(Published on Wednesday, December 9, 2015, in The Daily Citizen, Dalton, GA.)
Recycle & Reuse: Outdoor Fun for Kids During Winter
Cold winter weather is no excuse for letting kids stay cooped up indoors during the holidays. Letting children play outside allows them to enjoy fresh air, exercise, get their vitamin D from sunlight, and increase their appreciation for nature. The key is to prepare ahead of time and set time limits so the child can come inside periodically to warm up. Here are some tips to help you prepare before going outside, and several activities you can do together.
When going outside, especially in winter, dress appropriately to avoid being cold and feeling under the weather. Layer on warm clothes, coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should dress children in multiple loose layers so they stay dry and warm, and never let them play in the extreme cold. Children should dress with one more layer of clothing than the adults would wear for the same weather conditions.
Wear hats and gloves to prevent heat from escaping the body thru heads and hands. Keep in mind that wool and silk materials are warmer than cotton so use them if you have them. Wear shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. If it’s raining take an umbrella or wear a raincoat too. As an added safety measure use brightly colored clothing which can keep children visible from a distance. And, don’t forget to wear sunscreen to protect exposed skin from sunlight and snow glare.
Regardless of how long you plan to be outside take some water and snacks with you. Children may not feel like they’re sweating because it’s nice and cool outside, but our bodies need to stay hydrated. A snack like a granola bar or apple, especially for the younger ones in your group, will help keep energy levels up. Have some warm liquids and snacks prepared for when the children go inside to warm up.
Now that you’re ready to go outside, here are several activities you can try. Though these are fun, don’t underestimate the power of free play which allows kids to use their imagination and problem-solving skills. Dress warm and don’t let the cold keep you cooped up inside.
• Start a Nature Journal: If you or the kids in your family don’t have a nature journal yet it’s the perfect time to start. All you need is paper and a pencil or pen. Get scrap paper from your recycling bin and staple or tie them together to make an upcycled journal, or use a small notebook. While outdoors make observations about the environment, jotting them down in the notebook with a description or drawing. Gather leaves or other specimens you come across and add them too. Overtime you’ll have a unique learning tool and scrapbook filled with information about all the places you’ve explored.
• Winter Nature Walk or Hike: Walking outdoors can be done anywhere, in your neighborhood, a local park, nature trail, or state park. During a nature walk take some time to look for signs of nature and observe all the changes in the environment. Look for bird or squirrel nests in trees, do some bird watching, make a list of the variety of plants and trees in the area, watch for animals, and even find animal tracks. Record your observations in your nature journal.
• Measure Your Shadow: In the winter, the Earth’s northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. This means that the sun is lower in the sky, creating long shadows. Have some fun taking photos of the kids making shadow poses and record their measurements during different times of the day. Use sidewalk chalk to trace the outline of the shadows then decorate.
• Winter Scavenger Hunt: Make a scavenger hunt list that includes several senses and can be done in your backyard or at your favorite park. For example, things to see would include an evergreen tree, a pinecone, a feather, a plant with berries, an insect, buds on trees, and animal tracks. Things to hear: a bird chirping. Things to feel: a smooth rock, something wet, a tree with rough bark. Add to your nature journal or make a whole separate list. When finished searching go back inside, make some hot chocolate, and talk about everything you saw.
Liz Swafford is the Recycling and Education Program Coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Have questions about recycling in Whitfield County? Call 706-278-5001, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.