Time To Go Outdoors – Winter Edition!

Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash

We are one of those families where things tend to catch and stick – mispronunciations, punny references, song lyrics substituted for phrases and directions – and become part of our family lexicon FOREVER. Those buzzing yellow and black insects? Tumblebees. Something is in danger of being left behind? Don’t forlost it! And when you need your child to face you to zip up a jacket? Turn around, bright eyes…every now and then I fall apaaaaart…

There is also a song that we will start to sing whenever the energy in our (less than 1000 square foot) house turns fidgety and cranky — which fans of Yo Gabba Gabba might recognize — Time To Go Outdoors! Outdoor play is a no-brainer boredom buster in the spring, summer, and fall. In the winter, making intentional time to go explore and play outside is an absolute lifesaver.

The winter months are when our house feels the smallest. We move less. The kids bicker more. And the last thing we want to do is go to a public place full of children where it’s too hot inside and everyone coughs. Fortunately, the whole wide world still awaits, even when covered in snow. It’s beneficial for kids, even very young ones, to go outside in the winter. It’s a novel sensory experience; they use different muscles, there are new challenges to navigate and problems to solve, and they get fresh air! Time to go outdoors, time to go outdoors, feel the warmth of the sun, and the cool of a breeze…

One important step to take when preparing for a winter of outdoor adventures is to make sure you can be comfortable while doing it. Your child is probably decked out in head to toe Patagonia, ready for a Mt. Everest expedition, while you are shivering in your cute cloth peacoat that’s really only meant for running from the house to the car and vice versa. Time to invest in a good coat, some fleece-lined pants, decent gloves, hat, and boots that will keep your feet warm and dry and give you solid footing on slippery surfaces. An insulated mug for take-along hot beverages is a bonus.

Once you are all geared up…where should you go? Here is some inspiration!

  • Your backyard or a local park. If there is snow on the ground the kids will get plenty of gross motor input as they trudge around the backyard, roll balls for forts or snowmen, drive toy trucks through the piles, and make snow angels. Fill some spray bottles with colored water and make fun designs in the snow. If there isn’t any snow, explore what is different about your yard in winter. What still seems alive? What is dormant? What birds do you see? Build fairy houses with found objects, take out the bubbles and balls to chase, and poke at icy puddles to see what happens. Swings and slides are still fun in the winter, too!
  • The beach, if you have one nearby. Especially on those thawing days when the whole world is muddy, the beach is a wide-open canvas of beautiful possibility. Draw in the sand, take a walk, look for things the storms have washed ashore (bring along a trash bag and offer a reward for filling it with litter, if you are feeling environmentally conscious). Go watch the ferries and fishing boats for a while, or the surfers.
  • The zoo or aquarium. Animals get frisky in the cold weather, and you will have the place almost to yourself. Duck inside the indoor parts to warm up when you need to, and talk about what animals seem more or less adapted to the cold. The winter is the best time to find a volunteer and let your preschooler ask every question she’s ever had about giraffes or seals. Roger Williams Zoo has half-priced admission for January and February and a February camp program.
  • A local hiking trail. If you are not yet familiar with RI Families in Nature, check out their guide to hiking trails throughout Rhode Island. They share information on parking, difficulty and length of the trails, facilities, and other tips. We have their book, which doubles as a journal to note the trails we liked best and what we saw on our walks. If you need a scheduled event to help motivate you to hit the trails, they even host group hikes all around the state. Check out the monthly “Park Rx” family walks hosted by the South Kingstown Land Trust, or the Bird Walks and other events through the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.
  • Winter-exclusive events. If you live in New England, February is usually when the maple sap starts to run and there are maple sugaring events at farms throughout Rhode Island. One of our favorites is at Coggeshall Farm, which conveniently coincides with February break. Exploring a replica of a maple sugaring camp and seeing how this played a role in the life of an 18th-century farm family is a neat way to think about how challenging winter life used to be and how people made the best of it. Of course, winter can also mean skiing and snow tubing, which we have right in our backyard at Yawgoo Valley – kids as young as three can take lessons.   

And when you have spent a few hours breathing fresh air, taking in the wide open sky, and feeling like you are in on the best secret because you just had the most beautiful wooded trail all to yourselves on your winter hike? That’s when you get to go home to your cozy house and enjoy some hot chocolate, looking forward to the easy bedtime that awaits you!

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Alana DiMario
A transplant from southeastern Massachusetts by way of Wells College and Bridgewater State University, Alana has been in Rhode Island long enough to feel the loss of 95.5 WBRU and Benny's, and to give directions based on where things used to be. After living in Providence, Woonsocket, and Lincoln, she happily planted her toes in the sand in Narragansett almost a decade ago with her husband Eric, a Rhode Island native. Two sons and a daughter came along afterward, and she transitioned from working full time at an intensive behavioral health clinic in Providence to her own private practice in Peacedale, Essential Parenting of Rhode Island, in 2010. As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Alana focuses on helping parents navigate the transition to parenthood, supporting families with young children, and assisting people across life stages with anxiety and other mood issues. To further her mission to get families off to the best possible start, she also leads groups for new moms and developmental play groups for babies and toddlers at Bellani Maternity in Warwick. (As a mom, Alana tries to take her own advice at least 85% of the time). She is an avid reader, totally addicted to podcasts, never says no to trying out a new restaurant, and is always DIYing some type of home improvement project. She would also like to say she enjoys running, but believes it's important to be honest. Along with her family, Alana loves exploring Rhode Island's many public parks and natural areas, gardening, cooking, and - to the surprise of many who know her - going to visit a certain mouse's house on the regular.