“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give you strength to body and soul” – John Muir
It’s January and chances are (unless you live in Tucson or Tampa), you are not getting outside as much as you were a few short months ago. Going outside – being in nature – is one of the best ways to support our children and keep them healthy. Where else can you get all of the following in one fell swoop: fresh air, exercise, inspiration and appreciation and reverence for all things?
Nature is a healing balm because, as John Muir, author and early advocate of preservation of wilderness, declares: “nature provides strength to body and soul.” This is especially true for children. At Waldorf Schools, the teachers regard rosy cheeks as a measure of good health.
What can you so outside in January?
1. Build with snow. What could be more fun than making igloos, snow forts, snow animals, bowling alleys or even snow villages?
2. Walk your dog. If you don’t have a dog, ask a neighbor if you can walk his/hers!
3. Feed the birds. Make pine cone bird feeders: hunt for pine cones, spread peanut butter on them, dip them in bird seed, add a string around the top and then hang them from trees. The birds will enjoy the treat and your children will enjoy watching the birds.
4. Create obstacle courses. Using snow, form walls to climb over, build tunnels to crawl through, dig holes to jump over and create stepping stones. Then climb, jump, step, roll and run through the course. Hold a mini olympics!
5. Make snow angels. When everyone is tired from olympics (see above), lie down in the snow and create snow angels. Look at the sky above and identify what cloud formations look like: snow angels, white dolphins, fluffy castles…use your imaginations!
6. Build a bonfire. Enjoy a winter picnic and for dessert, make s’mores.
7. Play games. Call some neighbors or friends and have fun with the classics such as Red Light – Green Light, Mother May I, Freeze Tag (how appropriate in winter!) or Red Rover.
8. Track animals. When it snows, it’s easy and fun to find -and then try to identify – animal tracks.
9. Tell stories. Find a beautiful spot to read books, such as “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats. Or better yet, tells story about when you were a child and what you enjoyed doing outside. Children love hearing about your own childhood adventures. What better way to warmly connect with you child!
All of these activities are easy, free and healthy. But dress warm so your children can truly enjoy these activities. A good rule of thumb for dressing your children is three layers on the bottom and four layers on top. What does this mean? Your child needs long underwear, pants and snow pants on the bottom, with an undershirt, shirt, sweater and jacket on top. Then add a warm that completely covers the ears and a neck warmer (it stays on better that a scarf for active young children).
In an article published in the Guardian, George Monbiot says, “There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted.” If you want to help your child develop their imagination, bring them outside and watch what happens. In a natural environment, one almost feels it is the child’s true home.
In her famous essay, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 “geniuses,” she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between 5 and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among “figures of speech in the rhetoric of play…which the genius in particular of late life seems to recall.”
So dress warm. go outside and live fully into nature’s offerings, which will help you and your child develop the capacity of strength to body and soul!
Vicki Kingsbury, Early Childhood Educator