“Another kind of freedom for children, and adults, comes from being out of the owned space of schools and houses. The sky, the clouds, the rain, the wind are for everyone equally. Neither do the birds and insects belong to anyone… Being outside expands our horizons and releases us from coziness that has turned into a feeling of being cooped-up. Cabin fever is an old and quickly cured affliction yet virtually invisible in the literature on contemporary play.” -Mary S. Rivkin
It has been a long, harsh winter here in New England by all accounts. Blizzards, snow, ice and day after day of bone chilling cold have allowed the coziness of a warm home to feel constrained. Somehow the pace of life inside feels alternatively sleep inducing or extremely agitating and we are not sure why. What we do know is that we all have the desire to smell some dirt, see something green or feel warm sun on our skin.
At the preschool we have attempted to alleviate cabin fever by venturing outside every day this winter. Unless school was actually closed, we have been outside every day. Even on the very cold days you may ask? Even in the sleet, snow and slush you wonder? Even this winter? The short answer is yes, even this winter. The why is clear, because we can’t take another minute cooped-up inside! The how depends tremendously on winter weather gear and making sure everyone is dress appropriately for whatever comes our way. Here some tips from the preschool on how to prepare your child for outside time.
Tip #1: Go to the bathroom before getting dressed. Do not skip this step, you will regret it!
Tip #2: Put snow pants on first. I can’t tell you how many times we say this each day and how many times our little friends put on mittens first only to be unable to do anything else now that mittens are covering tiny hands. Snow pants first!
Tip #3: Everything must be covered. Children often want to jettison hats and gloves (with, believe it or not, boots coming in a close third…) But everything needs to stay on until we determine how warm it will be outside. Some days we do find that we can ditch hats or gloves, but we always start with everything.
Tip #4: Use quality gear. Now you may protest, “We never had expensive outdoor gear growing up!” Sure, I’m right there with you. We wore two pairs of corduroy pants in place of snow pants. We also wore knit mittens that turned into two frozen snowballs before you finished your first sledding run. And all the smart kids on the block knew about the plastic bread bag on the feet trick… but our objective here is to allow children to actually enjoy their time outside. Which brings us to Tip #5.
Tip #5: Water is the enemy. Normally playing outside and getting wet and muddy is great fun. In the winter it is dangerous. We have test driven lots of different types of outdoor gear for children over the years and several things keep rising to the top. Children should be wearing a warm under-layer under their regular clothes. Technical fabrics are the best but fleece pajamas also work really well! A warm fleece or wool sweater should go next followed by the snow suit. Land’s End or LL Bean snowsuits are all great, as are any suits designed for skiing. Warm socks are a must, fleece and wool products like Smartwool or FoxRiver are the best.
The warmest boots are Kamik, Sorel, or other waterproof boots with wool linings. The new neoprene styles boots like Bogs are also great and are the easiest boots for children to get on by themselves.
Finally everything should be topped off with hat, gloves and scarf. Tube-style fleece neck warmers are great. Long wrap scarves are not so great as they tend to be difficult for children to get on and they often fall off. Balaclavas or fleece hats with ear flaps are critical for keeping little ears covered and warm. Mittens and gloves for children are the trickiest part of outdoor play. They are often hard to get on, hard to keep on, or ill fitting. We have lots of issues with mittens! In general, they should be warm and waterproof ski-style mittens with long gauntlets to cover the wrist. I have yet to meet a child who likes getting snow in their jacket around their wrist! A really great local source of quality outdoor clothing is Tidal River Clothing in downtown Mystic. Online you can find many things at Sierra Trading Post.
Rule #5 Give yourself lots of time to get ready! As you can imagine, all of this takes time and patience. But it can be done! Even with 16 children. Check out our video of 30 minutes of dressing compressed into less that two. Then bundle up and go back outside because cabin fever is real but luckily there is a cure!