It's not news that winters are hard. Winters with kids can make the season seem even harder to get through. Oftentimes parents and caregivers take a look outside, then glance at their weather app, and fall into the Netflix routine. It's difficult not to when the alternative is bundling up to go outside and be uncomfortable. But we're here to tell you why you should haul out the kids' snow gear and get out there anyway, and what makes going outside worth it - even in the winter.
There are exceptions to the "there's no bad weather, just bad clothing" rule. Subzero temperatures with small children aren't for everyone, and if you don't have the proper snow gear to handle such weather, then it's better to stay indoors. But for the days when the temperature is manageable, getting outside during the day is good for your children developmentally and socially.
What I always shout from the rooftops when my friends ask how I get my 3 year old to nap for 2 hours per day, and then sleep from 7:30pm to 7:30am, is that you need to take your kids outside.
There are several ways in which being outdoors is beneficial to baby and child sleep. Here are a few:
- The natural light helps regulate their circadian rhythm, so they are sleepy at night and awake during the day.
- Being exposed to daylight generally encourages babies to be more active, which tires them out quickly.
- For older kids, exercise outdoors in general releases endorphins into the bloodstream and helps produce melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy.
- Spending time outdoors in all weather helps foster an appreciation for nature in children that cannot be taught. By experiencing nature and weather in all of its forms, children gain a deeper understanding of the world happening around them, rather than deeming 70 degree temperatures as the only acceptable form of weather worth being outside for.
There have been multiple studies done on child and baby sleep patterns and time and time again, it’s been proven that kids and babies who spend time outside have better naps and sleep through the night. Babies who specifically spend time in natural light in the afternoons have better sleep habits at night.
Huffpost did an interview with pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, where she stated that children need at least 3 hours of outdoor free play per day.
Many of you readers are probably going to drop off here. Or you can’t imagine how you’ll spend 3 hours outside with your little ones. Or if you have a baby, how are you supposed to take them outside in winter for 3 hours? Or even in warm weather?
If you’re going to take on the challenge (which ends up not being a challenge at all) to get 3 hours of outdoor free play per day with your kids or baby, know that 3 hours is not a hard requirement - especially to start. If it’s cold out, dress yourself and your little ones well and spend as much time as you can outside. That may be 30 minutes, or that may be 3 hours. Eventually, you’ll get used to it and it’ll become part of your daily routine.
Below are the tips to get you through this winter:
- Bundle those babies up. If you have a baby, bundle them up as warm as you can and get them in the stroller. Go for a winter walk around your neighborhood and talk to your baby about the things you see. It may seem like it’s not doing much, but your baby benefits from the natural light and gets a lot of stimulation from the outdoors and your voice. It is so beneficial for their natural clock as well. Babies struggle with regulating their circadian rhythm, and this is one way to help them sort it out.
- Make sure the older kids have proper gear. This isn't to exclude the younger kids from having proper gear, but if your kids are going to be running and jumping through snow, they need to be dressed properly. If you’re battling Chicago winters, get them some sturdy warm pants, snow pants, snow boots, a winter jacket, waterproof gloves, and a good hat. It may seem like a lot, but it’s worth it for uninterrupted sleep at night and good afternoon naps.
- If there is a sledding hill nearby, grab your sled and take them! This way they can play on their own and you can supervise to make sure they’re save. Grab a hot chocolate on your way out the door to make standing in the cold more enjoyable.
- Take them to the park. Young children love parks and it’s a safe place they can play where they don’t need you to interact with them. Make sure there isn’t any ice or snow on the equipment before setting them free in the playground.
- Go to the zoo! Bundle up your baby adequately and head out for a much less crowded afternoon at the zoo. This is a great activity for older kids. While they won’t see any zebras or giraffes, there are colder weather animals who are still out. Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago has penguins, seals, and farm animals you can feed in the winter.
- Look for special events at your favorite parks where you live. At many city zoos, the park districts will decorate the zoo in Christmas lights. Zoos often open in the afternoon and are available for you and your family to walk through and explore. Arboretums are another great place to take kids during winter, especially if you are in an urban area that does not see a lot of vegetation. Showing your children what actual nature may look like can spark curiosity.
- Take a hike. Put your baby in a carrier and let your older child walk next to you as you take a long walk through whatever forest/walking trail your city has to offer you.
- Go sit in your backyard. The best kind of play a child can get is one where they are forced to use nothing but their imagination. Take your tot (or tots) outside and let them build snowmen (or snowwomen!), igloos, and whatever their little minds come up with. You can sit nearby with hot coffee or chocolate
- Walk to places instead of drive. If you live within walking distance of your grocery store but still prefer to drive, try walking to the store with your kids every so often. You can go for a smaller grocery run, so you’re not carrying multiple bags home with you.
- If you're a mom, tell your husband to take the kids outside.
- If you're a dad, you should take your kids outside for a bit.
Do it for your Instagram
All in all, spending time outdoors with benefit both your kids and you. Your babies will not only begin to sleep better, but from the very start they will foster an appreciation for nature. Your toddlers will use their imagination more, and everyone gets a little exercise. Remember - there is no bad weather. Just bad clothing!