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Navigating the Cold Through Preparation and Play

Winter is an important season for children to experience in full--it comes full of lessons in strength and perseverance, communication, and most importantly: it's a cornerstone of New York State! Check out some of the lessons we've learned in our years teaching in the cold and snow.


Depending on your location, winters range from nonexistent to existential. In Westchester and the surrounding counties, the mix of snow, sleet, and dry cold make preparation essential. At the Rewilding School, we aren’t in the business of hunkering down and waiting the weather out.  Our year-round, fully outdoor offerings can seem daunting to some, but we’ve perfected the techniques required to keep our kids warm and wild regardless of the weather–and we want to bring some of that knowledge to you. 

A lot of families' first reaction in the winter is to hunker down and stay indoors aside from a few impromptu sledding days or some yard play–and we can’t overstate the importance of that. The key to building a child’s confidence in adverse conditions is a slow tolerance that starts in the home and slowly grows in radius from there. There is, however, real importance in incorporating skill building and adventure into your child’s sense of play, and in our state there’s just too many great parks and programs to pass up on them. 

Now, the first step to enjoying the outdoors is preparation. It’s impossible to enjoy yourself, and can be downright dangerous, to skimp on this part. Our educators recommend a few key pieces of knowledge to ensure fun and safety can be front and center. 



Wool is Your Best Friend

For both children and adults, a strong base layer is going to ensure long lasting comfort. Wool is the top of the line in this regard. Wool socks are a pretty much daily need, and the colder it gets, the more you’ll appreciate a strong base layer as well. I wear merino wool socks most days, and regardless of temperature or season they keep my feet warm and moisture free for as long as I need them to be. Other fabric options include silk and fleece, if you or your child don’t like the feeling of the fabric, but modern wool doesn’t take after it’s scratchy predecessors. 

Layering Will Make Your Life Easy

We talked about a warm base layer, but what goes on top? Generally, you’re going to want a thin and effective mid layer that allows you maneuverability and agility. With each year this gets easier as new technologies and great outdoors brands create lightweight solutions that keep you warm. This can come in the form of a sweater, a quarter zip, or a thicker long sleeve. On top, a heavyweight winter jacket or weather shell are great options (with the latter being ideal in warmer conditions). On the bottom, a warm pair of pants paired with snow pants on top make for a warm pair of legs. This basic combination is great for most situations, and the multiple layers make it easy for mixing and matching to ensure nobody is distressed or complaining. 

Communication is (As Always) Key

It can be difficult to coax a child into properly explaining their feelings and needs. Especially when you’re dealing with multiple kids, the complaints of one can be hard to leverage against the wants of another. The first strategy we employ is simply communicating them like they can explain their needs to you. Asking straight questions about how their body feels, how their mind feels, and what they want it important, and can often be overlooked as we try to jump to our own conclusions and rectify the problem ourselves. We never make our kids do anything, but we provide them with options and take care of the backups. If a student is warm, they can take off their jacket. If they don’t want their gloves, they can take them off. But we always keep the backups near and allow that autonomy to be assisted by our preparation. This is a great way to allow our students to feel more comfortable and in control. 

With some of these tips in mind, let’s think about all the different activities that you can do with your families in the winter. Sledding, building structures and snowmen, and snowball fights are wonderful ways to play and be active in the cold, but it only scratches the surface of what we can do. It’s easy to fall back on the literal interpretations of a lot of these games, but that limits imagination at an age where to imagine is to develop the brain. Instead of snowmen, make snow creatures! Allow your children to come up with different ideas and help them bring them to life. When sledding, invent different vehicles and locations to escape to. Don’t be afraid to imagine with them; it creates better bonds and more excitement in the games. We find that when we simply put the kids in a space and give them a few natural tools, they’ll come up with all sorts of things on their own.  A train toy is a train toy, but a big rock can be a mountain, a space ship…anything they want. 

We love building science lessons into our day. Science is an easy lesson to teach because it exists all around us and is intuitive to interact with in a playful manner. Ice and snow are natural lessons in states of matter, and there’s a free gravity lesson in throwing chunks of ice on a frozen pond. Walking in the forest can mean finding tracks or the occasional bird or mammal–which with a field guide or some studying beforehand is an easy way to learn about the local animals. Whatever you decide, it’s a great idea to use play as an avenue for scientific exploration! Kids are equipped at a young age because they’re naturally curious, and while some of the more complicated lessons may fly over their heads; don’t shy away from them. They’ll soak up a lot more information passively than you’d expect. 

It can feel odd to spend a lot of time with your child outdoors. Small fingers, developing hearts, and a need for constant sources of energy don’t, at first thought, mix well with prolonged exposure. But this is the way children have lived and learned for thousands of years. I said it up top, but I’ll reiterate it. We have found that encouraging children to engage in adverse conditions teaches them more than most anything else can. They’ll develop a sense of trust in themselves, a will to explore that eclipses the fear of defeat. 

The best part is that Winter is one of the best times of year to be outside. If you can eliminate the factor of cold,  you’ll have access to the only time of year where everything is silent, waiting. It’s a serene experience to walk in the woods in the snow. It’s something many people choose not to access, but the level of calm and meditation we have access to is unrivaled.

In short, we want to enter the winter with this in mind: Childhood growth doesn’t wait for a change in the season. You shouldn’t either! Get your gear ready, your imagination working, and you’ll give your child a winter full of lessons they’ll never forget. 

Like this content? Want to see more? We have a host of articles on our website, If these concepts inspire you and you want to get involved, we have openings in many of our programs! This winter, sign your child up for Weekend Hunter Gatherers to experience the joys of winter while learning more about the science and skills that help make it great! If you’re gearing up for next year, consider our Forest Preschool, which runs for a year and prepares your child with a toolkit for learning and play. And if you’re a parent looking to spend more time outdoors, sign up for our brand new tracking series, Finding Footprints, where our founder Eric will guide you through the stories of some of our favorite local animals. 

Oh, and if you’re looking for Winter Break activities for your child, check out our Winter Break Camp which runs from Feb 19-23.

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