Winters in Iowa can be an overwhelming time for childcare programs. The weather swings back and forth like a pendulum, one day nice, the next day bitter cold. Many stay holed up until the weather turns favorable again, but the common Swedish maxim “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes," is completely true. Basically, it means GET OUTSIDE AND PLAY! That one liner seems so easy to say, but have you ever tried to wrangle 12 little ones into winter gear? It’s like herding cats…. cats, I tell you! But many experts say children should spend at least three hours outside every day. Meanwhile, recent research reveals children are playing outside for just over four hours a week.
At Loving Hands, we agree with these experts and are saddened by the statistics of actual time spent playing outside and the devaluing of independent outdoor play. Playing outside has merely been seen as a means to blow off steam or a break from learning. Over the last few years, we have changed our mindset and our philosophy is that our outdoor classroom isn’t just for blowing off steam, it’s an extension of our classroom. It’s our main classroom. So, we have set goals to that effect. In fact, we are striving to have 1,000 hours outside this year!
Our program, like many other childcare programs, faces many obstacles to getting children outside on a daily basis...especially in unfavorable weather.
A huge hurdle is having every child coming prepared to be outside longer than going from their car into our program. Winter gear is expensive and little ones lose that gear at the drop of a hat (pun intended)! Seriously, where do all the socks and mittens go to?!
Many people have the notion that children get ill from being cold or being out in bad weather, when in fact sickness is caused by germs. WASH THOSE HANDS!
Again, getting little ones ready to go outside is difficult, and may seem like it takes longer to get ready than the amount of time actually spent outside.
Even though experts say children need to be outside three hours a day, it never fails that you have a little one who would disagree and doesn't find being outside in unfavorable weather enjoyable and loudly protests their disagreement. No one wants an unhappy little one, right?
Let me share with you how we overcome these obstacles…
In our handbook, we explain to the families our philosophy about outdoor play all year long, even in unfavorable weather. Our handbook states that we require winter gear and that it is to be labeled with their child’s name to ensure all winter gear is accounted for after our adventures outside. We use our parent meetings to remind parents and pass on research about the importance of year-round outdoor play. We have amazing families who support our philosophy, but life happens, and gear gets left at home from the weekend or left in the car. We encourage parents to find winter gear at garage sales or consignment stores to keep as backups, because extras will be needed! Hint…mitten clips are game changers!
We share articles with our families and everyone who follows our Facebook page about germs making you sick. Children get sick even when they don’t go outside to play. Being cold or wet does not make you sick. I encourage them to talk with their physician if they are still concerned, because no one wants their little ones to get sick.
Think of getting ready as a learning time and allow plenty of time! It is the perfect opportunity to encourage those self-care skills of dressing one’s self and following multiple step directions and to sequence those steps appropriately to get ready independently or with minimal assistance. But don’t forget those older children. This is a perfect time for them to become leaders and help the littles when they are struggling to get their gear on. Don’t forget to go potty before that gear goes on. (You can thank me later!)
If you have a little cold protester, I encourage you to bring along blankets and books so they can find extra warmth when they start to feel too cold. But, first I encourage you to add more layers of clothing to that little one, because you want them to find being outside enjoyable. They need appropriate gear and what is good for one child isn’t always best for another! Each child needs to dress to what their body says, even if that means they need to take gear off once outside!
I highly encourage Facebook groups like 1,000 Hours Outside as a place to ask questions and get support, because it won’t be easy….but it’s what is best for children….and adults too!! You can do this!
A note about the author: I am Alicia Weithers with Loving Hands Daycare & Preschool in Lambs Grove, Iowa. Loving Hands is a PLAY-based family childcare program serving children 6 weeks to 12 years of age. Loving Hands has been a certified Nature Explore Classroom for 3 years and is a 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count registered site through the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative.