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              kids having a picnic in the snow

              Parental Arts

              How to Keep Socializing Outdoors this Winter

              In the past few years seeing friends and family outdoors has been crucial for staying connected. While colds, RSV and the flu abound in school around the country it can be the safest way to get together en plein air. But what happens when temps start really dropping? Keep going outside, says Linda McGurk, the author of There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids. We chatted with McGurk about why spending time outdoors—in all weather—is so important for kids and adults, the importance of really great winter boots, and the motivating power of hot chocolate.
              The Animals Observatory
              Interview By
              Marnie Schwartz

              What does the saying "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes" really mean?

              If you grew up in Scandinavia, this is something you would have heard a million times during your childhood. It's what parents tell their kids to encourage them to go outside, even when the weather conditions are not ideal. It means that you dress for the weather and appreciate each season for what it is. Rain is not an excuse to stay in on the couch. You just make sure to dress warmly. It doesn't mean you're going to go out in a hailstorm for 5 hours. That's not the point. It's to know you can endure wet and cold weather for quite some time and still be comfortable. Another nice thing is that it makes you really appreciate the warmth and coziness once you come inside.

              Why should we stop thinking of winter as the end to outdoor activity? 

              I think a lot of it really is about mindset. In Scandinavia, winter is also a dark season. You have to prepare mentally for the dark and cold. We choose not to hibernate because we know that being outside is good for our physical health and also mental health. There are a number of studies now that confirm that being outdoors, even for just 30 minutes, has immense health impacts. We just see it as a necessary part of our well being and self care. 

              Attitude is so important. I think the secret is really just embracing nature, and getting that deeper connection with nature, regardless of the weather. Children are really good about seeing those positive things. When it's raining, they immediately think about running to the biggest puddle they can find and jumping in it. As adults, we think getting wet is yucky. But it's important for us adults to also have a positive mindset about it, because our attitudes rub off on the kids.

              Can you explain the concept of friluftsliv and how embracing it could make this winter better?

              Friluftsliv is a Swedish word that loosely translates to "free air life" or "open air life." It's all about connecting with nature in a simple, everyday fashion. In its simplest form, it's going for a walk in the woods or even around your neighborhood. It's going outside without a particular agenda, for the sake of going outside and forming that connection with nature. It's also about connecting with the people you spend time outside with, and creating coziness and togetherness outdoors. It's one of those traditions that is passed down from generation to generation, bringing different generations together. So along with getting health benefits and a relationship with nature, you're also nurturing relationships with loved ones because you're doing something active outside, rather than inside which typically means everyone in front of their own screen. You're building a family culture.

              So if there's not bad weather, only bad clothes… what are good clothes? What are the essential items to stay warm?

              If you want your kids to play freely outside in a wet, cold climate, they're going to need a good pair of winter boots that are insulated with a waterproof sole and bottom part. For clothing, think about three layers, especially if you'll be outside for a long period of time. Closest to the skin is a base layer. You want wool or a synthetic fabric, but not cotton. Then you need an insulating layer that traps heat, like a fleece jacket and sweatpants or puffy jacket. Then you have the outer layer which is the one that protects against the weather—a shell jacket or other tough, waterproof, windproof surface. And then of course you need to cover your hands and head as well. You can even layer mittens if you want. And then a warm hat on top. You don't want kids to have too much skin exposed, so if it's very cold a balaclava helps, as they can pull it up over their mouth and nose.

              How do you get your kids excited about playing and socializing outdoors in the cold when they are resistant?

              I think the key is really trying to tap into what they get excited about. Most kids will have something they like to do outside. It might be something they like when it's warmer out, like going to the playground. You can do a lot of those things in the wintertime. Be attuned to what your child really wants to do rather than trying to push your own agenda. If they still don't want to go out at all, I give them a few options. To the park or the woods? I don't give the option to stay inside. Try and get excited about it yourself, and bring special treats like hot chocolate that they only get outside. And see if you can meet up with friends as well. If there's one thing that really gets kids excited about playing outdoors, it's other kids playing outdoors.

              What are some fun ways to take family socializing outdoors this winter? 

              Have a barbecue. Food always brings people together, and it's nice to have a fire too. Don't forget about s'mores! 

              Go on a winter hike, or even a long walk around your neighborhood. Download a geocaching app to turn it into a game. 

              Set up a scavenger hunt for the kids, while the adults gather with hot drinks. 

              Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. 

              Simply play in your own yard (and invite other families to join!). A kid-friendly backyard, with features like a mud kitchen and some things to climb on, can go a long way towards keeping them occupied.