Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rain, Snow, Sleet, and Cold: Why spending time in the outdoors in most conditions is important and healthy.

Summer notes from Kodiak - While in Kodiak over the summer, I've been trying to get interest from other parents to create an outdoor play/hiking group. I've encountered a little resistance that has surprised me... "We'd love to... as long as it is nice outside." Why does this surprise me? Kodiak is an island community prone to wind and rain. I assumed that parents and kids were a little more hearty (they quite possibly are and I just haven't met them yet because they're already outdoors having fun. We've only been here a few weeks), and would take their kids out because they may not get our for a while if they wait for that perfect day. Having lived in Anchorage through record rainfall and snow years, we've come to accept the weather for what it is and deal with it. A sunny day is just that much more appreciated. Here in Kodiak if the skies open up for a few hours people know to take advantage of it!

(Since I originally wrote this I've found many kindred spirits! I knew they were here. In fact this may be the most welcoming community I've ever been to! I may have to be torn away from here when my husband's project is completed!)

We've come against this resistance before with our hiking group in Anchorage, but gradually parents have become more confident in their skills in preparing the whole gang for warm, comfortable and dry fun in all kinds of weather. Much of that thanks goes to our dear friend and author Jennifer Aist through her book Babes in the Woods and the classes and clinics she puts on for families (even if you aren't in Alaska, your group or organization can book her to do presentations!). There also happens to be a global movement to connect and reconnect children with the outdoors. This movement has largely been spurred on by the author Richard Louv and his books LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, and most recently, THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.

Why is taking your kids out in cold or inclement weather important and actually healthy for them? Oh the reasons are numerous:
  • Fresh air is so important for so many health reasons, it helps with croup, colicky babies, it is very important in the winter months to help ward off colds and bugs that thrive indoors in close quarters.
  • Endorphins are thought to be released by engaging in physical activity and to elevate mood and energy levels, as well as promote a healthy immune system. They are said to help you recover from injury and illness faster too.
  • Emergency preparedness - when you know how to prepare yourself for being comfortable, safe and warm no matter what the elements have in store for you, you have a better understanding of how to keep yourself alive should you or your children find themselves in an unfortunate predicament.
  • Process skills and planning - as a veteran elementary teacher process skills and the ability to plan are traits that are widely lacking in today's children. Pushing on through and planning for an outing in inclement weather teaches kids how to predict what their needs will be and meet them trough planning and being proactive.
  • Follow through & determination - the ability to see a plan through to the end. If you say your're going to accomplish something like a hike... then do it. Teach your children not to let obstacles get in their way.
  • Flexibility - teach and role model for your kids how to roll with the punches and not let little things like rain get in their way of doing what they had intended.
  • True sense of satisfaction - there is nothing more satisfying than conquering an obstacle, even one as silly as weather. Some of the best hikes with Taiga Trekkers have been rainy or cold ones, because we all thought about bailing before we even got to the trailhead, but we all persevered and felt better about ourselves than we would of if it was a regular old sunny day.
  • Perspective - seeing life through another lense - rainy & snowy days aren't often thought of as beautiful, but they really are.
  • Deeper understanding of nature/science & its cycles - if you only spend time outside when it it is "nice" or rather I should say sunny (now that we've established that other kinds of weather are nice too), you miss out on all the amazing lessons to be learned about nature and how all it's phenomenal systems function. A simple example is leaves turning themselves over before a rainfall or flowers battening down the hatches by closing themselves up.
Now of course there are limits to what we will expose ourselves, an more importantly our children to. Those limits are different for every family, but it is important for us to not let a little rain or cold get in the way of our time outdoors. We'd miss out on so much wonder and opportunity if we did!

*please forgive the typos... this was written in a fury of a few quite moments, often typed with one hand while I've nursed an infant, or by miracle of miracles... both kids napped at the same time. The idea has been banging around my beaner for a couple of days now.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with it all, but love the point about satisfaction. The love getting to the top of a hill or the end of a trail "on my own" or "all by self"! Thanks for writing this Harmony!