By Emily Sonnemann, family childcare provider
“Snow pants first!” the children all shout as they excitedly run towards their cubbies and begin to toss six sets of coats, hats, mittens, boots and snow pants into a big heap. As the giant heap of gear begins to sort itself out I can hear them encouraging each other, gently reminding about the best order in which to put on their winter gear – snow pants first, next … boots or your coat, a hat and at last your mittens. “Can you start my zipper?” the first one yells. Yep!” I reply as I take boots off the youngest child’s hands and place snow pants out for her to try. There are lots of grunts, furrowed brows, concentrating faces, insistent cries of “Can you help me please?!” and “Never mind! I got it! I did it! Look! I got my zipper all by myself!” This can be a good 20- minute plus exercise in figuring things out, working through frustrations, practicing patience, helping and encouraging others and themselves. It is exhausting and it is invigorating. The process gets a little easier each time and here’s the good news: it always ends with success and the rewards of getting outside. They are a determined, resilient and eager bunch! “Good job everybody!” I cheer as I scramble to get my own winter gear on before someone gets undressed. “Snow pants first!” they shout back at me. The smiles and joy and laughter and adventures that lay on the other side of the door – those are the reasons why we go outside in the winter!
Getting out the door really is the biggest obstacle to loving winter with kids. Once you’re out the door on a snowy morning it’s like a giant playground made of chilly white play dough. The possibilities are endless and with six little imaginations, we have hours of entertainment at our fingertips no matter the conditions. We like to build snow forts and snow people. We go sledding on the neighborhood hill. We make frozen ice shapes with old bundt pans and ice globes by filling punching balloons. We paint snow with water and food coloring. We shovel the neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways. We keep the bird feeder full, follow animal footprints in the snow, look for evidence of the neighborhood beaver, monitor the changing seasons and the changing conditions of the Yahara River and Lake Monona. We make and eat snow ice cream. We use sticks to write letters and make designs in the snow. We ice skate at the local outdoor ice rink or any patch of ice we can find. We look for any crunchy ice to stomp on and for fluffy snowballs to toss. Every day is different and new! Learning and – most importantly – joy abounds in the great outdoors, even in winter. So, bundle yourself up, get outside with kids and find your own adventure! The possibilities are endless, fun is around every corner – just follow those little boot prints into the magical world of winter play!
Tips for Parents:
- See the whole process as worthwhile. Getting out in winter time can feel overwhelming. It’s cold, slippery, wet… It’s often easier to find excuses rather than taking on the battle of dressing little ones. It’s a process worth taking the time to engage in. There are a number of skills that your child builds competence in just with the process of learning to get dressed for the weather.
- Invest in warm winter gear, especially mittens that stay dry inside. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices. Dress in layers. Winter gear doesn’t have to be expensive; hand-me-downs abound since gear usually only fits for one season. Look for waterproof things and mittens with extra-long cuffs that can tuck into coat sleeves. Don’t forget about yourself! Find winter gear for yourself so you don’t get cold before the kids are done playing!
- Impart a love of nature and the great outdoors. Speak positively about the possibilities and fun of winter. Before you know it, even the most hesitant will be deep in the snow and smiling ear to ear.
- Learn a winter sport together as a family! Try cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating or biking. It can be a lot of fun to learn something new together!
- Check local parks, state parks and natural areas for winter events such as candle lit hikes and skiing or other winter programing. Offerings are typically family friendly, educational and loads of fun.
Emily is now in her fourth year of owning and running her family child care business. She lives and plays with her husband and two children on Madison’s near East side.