Winter is Meant to be Experienced, Not Endured

By Julie Mulkern

Winter may be our longest season, but humans are not meant to hibernate. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, only 13% of children ages 6 to12 participate in outdoor winter recreation. In addition, parents of children 8 to 12 years old report that their children spend three times as many hours with computers and televisions each week as they do playing outside. These numbers steadily increase with the onset of winter, our most sedentary season. With this knowledge, it’s more important than ever to make a conscious effort to be active outdoors.

Recall your own winter experiences as a child. You more than likely spent hours outside playing in the snow, not wanting to go in to warm up or eat your next meal. Feed that nostalgia with your own children. It is also likely you did not have the top-notch winter gear at your disposal that we have now. There is no bad weather, only bad clothing. With the appropriate clothing and a can-do attitude, winter can be fun and full of exploration for the whole family.

Maine is well-known for its rich winter heritage, which is a huge benefit to those interested in trying a new winter sport. Our state boasts over 50 winter outdoor recreation centers that offer downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, tubing, ice skating, fat tire biking and more. You can also check out your local community calendars for winter festivals, guided hikes and winter vacation camps.

If you are snowed in or just want to stay close to home, make your own sledding hill in the backyard, build a snowman with natural items or paint a snow mural with spray bottles, water and food coloring. It’s fun to take a hike near your home and break out the binoculars. Look for animal tracks, measure the snowfall, build snow forts or create a winter treasure hunt. There is a wealth of information online to help you take advantage of free and low-cost opportunities for your children to play and learn outside in the winter.
Frankly, kids love to be outdoors. They are active and curious by nature. It is our job (one of many) as parents to nurture their love for exploration in the outdoors. Outdoor play and learning helps children connect with the natural environment while increasing well-being and academic and social development. All these benefits are motivation enough to increase your family’s winter outdoor activity level, but a really important one is that it’s fun! So, put on your warmest, weatherproof gear and get outside with your family.

Do not simply endure winter. Embrace all the season has to offer. Make memories and encourage healthy habits. You will not regret it. Enjoy the snow before it turns to mud. Before you know it, winter will be a distant memory and you will be excited for it to arrive once again.

Julie Mulkern is the Executive Director at WinterKids. She lives in Gorham with her husband, Ric and their winter kids, Johnny and Ben.