Go outside and play in the winter — it’s good for you!

Even in the wintertime, nature is just one more way to keep your children healthy physically, mentally and emotionally!

It was only a generation ago that children were almost required to play outside. The changing of seasons was only a reason to change the activities, not a reason to stay inside. In the spring you could find children flying kites, hosting neighborhood baseball games and catching pollywogs (lucky children got to keep the pollywogs in aquariums until they turned into frogs!). Summer was a time to ride bikes, play kick the can, and enjoy a game of flashlight tag when the sun finally went down. Fall’s crispy air lent itself to raking leaves into big piles for the sole purpose of running and jumping into them. Wintertime meant snow forts, ice skating and building snowmen.

There were hours and hours of outdoor fun, free play and discovery. This was a time to explore and learn about nature as children kept themselves physically and mentally active, resulting in multiple health benefits. Most of this play was unsupervised and allowed children to explore and discover nature in very intimate ways. Even in the winter, “snow days” meant children bundled up and headed outdoors.

Today, the importance of letting children play in nature is just as important as the benefits of teaching children about nature, in nature are well documented. According to a blog posted March 31, 2014 from the Children and Nature Network, “There is a growing body of scientific evidence that strongly suggests nature plays a vital role in the health of children. Their experience with the natural world affects their ability to learn, their emotional and physical health and over-all wellbeing. Stress levels, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cognitive functioning and more are positively affected by time spent in nature.” 

Knowing that nature is just one more way to keep your children healthy physically, mentally and emotionally, adults need to be vigilant and model a love of learning and exploring nature, in nature. As nature writer Thomas Berry said, “Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” Now that we have taken nature out of the classification of leisure and placed it in the health category, American parents may be more willing to go on that hike, bike ride or let their children enjoy free play out-of-doors.

This winter, Michigan State University Extension encourages you to enjoy some outdoor time with your kids. Kids need to get away from screen time, use their imagination and discover winter close-up. After all, according to Louv in the Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, “time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.”

Here are some fun ideas for wintertime fun:

  • Build a snowman
  • Look for animal tracks and scat
  • Go birding or put out a bird feeder and identify the birds you see
  • Identify the evergreen trees in your neighborhood
  • Go sledding, skiing or hiking in the snow

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