3 Nurturing Lessons to Learn From Winter
I don’t think I have ever heard the words, “I wish winter would never end!” Especially in the month of February. Well, I take that back. If I am with one of my eternally positive and energetic friends who goes on about winter camping with their children, drinking hot cocoa after their cardio snow-shoveling session, or other nonsense, then I might hear that phrase. Where I live in Colorado, we usually get our last snow in May, so I guess I have plenty of time left to reflect on winter…
But let’s be honest. Although I am about to give you my best arguments for getting outside in the winter with children, I will admit that on some days cold weather keeps me from doing fairly basic and important things. Like moving. Showering. Getting out of bed. This article is not about me though. It’s a bigger picture than that. It’s about not abandoning winter for spring too soon. There is much more winter to be had before we get the garden tools out. For instance, when I looked out my snowy window at the birds eating at my feeder today, I stopped to think.
In the quiet and the cold there are lessons to be had…
Animals respond to winter in three major ways, and when I started to think more about it, people (including children) have the same three ways of dealing with anxiety or stress. Stay with me here…
Animals will migrate to warmer climates, hibernate until spring, or stay and endure the winter.
Psychologists will say that stressed children often react to minor worries in one of three similar primitive ways: flight, fight, or freeze. All three of these behaviors can be “challenging” for parents to deal with. Our response to them can be to punish, which often just pushes a child into deeper panic.
Another approach is to “reason” with our children at a time when their brains are not able to give immediate thoughtful answers (“I dunno” or shoulder shrugs). We demand to know why, ask them to feel sorry, and want them to problem solve on the spot so it won’t happen again. For a child to be able to access the higher order of functions of the brain such as reflection, empathy, and reasoned thought, the child must feel safe, and if they are in “survival mode” while we are in their faces, it can’t happen.
I think that in most situations, we would like our children to be able to “fight” or adapt to hard circumstances rather than flee or freeze. Use their wits and resources to make changes in order to succeed. Things like talk about problems or fears, change behavior that hasn’t worked, prepare better, compromise, be patient, think positively, ask for help–all good survival strategies to practice and perfect during childhood, but not in the heat of the moment. Allow them some time and space.
Nature Is Circular
Children are hungry for patterns and predictability, and there are comforting examples in nature. Winter will always pass, and winter will always return.
There are cycles everywhere in nature. In the days, seasons, and generations. Life cycles, water cycles, moon cycles, and birthdays. In nature, the balance is everywhere, and we can help children discover the patterns, the renewal, the steady march that is self-correcting. Many times I have just shaken my head and smiled when I overheard a five year old child say something profound like, “Stop! That bug only has one life. Let him finish it!”
In the cold and darker months of winter, children can learn to love the season of peace, family traditions, winter rest, and feel the hope for renewal. If we are lucky, our children will also learn to zip their own coats, put their boots on the correct feet, and bring home both mittens.
Many of our strongest childhood memories are connected to nature. Why are they so strong? Why are they so happy? Children learn to feel and care deeply when given the freedom to explore nature through their imaginations and play. Once (not twice) I went ice fishing in Wyoming with my husband. My adult memory was of the wind pushing me so hard across the ice that I couldn’t stand still! My boys have the same memory, but they remember lifting their coats up over their heads and becoming airborne! I learned not to rob my boys of the chance to make lifelong memories and bonds because Wyoming winter wind is not my cup of tea.
Young children easily identify with babies and animals. They innately understand the universal needs for food, shelter, love, warmth, and family. The connection they feel to a squirrel or a whale is immediate. Young children’s brains crave animal and nature facts. They learn to admire the plants and animals that find clever ways to survive the winter storms and long nights. They want to learn their secrets. Help them do that through the hundreds of beautiful books written and illustrated just for them.
It’s the melding of science and love that helps children know they belong.
Love the Season You Are In: Winter
Don’t ignore or abandon the natural world when it is cold. There is great beauty, but of a different kind in winter. Anyone who wakes up to a landscape changed beyond recognition is called by the creative forces triggered by snow. Just ask me about it at the crack of dawn as I’m chipping the car windshield with my scraper!
Help children celebrate and befriend the harsher beauty of winter as they cheerfully don their 5 layers of snow gear. Make the very first footprints in the park, slip and slide on a frozen puddle, fall down in deep piles of sparkling powder, build an upside down snowman, follow fresh tracks and make up stories about the animals, watch the birds, pull icicles from the roof, blow steamy breath from your mouth, and catch snowflakes on your tongue.
On cold days without snow, hunt for animal homes, heart shapes in nature, and gather up pretty rocks or grey sticks and pine cones. Ask your child, as you wipe their drippy noses and rub their bright pink toes, “How do you think the little birds stay warm in the winter?”
I think that the biggest trick is to get outside every single day and have the outdoor gear to make it a pleasure. Invest in warm, waterproof clothes and help your young one learn how to manage their boots, buckles, zippers and gloves independently.
If you asked me how use Winter to help your child learn about survival, beauty, and our interconnectedness, that is what I would say, but of course that is from the comfort of my afghan swaddled body snuggled up on the couch. Oh, the tea is ready–gotta go!
Tell me what you think…