By Melissa Stefanec
Although winter has been slow to release its grasp on our Central New York landscape, spring can’t remain in the shadows much longer. A well-known bridge is Syracuse displays, “Winter Longs,” — and this year that bridge has been painfully accurate.
As such, cabin fever is running high in my household, and my family is ready for prolonged exposure to the elements.
I send my kids out to play during the colder months, but it’s never long before a rainboot is full of cold puddle water, a glove has gone missing in a snowbank or someone’s pants are covered inside and out with mud or snow. So, our jaunts outside during the cold-weather months leave us longing for the outdoor experience only spring can promise.
When you work full time, it can be really hard to get your kids outside. After I pick them up from daycare and drive home, there is barely enough time to make dinner, do homework, pick up and prepare for bed. The problem with that schedule is it doesn’t leave much time for the outdoor play and fresh air kids so desperately need to healthy and happy.
So, this spring, I am going to be better about getting my kids outside. Here are some of the strategies I plan to employ to make that happen.
The play-clothes bin
I am going to keep a small bin of clothes near the entrance to my home. That way, my kids can come in, pick something out, change, and run back outside. I want them to enjoy themselves when they are outdoors, not worry about muddy pants.
The commute detour
On my way home, I pass a couple of parks, a creek trail, a canal trail and a couple of playgrounds. There is no reason the kids and I can’t take five minutes and play a game of tag before we head home. Sometimes the best way to accomplish a goal is to make it your first priority.
If I want to get my kids outside after work, I can prep in the morning to make that happen. I can pack water and snacks to tide my kids over until dinner. I can have leftovers ready for dinner when we get home. I can wear an outfit and footwear to work that are conducive to hanging out at playground happy hour.
My kids are finally old enough that I can send them out to play by themselves for a little while. I give them firm instruction on where they can and cannot go. I keep the doors and windows open and an eye on my front yard and street. Kids need independence like they need fresh air, so this one achieves two goals.
Most kids are going to get pretty upset if they are sent outside to play, only to be called in 10 minutes later. To help my kids deal with that disappointment, I plan to communicate clearly with them about what our outdoor activities will consist of. If they go into an activity knowing it will be brief, they are less likely to melt down.
Earning free time
To help maintain balance, I plan to have my kids chip in more around the house. I will tell them that in order to go outside the next day, they need to accomplish a certain number of tasks. Maybe it’s picking up toys or unloading the dishwasher. Maybe it’s putting away laundry or re-ordering their bookcases. Whatever it is, I will encourage them to do it in the evening or early morning hours so we can all enjoy our precious evening sunlight.
Instead of setting up times for my kids to have friends over or visit friend’s homes, I will coordinate with parents to have meetups outdoors. With enough planning, playdates can involve playgrounds, hikes or natural excursions. This will also give me a chance to get to know some other parents while chatting on the playground.
Keeping a car bag
I plan to keep a bag in my car with play shoes, play clothes, wipes, sunscreen, insect repellent, water and some snacks. I will make sure to have these items available for everyone in the family. That way, when we want to fit in a last-second adventure, we have the tools to make it happen.
Put it on the calendar
Summer events start filling up our calendar as soon as the trees start budding. When we are deciding on what events to attend, I am going to give preference to the ones that are outdoors.
Recurring fresh air
One of the best ways to accomplish something is to make it a habit. America has fallen in love with taco Tuesday, so why can’t fresh air Friday be the next big thing? Habit-forming activities are awesome things, if you revolve them to the right habits.
Listening to the wisdom of children
We grownups like to get caught up in our routines. We like to worry about accomplishing the necessary tasks of everyday life. We make dishes, dinner, homework and laundry our top priorities. We forget to make play and fresh air a priority. Our kids are wise enough to call us on our folly. So, when I hear my kids ask to play outside, I can say “yes” more.