The recent change in temperature has caught us unawares recently. During those moments of chattering teeth and tears (and that was just me!) I thought back to when I wrote to you last year about preparing for some truly wild play during cold times. Here is a reminder for me and for you…
So… the weather is changing! Which means one very important thing for me, get prepared! As a parent, outdoor educator and forest school leader I strongly believe in the importance of outdoor play. I have seen the benefits in so many children; a passion for the outdoors, improved confidence, growing self-esteem, group cohesion where children have previously exiled particular “difficult” children in class, improved motor skills, improved language, improved concentration in class, improved ability at school, the list goes on. Most importantly (for me) I have seen the benefits in my own children, less fighting and tantrums (compared to indoors), developed fine and gross motor skills, confidence in abundance, interest in their surroundings resulting in the use of new words and identification of plants and animals around them… well the benefits are endless.
Recently some research showed that the average child in the UK spends less time outdoors per day than the average UK prisoner, isn’t that a scary thought!?!
We spend A LOT of time outdoors, I would say almost every day even when it is cold and wet. There is a Forest School saying, probably Scandinavian in origin?, that says “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing/ the wrong clothing”, as a general rule it’s not a bad saying, there are some weather conditions I would however be reluctant to go out in (as a born and bred Londoner I also like to cosy up in front of the fire and watch the weather from the inside), high winds in a woodland are not a good idea either. Let’s just say I do my best.
So my point… If you, like me, do not have the countryside and mud running through your veins there are some things you might not have thought of that you need to consider when embarking on some outdoor adventures.
- Go with minimal expectations; if you and your children are not used to being outdoors it might take some time to adjust to the new environment.
- Encourage don’t force. If they don’t want to walk, take the buggy or a carrier until they feel confident enough to explore. Likewise if they want to go home, if they are not up to it, no one will enjoy it, try again another day.
- Keep rules to a minimum and related to safety; drag large sticks behind you, sticks away from eyes, do not go beyond agreed boundary (usually within sight works for me), do not touch or eat fungus or berries unless OK’d by an educated adult.
- Give them your undivided time, put the phone away (take a watch and a camera if you think you will get distracted using your phone). Playing outdoors comes with risks (though more accidents happen in the home) so be vigilant, that is your job as the adult, stand close by if they are climbing, lend a helping hand if requested and join in if invited. Some of the best hours of my life I have spent pretending to be a bear chasing my two little explorers to their safe den, building dens and running through muddy puddles without reservations.
- Believe they CAN do it, encourage them to try unaided before lending a hand or lifting them down but always be close by if needed.
- Let them experience as much as possible, the great thing about being outdoors is the freedom.
- Don’t rush, leave plenty of time for outdoor play, you will be surprised how long they will play in one spot.
- Make sure everyone has the potential to have a good time. If someone is tired, ill, hungry or unsuitably clothed there is potential for tears and tantrums (and that’s just the adults).
- Go prepared, this is what we take in our rucksack;
- Wipes and gel; always make sure hands are cleaned before eating, if they are truly experiencing the outdoors their hands will be dirty. I’m sure I do not have to tell you that some things found outdoors can make us very sick such as poisonous berries and fungus and animal excretions.
- Snacks and drinks. We usually eat a picnic in the car before we set off so we don’t need too many hand cleaning and snack breaks.
- Phone in case of emergency
- First aid kit, the contents will vary according to your level of ability to treat injuries but my mini rucksack kit contains a variety of sizes of fun plasters, antiseptic wipes, antiseptic cream, antihistamine tablets for adults, antihistamine medicine and syringe for children, bite relief and insect repellent.
- Change of clothes and nappies
- Travel potty (the sort with disposable liners) and cotton wool pads for more than one use. If your children are truly experiencing the outdoors in the interests of health and safety they should not be toileting where they are playing. I have found this to be the easiest solution. I know of forest schools that just say outside a designated area or cordon off an area for this purpose with a hole dug and a potty placed over with holes drilled in.
- Appropriate clothing for adults and children. In autumn and winter E and M wear; lots of layers including thermal vest, fleecy jacket, thermal dungarees, waterproof dungarees and coats, thermal balaclava under their hoods, thermal waterproof gloves, thermal wellies or thermal socks with standard wellies. I wear; layers including thermal top, fleecy jacket, waterproof trousers and coat, hat, gloves and scarf, thermal socks and wellies.
Getting prepared can take a bit of time but is well worth it, yesterday we spent 6 hours at our local nature reserve and we had a great time! I know I benefit from unstructured outdoor time too.
I hope this has encouraged you to get outdoors with your little ones. Have fun!