We live in Alaska, and this year we experienced a record cold snap. I took the kids outside almost every day, but usually it was bundled up in jackets and snow pants in the stroller to go run errands or play at the gym. A while back I read a post that referenced the idea that kids should be playing an hour a day outside. That thought gnawed at me.
It gnawed at me because I agree with it. I loved playing outside as a kid. Of course, I think our kids were getting lots of great play time inside and were not deprived of opportunities to climb, move things, dance, flop, jump and explore. But there is something special about being outside and learning to turn pine cones into people or build trails for ants or….
However, when we took our kids outside, it was always a disappointment.
Last year on a beautiful winter day we took our kids sledding. Sledding. Very fun outdoor activity. The baby girl put up with it. The toddler boy (then one and a half) liked it for about one sled ride and then was Done. His hands were cold. The wind was cold. He wanted no more of it. That was fine because we knew that learning to love the outdoors would take lots of positive experiences over time. We packed our kids back into the car to discover our car didn’t start.
Some nice friendly guys in a truck said they’d tow us back to town with a rope. That’s the kind of thing that you do here in Alaska. We agreed, but it was a scary experience for me imagining our power steering brakes not working fast enough and us crashing or going over a ditch pulling the truck backwards with us. (We got home just fine.)
But, what we learned, was that every time we went outside, what we expected from our foray into the wilderness just didn’t come to fruition.
We pictured glorious blue sky days. We got them. Along with freezing cold winds. We pictured children playing in the snow. We got that too, for all of five minutes. We pictured skiing. Our boy skied about ten feet (maybe twenty if we’re telling long tales). Everything we did was hit with a major dose of reality.
So we adjusted our expectations. Instead of taking the kids out for a hike, we began taking them out for outdoor time to do nothing. Last weekend my husband and I each went out for a run in the morning. In the afternoon we took the kids on a “hike”. We drove to the local mountain, parked the car and began walking up. We expected to just hang out by the car while the kids played on the dirt road, but the kids took off up the hill! We followed. We threw snowballs. We poked at Musk Ox poop. We walked through puddles. We spent a good twenty minutes going UP and near the turn around point, my husband said, “I’m glad I ran this morning because I don’t feel like I need to hike or get exercise for me.” It was exactly how I felt too.
And in the past month as the weather has finally gotten near the unfreezing point, we have taken our kids out more and more frequently to just PLAY in the outside. It’s still hard because the puddles and streams are icy cold, the snow on the ground is still there, the mud is sticky and scares my little girl when it pulls at her boot. The winds are still chilly, but more and more our kids are “feeling their oats” and having fun in the great old outdoors.
Today, we hiked on the tundra and sat in the sweet lemony smell of the Aiyu (Labrador Tea) and ate salami and cheese and listened to the birds and found some old bones and saw some arctic flowers beginning to bloom. Both the kids wore their backpacks and traipsed over the soft cushioning wet ground just like true big kid hikers!
(But was I ever thankful that we weren’t THAT far from the stroller when we began our slow trek back)