January and February are not always the most exciting months. This can make the temptation to stay indoors and wait for Spring to arrive quite compelling.
But with the added lethargy brought on by lockdown, it is even more important than ever to get children outside and active.
Little bodies and minds need fresh air and exercise whatever the season.
Too much time spent on the sofa, looking at screens and eating snacks mean that many children will not meet the NHS’s recommended three hours of daily exercise and could exceed the WHO’s recommended limit of one hour of sedentary screen time each day.
Even in the gloomy days of winter, getting outside and exposed to sunlight helps our bodies to make vitamin D, which keeps bones, teeth and muscles healthy. It is hard to get enough vitamin D from the sun in the UK at the best of times, but every little really does help.
If you still need convincing that its worth facing the harsh winter conditions, perhaps reflect on the past year and its impact on mental health and wellbeing.
Despite children’s resilience, spending so much time at home in 2020 has been difficult for children. Spending time outdoors in natural environments can help to redress the balance.
But with everything closed and no opportunities for typical children's activities such as swimming, dance, sports or even running around at a children's party, meeting those three hours each day is a big challenge.
Thankfully, outdoors remains open and offers everything that children really need for their physical and mental wellbeing.
Even better, we know that being outdoors as much as possible is the recommended option for everyone.
If children are getting cranky indoors and tempers are fraying what better way to calm things down and boost everyone's mood then with some outdoor mindfulness?
Or even better, start the day on a good footing by getting outside first thing!
Slow things down and get outside as soon as you can to try these mindful exercises:
- Walk slowly and carefully, listening to the scrunch of leaves on the ground or the soft squelch of mud. Encourage children to listen to the sounds that their feet make on the grass, earth or pavement.
- Stand still and close your eye, tune in to the sounds of traffic, the whistle of the wind of the patter of raindrops. Are there any birds singing?
- If it is cold, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. What can the children see? Focus on deep breathing for a minute or two and watch the vapour clouds that are formed as children exhale.
- Focus on a particular tree, shrub, leaf or maybe a dew-encrusted cobweb. Look carefully, noting every detail.
Mud is great at any time of the year and there is plenty of it around at the moment.
Studies have shown that mud play supports children’s healthy immune systems and is a mindful activity, as the focus is on the properties of the mud. Observe the mud carefully and focus on what it consists of. Children may be able to spot sand, small stones, fine roots or leaf mulch. Encourage older children to look for signs of life as even in winter some plants will begin to emerge.
Our ever-changing weather is one of the reasons why it is always a favourite topic of conversation amongst adults. “Will it rain later? Has there been a frost? Is there snow forecast?” These are all phrases that children will hear. A study of the sky each day offers so many opportunities for learning.
Look at the shape, colour and movement of the clouds and discuss what they signify. Discover the director of the wind by making your own windsock or look for signs that the weather is changing. For example, the way that cows or sheep are said to lie down before it rains or some plants will close their leaves on a cold day.
Being curious about the weather helps children to connect to the natural world which, in turn, stimulates an awareness of their environment and their place in it.
Be inspired by the weather and try not to plan. If it rains, be spontaneous and head outside to jump in the puddles! To enhance the play why not try adding colour into the puddles using paint? Same goes for sunshine - think about how you can explore shadows using movement. And let's not forget the excitement of building an ingloo or snowman when it snows!
If it's very cold, try blowing bubbles outside to see how the frost patterns form on them and ask children what they can see.
Winter is also a great time for a brisk woodland or outdoor nature walk. Why not add in a story or song to make the walk even more exciting and get children’s imagination racing?
Treasure hunts can be also used to encourage children to become active. For example, you could follow the star and at each star or favourite shape that children find, stop and do 10 star jumps or bunny hops.
Obstacle courses are a great way to keep children and adults moving. Let children and young people take the lead and make decisions. The making of and completing the obstacle course will make good use of all the gross motor skills – even throughout the colder months.
Another way to spark children’s creativity and social skills is to have a go at making a den together. Fabrics, tyres and other everyday items can be used to build an exciting hideaway.
Join in and lead by example. One of the main reasons why we as adults can also feel reluctant to go outside at this time of year is that standing and doing nothing leads to boredom and potential hypothermia!
But if you are active and motivated, the children will be too.