces depression. Whether it’s for you or for your child, anything that helps regulate mood and decreases depression and/or anxiety is a win in my book!
Nature Play: Playing in nature (think: log steppers, splashing in puddles, collecting sticks, climbing trees rather than the standard metal/plastic play structures found at most playgrounds) encourages children to further develop fine motor skills, creativity, relationships with other children and problem-solving skills. Studies have even shown nature play also instills a sense of worth and accomplishment, helping children formulate pride and other important life-long values.
Exhaustion: If the above reasons weren’t enough to convince you to bundle your kids up for some outdoor playtime, think of the sheer amount of exhaustion running around, and around, and around will create. My 2-year-old loves sleeping (yes, I know I’m VERY lucky!), but sometimes if I can tell we’re tiptoeing the line between solid nap and total breakdown, I’ll take L outside and chase her for a little. She thinks it’s fun, she runs and exhausts her energy reserve, and we both get to enjoy a few hours of quiet, beautiful napping silence.
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to enjoy the benefits of nature, even in the winter, here are a few of my go-to outdoor activities:
1) Parks: We love going to the EcoLab at Marian University, 100 Acres at the IMA, Holliday Park, Eagle Creek State Park (park admission fees apply) and Fort Harrison State Park (park admission fees apply). We’ll walk around on the trails and use our five senses to make the experience extra engaging. We’ll touch scratchy tree trunks, smell leaves and flowers, collect leaves that look the same and listen for birds.
2) Backyard Scavenger Hunt: Create a list of items to find and let your littles explore on their own. Just yesterday, L’s list of items to find included: an acorn, a brown leaf, something smooth, a puddle and something green.
3) Picnic: Yes, I know it’s cold outside, but we bundled up and laid a blanket in the backyard and ate lunch outside. Even though it only lasted 15 minutes, this easy change of scenery was mindblowing to L and was even funnier/exciting when we brought a few stuffed animals outside to join our picnic.
4) Chalk: Just because it’s not summer, doesn’t mean sidewalk chalk isn’t just as amusing. Especially since our sidewalks haven’t been covered in snow this winter, chalk has been a lifesaver in our household. We draw all sorts of winter things: snowflakes, the Grinch, presents, Christmas trees.
Even if you can’t muster up the energy to plan an outdoor activity, just take your little one on a quick walk up and down the street to look for sticks or even just stand out on the porch for a few minutes. You and your child will benefit from the fresh air, I promise.