Even hardy Minnesotans sometimes need reminders about the importance of getting children outside despite how low the mercury might drop in the dead of winter.  In her blog post, Preschoolers Need to Get Outside!, educator and Improv Parenting founder Keren Gudeman, reminds us how essential outdoor play is for young children. Scientist Rachel Carson once wrote that play, “provides a way in which children get to know the world and creates possibilities for different ways of responding to it.”  What better way to get to know and respond to the world than through playing in the ever changing natural landscapes of the world around us? Rain, snow, sleet and sunshine all foster new discoveries and provoke further questions for both children and adults.

At Minnesota Children’s Museum, we believe that the playful encounters children have with the World, gives them the Confidence to respond in new ways to whatever they may confront. We believe that to know the World, is to read and respond to it, or to Communicate with the natural World around us. We hope that Keren’s ideas inspire you to get outside with the children in your life and embrace the Powers of Play!

—Blake Ward, Museum Experience Manager

Preschoolers Need to Get Outside!

It’s really hard in the winter. Here are a few ideas for motivating to get the gear on (and one idea for indoor play when it’s just too cold). It’s worth it!

1. Unstructured outdoor play is essential. It affects social, cognitive and physical development. Our job is to provide open-ended opportunities. EVEN in the winter. You can go to playgrounds! They are super interesting with snow on them – the slides are faster, the steps are mountains to climb, there are fort-building opportunities everywhere. Sledding, hiking or cross-country skiing are worth attempting because even just getting the gear on and navigating the terrain is ripe with learning (especially if you let your child take the lead). I know it can feel like a pain, especially with all of the layers, but if you think of the process – from start to finish – as full of learning opportunities, then you aren’t SO focused on some polished, end-product (like a perfect run down the sledding hill or the best snow fort ever). Let go and let your child take the lead; see where it takes you!

2. Once you’ve allowed some space for unstructured play outside, you can also model enjoyment of the outdoors. Pick your favorite outdoor activity (even if you don’t have one, construct one by thinking of a walk to the coffee shop as a hike). Invite your child along for the enjoyment and re-discover the magic of stomping in the deep snow or making a snow angel. Seriously, if you have the right gear on, you will feel like a child again and be caught in the moment. Your child watching you enjoy the outdoors is as powerful as their own experiences, so don’t sell yourself and them short! Get out and play!

3. When it’s just TOO cold and you’re going stir-crazy, it can help to have some partially-structured activities to go-to when your brain is fried and the open-ended activity is getting too wild or destructive. A few ideas:

  • Create an obstacle course and add layers of challenge by navigating it as different animals or with limitations like being one-handed
  • Play Simon Says, Fitness Instructor or another ‘command’ game where you take turns being in charge. Make it really physical.
  • The benefits of wrestling are well-documented, and I especially encourage women and moms to get down on the floor. There are physical, emotional and social benefits in every encounter, and boundary-setting is a big part of it.
  • Bed-jumping, if you allow it in your house.
  • Fort-building can be really physical if you keep having problems with your fort and need to fix them with your special tools.

The winter is here to stay, so ultimately your attitude is going to shape the experience for you and your children. HAVE FUN!!

—Keren Gudeman, Improv Parenting

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