Thursday, November 08, 2012

Learn to Love Winter with Outdoor Playgroups

Last winter I was struggling with a three year-old who really didn't like winter all that much.  I was told that all kids could learn to love snow, that nobody was born a "warm weather" person, and that disliking cold weather could not possibly be a part of somebody's DNA.  Meanwhile, I wasn't so certain.

Can you learn to love winter?

If it weren't for outdoor winter sports, I don't think I'd actually like winter all that much myself.  I could happily live in yoga pants, flip flops and a tank top; I hate bulky clothing.  I get depressed when I don't get enough sun and I don't really like sitting down to play in the snow.  In all honesty this Canadian girl, born and raised, would rather be lying in the sun on a beach somewhere and I listen to a lot of tropical Latin music to get me through our cold winters.

Fortunately, I love cross country skiing and backcountry ski touring.   I am quite proficient on a set of skates and even enjoy the occasional snowshoe trip.  There are ways I can amuse myself during the winter and I actually get quite addicted to skiing each year; By January I'd say it's pretty much all I think about.  But what do you do with a child who is still too young to really get out there and blaze a trail on his little strap-on skis?  Who can't tag along on most of our backcountry trips, is just learning to skate, and can't go more than a kilometre or two on snowshoes...

Learning to ski

How do you teach a child to love winter when he's too young for the only things you as a parent like about the season?  - a very long season in our part of Canada I might add!

These are some of the reasons I started  an Outdoor Playgroup last January.  Most sane people wanting to start an outdoor playgroup would choose a nice warm month guaranteed to bring out a lot of eager outdoor-loving families.  Not me though!  Nope, I chose one of the coldest months in Calgary to start my group.  And it's not because I wanted to earn some badge for being a hard-core Canadian chick who would take her son outside in ALL weather - snow or shine, +30 or -30.  I started the group in winter because I was desperate to find fun ways to get outside all year round.  I wanted to learn to like winter beyond the more extreme ways I usually enjoyed it.  I needed to remember how much fun sledding was and to embrace the simple joys of building a snowman, making a snow angel, or just playing in the snow - without a pair of skis on.  And there was no way my son was going to learn to like winter if Mom and Dad didn't first like it themselves.

A love for winter starts with the parent first

You can find out more information on our Calgary Outdoor Playgroups here and check out some of the awesome experiences we've had over the past year.  I can easily say that I'm not the same person I was last January and that 90% of the friends we spend time with now belong to my outdoor playgroup.  The amount of outdoor-loving friends in our life has actually doubled or even tripled this year.  We camped together all summer long, we went hiking together, we went on backcountry adventures together, and now we're transitioning to winter fun with sled-hiking trips and plans to go snowshoeing at the end of the month.

Last week's hike in Calgary

Through our outdoor playgroup, my son has learned a lot of valuable life skills.  He's learned...
  • To enjoy playing in both snow and rain
  • To get over his fear of sleds and tobogganing
  • To pee in the woods - just like Henry :)
  • That you can hike all year round - and have fun doing it
  • That you can have fun at a playground even when it's -30
  • That you can stay warm in all weather if your have the right clothes on
  • That he doesn't need his Chariot anymore on walks and hikes
  • That he kicks butt on his Strider Bike - and that's given him tons of confidence outdoors!
  • That it's fun to climb trees
  • That even if nobody else shows up, he will be going for a walk, sledding with Mommy, and playing outside
  • That puddles are awesome!!  (We're still working on mud)
  • That you can run faster if you scream while running down hills
  • That a creek is better than a playground any day!
And he's made some wonderful friends that I hope will be with us for a very long time.

Winter hiking
Sledding on a spring day
Learning to skate last winter

As winter approaches, I see our numbers dropping each week and it's tempting to close things down for the winter... to resume again next spring when parents are more inclined to get outside again.  But this is the time of year we most need the support of other friends to get outside.  This is when peer pressure really kicks in and becomes vital!

I don't want to go to playgroup but I promised Tanya I'd go...
It's kind of cold outside, but it IS on the schedule so we'll at least drop in and see how long we last...
The dreary weather is depressing me and  I just want to stay home, but it would be nice to see our friends...
If the others are willing to try and get outside, I guess we can try too...

Faces we look forward to seeing each week

The first snowfall this fall fell a day or two before our regular playgroup day and we had three moms out.  One mom was coming straight from swimming lessons and really didn't want to transition from swimming to sledding.  The other mom had sick kids.  And I was feeling quite depressed by the early October snow.  None of us wanted to go sledding.  But we did.  And had fun.  In the end we were all happy we'd gotten out and knew we wouldn't have without the structure of the playgroup - and commitment to the group.

First fall snowfall

In winter there's a better chance you'll get outside if you schedule your outside play!

Friends will get together more regularly if there's a commitment in place - same time every week - rain or shine.  Not that you can't bail if you get sick and I never force people to come out each week.  But we do find we see our friends more because of the regular schedule.

Same neighborhood but we only see each other for Outdoor Playgroup

If you aren't in an outdoor playgroup, consider starting one this winter.  Find a small group of friends and jump in.  Word of mouth is a great way to spread the news without fancy advertising.  I've never put up a single poster for our groups in Calgary.  

For more information on starting or joining an outdoor playgroup, leave a comment below or send me a message.  You can also find a lot of information at the Active Kid's Club, based out of Toronto, Canada. 

There's No better way to bond with your kids
And what a fabulous way to make lifelong friends!

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