A little preparation will go a long way to helping your kids get outside — and have fun — in “bad” weather.
Some kids look for any excuse to stay indoors, and “bad” weather is often an easy one. And let’s face it… adults often use that excuse too! But we all need to remind ourselves of just how valuable outdoor time is for children, regardless of the conditions — optimal or otherwise. A rainy day can include just as many adventures as a blue-sky day!
Choosing to go outdoors in all kinds of weather is also developmentally advantageous for kids. In one of my favorite quotes from Nicolette Sowder of Wilder Child, she says:
“Encouraging a child to go outside in all weather builds resilience, but more importantly it saves them from spending their life merely tolerating the ‘bad’ days in favor of a handful of ‘good’ ones – a life of endless expectations and conditions where happiness hinges on sunshine.”
Regardless of the benefits, going outside in “bad” weather can still be challenging. But here are a few strategies to make it a bit less of a struggle for your children. (And maybe yourselves!)
1. Dress appropriately
Layers are key and give you the flexibility to adapt to the weather. They should allow you to stay warm, dry and comfortable in all weather conditions. This includes perspiration! Avoid overheating by starting with fewer layers, adding them when needed.
Accessories are also important: sunglasses, sun hats, sunblock, umbrellas, rain hats or hoods, toques, scarves and gloves play an important role in keeping the body comfortable in different conditions.
If your kids are physically comfortable, your time outside is less likely to be cut short by distractions such as cold fingers or toes.
2. Make the destination worth it
Sometimes going out for the sake of going out is enough for our kids, but they can usually benefit from an extra dose of motivation: a beautiful view, a favorite spot, or the potential for wildlife spotting.
3. Give yourselves something to look forward to
- hot chocolate buffet
- ice cream
- immersing feet in cool creek
This isn’t necessarily meant to be a bribe (though it may sometimes come out that way), but a reward, a celebration, or a key component to the adventure! You can incorporate a ‘treat’ that can help regulate your temperature and prolong your time outside. (Hot chocolate to warm up your hands, wading in a creek to cool your feet.)
4. Be ok with a shorter time
It’s ok to make your adventure a short one. It’s even ok to spend less time outside than you did preparing to actually go outside. Forgive yourself in advance for lowering your expectations. Simply getting out is still success.
5. Let your kids lead
When kids lead the way, they’re less likely to drag their feet and complain. Giving them responsibility for guiding the route focuses their attention and inspires pride and satisfaction, often leading to a longer and more enjoyable journey.
6. Remind them of highlights that they’ll see
“Do you remember the tree that looks like it had a face?” If it’s somewhere they’ve been before, it can be helpful to remind kids of what they can expect (and anticipate). My kids often don’t remember the name of the trail or the park, but they do remember the experiences we’ve had or the interesting things we’ve seen. This helps them get excited about (or simply accept) the adventure ahead.
7. Talk about how things might look different today
Talk about how the weather will affect what they see/do, especially in reference to past experiences. (Do you think the water level will be higher? Will we be able to play pooh sticks? Will the trail smell different today?)
8. Give it a new name
Re-brand your adventure to embrace the weather:
- Wet Walk
- Scottish Saunter
- Vancouver Meander
- Frosty Foray
- make up your own!
9. Point out things they will enjoy
Talk about the experiences they will have, things they will enjoy: finding puddles, catching raindrops, skipping stones across the ice, etc.
10. Make outdoor time part of your routine
If getting outdoors is part of your family routine, it won’t be unusual to go out in less-than-perfect weather. Treat it like any other day, any other adventure. If you normalize it, kids will be less likely to dig their heels in and refuse to participate.
11. Check in regularly, make adjustments
Check in with your kids every 15 minutes or so to make sure they are comfortable, see if you should make any adjustments to their clothing/accessories. This is a good opportunity to change out wet gloves or socks, remove a layer, add a layer.
12. Consider your destination/location/situation
The saying “location, location, location” also applies to “bad weather” situations, and your choice of locale can help mitigate some challenges.
“TOO HOT”: Stay near water whenever possible: ocean, lake, pond, creek. (Or, in a pinch – a hose or sprinkler.)
“TOO WET”: Consider locations that provide some cover, such as wooded areas or parks with shelters.
“TOO COLD”: Stay near shelter and go inside every once in a while to warm up. Consider a campfire by which you can warm your hands. Think twice about wandering too far into the backwoods.
Whether the it’s “too hot” or “too wet” or “too cold”, a little preparation will go a long way to helping your kids get outside in “bad” weather. With the right mindset, the right clothes, and the realization that it doesn’t have to take a herculean effort, outdoor adventures in all weather can be normal and fun and so very rewarding!
There certainly are occasions when weather can be considered dangerous. Hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning/thunder storms, high winds, extreme cold, and extreme heat are all factors that should be respected when it comes to time outdoors.
Keep in mind the current humidity and wind, which can greatly affect the actual temperature. (heat + humidity = heat index; cold + wind = wind chill)
Also consider your level of activity and the conditions you will be in. Swimming in hot weather and playing in the shade are very different from running around in direct sunlight.
Health authorities differ somewhat on what temperatures should signal “stay indoors”, but their guidelines remain helpful. Keeping these in mind, discuss it as a family to see what you are comfortable with, and determine your temperature threshold.
What is genuinely “too cold” or “too hot”? Some recommendations from experts include:
- 32-40C / 90-105F: risk of heat cramps and exhaustion
- over 54C / 130F: risk of heatstroke
- AAP: Stay indoors when temperatures are 35-40C/95-100F.
- Canadian Pediatrics Society: stay indoors when temperatures are below -25C/-13F.
- Oklahoma: Stay indoors when wind chills fall below 12F. Come inside every 20-30 mins when wind chill is below 0C/32F.
- National Weather Service: Frostbite can occur in minutes when wind chill gets below -18F.
- 13 degrees F – 30 degrees F, you should go inside every 20-30 minutes to warm up.
- If the wind chill gets below 10 degrees F, stay indoors to avoid frostbite.
Although we encourage you to get your kids outside in “bad” weather, there is definitely an implied asterisk. Consider extreme weather situations and recognize the wisdom of staying indoors.
For more tips on keeping kids active in cold weather and in wet weather, check out these posts:
And to conquer the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, check out these tips on dressing our kids for outdoor play in any weather and finding affordable outdoor clothing for kids.