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“Go outside, it will make you stronger!” ~Words spoken by a very wise woman

By Heidi Burke  (see parts of this article featured in BizWest)

When I was a child growing up in a rural setting north of Milwaukee Wisconsin, I spent many days during all seasons playing outside with my siblings and the neighborhood children. I had no choice. My mother expected that we spend time outside as much as possible in all kinds of challenging weather and would repeatedly tell us, “Being outside makes you stronger!” I clearly remember excitingly stuffing my feet in bread bags which lined my stiff, rubber boots to play in sub zero temperatures during the winter time. And, a good rain storm never stopped us from going outside in less than adequate rain gear either to splash in puddles and newly formed lakes, or to run around the house in our “swim suits.” Being outside in all kinds of weather is a wonderful way to experience a range of opportunities outdoors. From freezing weather, blustery winds, and pelting ice… to rain and floods in the yard where grass once stood. This used to be a normal expectation for all children.

It seems like an obvious question and one of the many questions Andrew McMartin , Executive Director at the p.i.n.e. project in Toronto, asks in his article, Children That Play Outside In All Weather grow up Resilient. Why don’t children play outside in challenging weather nearly as much as they use to? Or, why are schools keeping children inside at recess when the temperatures get too cold, or it is drizzling? What kind of adult will this type of childhood experience create? McMartin shares in his article that most challenges, risks, and hurdles are removed from childhood nowadays in efforts to prevent anything bad from happening to the children we love. As a kindergarten teacher in an outdoor based Waldorf kindergarten, I observe young children get dressed every day to go outside in rain, sun, snow, and all kinds of challenging weather and they are much happier, healthier, innovative, and adaptable especially when they are wearing the right gear. When they are dressed appropriately, they can be outside for hours at a time and are much freer in their play which also allows them to take risks and prepares them for life. Without risks, children cannot learn how to have boundaries, awareness of limits, and how to be safe.

Challenging weather creates risks and risks create opportunity for growth. Because risks teach, they have real consequences that ask us to be aware; aware of ourselves, others and nature. Taking risks is becoming less of an opportunity for children today as we become an increasingly worried and anxious society. At real play, children are in charge, instinctively making hundreds of decisions as they assess and determine levels of risk they want to take physically, emotionally, and socially: mastering day by day, an increasing repertoire of skills, adding to their “bank” of experience. They learn a series of lessons for the world they will have to negotiate for real!

A question we may ask is how Waldorf education relates to the topic of spending time outdoors in general. Waldorf schools emphasize the teaching of the whole child-heads, hands, and heart. When Rudolph Steiner was planning his first school, he wanted

instruction to be directed not merely to the cultivation of one sided knowledge and intellectual faculties but also to abilities and the strengthening of the will. Not only does going outside in challenging weather encourage risk taking but also getting dressed to outside in challenging weather is a will activity. Just think about the fine and gross motors skills needed for a child to dress themselves in layers of clothing for the outdoors! More importantly, in order for the will to penetrate, children need to be dressed appropriately so they do not end up using the forces they would normally use to grow and strengthen their organs on trying to stay warm or cool. Going outside in all kinds of weather takes commitment and will. It takes a community of parents, and teachers willing to model appropriate dress and who want to make going outside a normal reality rather than preventing children from going outside. Families, parents, and teachers in the school community need to work together to create, encourage, and cultivate a culture of outdoor dress.

McMartin encourages us in his article to imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions, in all seasons of the year for a moment. Imagine how they will be different from children who are taught to come inside when it is too cold or drizzling. Imagine how they would be different from children who find their entertainment from the T.V., computer, or video games. If we want our future generations to grow up and have the skills to survive and thrive in an increasingly challenging world we need to get out there and be dressed well! No matter what the weather. Don’t let fears and inhibitions stand in the way and try to make it a normal activity for yourself and for your children growing up. Amazing things happen outside and children grow up healthy all over the world in arctic conditions, deserts, and in the tropics. So, “get outside- it will make you stronger!”