by Ginny Yurich
Our family despises the cold. Or, to be more specific, I despise the cold. On any given typical winter day (but actually beginning in fall), you’ll see my kids sledding or snowboarding on a small hill in our backyard while I watch from the window. What are you to do when you are a big proponent of outside time, yet you loathe the bitter temps that permeate Michigan for months on end? Well, you front load your nature time during the beautiful Michigan summers and then you find some workarounds that make time in the open air bearable, and even enjoyable. I have found my personal limit is 28 degrees — but that’s only as long as it’s sunny out. Anything lower or including clouds, wind, and moisture, and I am one miserable mama.
So, what’s a family to do during the dreary days of winter? I don’t think staying inside for four to five months is a viable option. As families, we have to get outside. We all need it for our mental health. We all need the fresh air. We all need to break up the routine. Mostly, we all need the movement. My kids move so much less when they are cooped up inside day in and day out.
Here are my five tips for increasing nature time when you’d really rather be snuggled up in front of a fireplace:
1. Utilize outdoor places with an inside option.
You must find the right places to go. This is absolutely key. During the spring, summer, and fall, we have a list of outdoor options so long we don’t ever even come close to completely finishing it. During the winter, there are only about five places we go. My criteria is that there MUST be a warm building on the premises where we can go inside to warm up, use a restroom, and possibly eat a meal or at least a snack. For us, there are three nature centers and three zoos within driving distance. If we are going to attempt being outside for more than an hour or so, we stick with places like those.
2. Schedule your life using your weather app.
There are all sorts of weather apps these days. When I look ahead at the week, I start with the weather. I’m looking for any day that has a chunk of time where it’s going to be warmer than 28 degrees and I lock those in as outside days. I commit to two or three days of extended fresh air per week for my children and so I have to put that first, otherwise we won’t ever get any fresh air. If a bowling field trip happens on a day when it is 31 and sunny, we skip bowling that week.
3. Wear woolens during any month that has the letter “R” in it.
I am a die-hard fan of the woolen underlayer. Some say a wool underlayer should be worn at all times during any month with the letter “R” in it. Think about that for a minute. Temps really do start to plummet around here, especially in the morning and evening. It starts in September and then we have cold days through April. I could go into all the amazing stats about wool — how it is antimicrobial, environmentally sustainable, does not itch, is hypoallergenic, etc., but you could look all of that up yourself. So, what I will say is that when I touch my kid’s bellies after a frigid day outside, and they wore a wool underlayer, I feel like I’ve put my hands in a warm little oven. The wool fibers are actually hairs that are basically tiny little coils. Because of their unique shape, they trap in the body heat and make a significant difference. They are certainly more expensive than a cotton t-shirt or a pair of sweatpants, but you only have to buy one set a season and they allow us to extend our time outside significantly without being miserable. We have gotten more than our money’s worth out of their underlayers because they wear it most days in the “R” months. Because of its properties, they don’t need to be washed often, and when we do have to wash it it’s so much simpler than I ever thought it would be. Wool shampoo, not detergent (remember, it’s hair). Throw the woolens in one of those mesh bags. Hand wash cycle on the washing machine. Lay flat to dry. Easy peasy!
4. Embrace snow activities.
Kids love the snow. They love to build igloos. Go sledding. Throw snowballs. Make forts. Shovel. Spray it with colored water. Ice fish. Eat it. Make snow angels. Ski. Snowshoe. Put a smile on your face and pretend you love it, too!
5. Add to your outside hours ten minutes at a time.
What if you sent your kids into the backyard the first 10 minutes of every hour? From after school until bedtime, you’d get a solid 30 minutes in, which is significant in chilly temps. Do it a few days a week and the hours will start to add up! This option becomes easier if your kiddos are somewhat self-sufficient in getting on winter gear. If they aren’t, this can be a lot of work for the parent or caregiver — but in my opinion, it’s worth the benefits.