Playing in the Cold Cultivates Resilience!

December 8, 2019 - By Andrew McMartin, Executive Director, The Pine Project

Children that play outside in all weather will grow up resilient.

It seems like an obvious statement.

So why don’t kids play outside in challenging weather nearly as much as they used to? Why are schools keeping kids in at recess when the temperature gets below -10C? What kind of adult will this type of childhood experience create?

In winter, as temperatures range from minus 30 to plus 10, we experience a wonderful range of opportunities within the programs we run. Challenges and opportunities. From freezing weather with blustery winds, to rain and floods in the parks where we work, to massive snowstorms full of amazing forts and fun!

Imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions, in all seasons of the year. Imagine how they’d be different than kids taught to come inside when it’s raining or cold. Imagine how they’d be different from kids that find entertainment from the TV, computer or video games.

They’re more positive, more creative, and more adaptable. They don’t let challenges stop them, but rise to challenges and find ways to carry on in spite of them. And that’s just their baseline. It’s nothing special to them. It’s normal.

It used to be normal for ALL kids.

Now, if we add mentors and role models with smiles on their faces and the skills to keep everyone warm and happy(ish), with challenging questions to keep children growing, learning, and experiencing life as it’s given to them, children become incredible. If parents, family, and community are making these types of experiences a baseline for their children, the child is surrounded by a positive, resilient and experience based (rather than fear based) culture and value set.

Think about it: weather creates real and perceived risks, and so it creates opportunities for growth.

Because risks teach. They have real consequences that ask us all to be aware. Aware of ourselves, others, and the world around us, which is a rare opportunity for children today. Most challenges, risks, and hurdles are swiftly removed from childhood today, to prevent anything bad from ever happening to the kids we love. But this in itself is robbing them of life’s challenges, and not preparing them for the realities of being an adult. They don’t have to be positive, creative, or adaptable if there are no challenges. With no challenges, there are no consequences. What kind of adult grows from a childhood without challenges or consequences? Yikes is all I have to say.

The great thing is, it’s easy to switch this up. One way is to just go outside. Go out in all conditions, and if you aren’t comfortable doing so, bring your kids to others that are. That’s community.

When children go outside, amazing things happen.

For example, in a single day of running our programs one winter, our day included:

  • Watching a Barrel Owl hunting small mammals in a meadow
  • Making herbal teas from natural ingredients found locally
  • Finding and exploring a Deer kill site, and the tracks of Coyotes, and various scavengers
  • Finding and exploring a Muskrat kill site, and wondering who might have been the predator
  • Giving thanks and gratitude for all the lessons nature provides
  • Smoking a deer hide to make soft leather for projects
  • Making pine pitch to glue an ax head on to a handle
  • Finding an Owl or possibly a Hawk pellet and dissecting it to find clues
  • Finding a birds nest and investigating whose nest it was
  • Playing tons of games
  • Eating snack and lunch outside
  • Tracking and acting like animals to understand them better, and the lessons they teach us
  • So much more I can’t fit it all in here…

So go outside. And keep going out there, no matter the weather.

And keep sending your kids out there or to us, regardless of what may be happening there. Remember, children have grown up healthy in cultures all over the world, since a long long time ago. In arctic conditions, in deserts, and in the tropics. -50C to plus 45C, and they do just fine.

So don’t let your fears get in the way. Get out there, explore, and see what you find. Sit still for long periods of time and take a break from the schedule and routine of a busy life. Ask questions and search for answers, but don’t worry if you don’t find them! Just be as curious as little kids! Go out in all weather, dress for it well, and make this a normal thing for yourself, and for children growing up.

They’ll grow up resilient, adaptable, creative, positive and aware – things they’ll need to face their future in a good way.



Article originally posted in January 2014