As winter moves toward spring here in the Northern Hemisphere many people look forward to warming temperatures, more sunshine, longer days, and more opportunities to be outside. The opportunities for outside activities in the winter are numerous, but many folks hibernate this time of year and long for the change in seasons. The same is true for many child development programs. In your program do the children go outside in all types of weather? Stay Inside?
All of my experience working with children has been in two states, California and Oregon. These two states have different weather patterns, the West Coast, generally has fairly mild winters compared to most of the U.S. However in my experience both states have very different expectations in regard to taking children outside for play in changing weather.
In California, I practiced in the southern part of the state. It is a desert with plentiful sunshine and a little rain that falls in the late winter early spring. The rest of the year is sunny, sunny with clouds, or hot and features great weather for being outside all year around. In my practice in California we would never go outside when it rained. The children desired to go outside an experience a different type of environment than the typical day but most parents wanted us to remain inside and stay dry. Different years we would try and encourage parents to bring in extra clothes or rain gear so children could experience the fun of play outside on rainy day but this idea never really took off. The only time we would stay inside on sunny days was during Santa Ana winds, an active brush fire nearby, or extreme heat over 100 degrees.
In Oregon, the opportunities to play outside are different and similar to my experience in California. The elementary children typically go outside in all weather, which means mostly rain and some sun for the months between October and June. Children are usually prepared with rain jackets and love being outside. In some elementary afterschool programs, the children utilize the gym facilities for indoor recess instead of going out in the rain. That means children spend many days inside the gym instead of being outdoors in the fresh air. Typically these children have been indoors at school all day, so being outside afterschool seems critically important. In the afterschool programs children stay inside if the temperature falls lower than 32 degrees or higher than 90 degrees.
My pre-school experience in Oregon is completely different. All of the pre-school programs where I have practiced in Oregon, children go outside for long periods of time in any weather. Children keep a set of rain pants, waterproof jacket, rubber boots, and gloves ready to use each day as the weather dictates. The children have wonderful adventures exploring small yard rivers, ponds, falling rain, mud, and occasional snow each day with big smiles and great energy. The parents in these programs see the benefits for their children and collaborate with the schools to make sure the gear is kept up to date and in good repair. I found a good article by Linda McGurk a parent in the Midwest that explains the benefits she observed of her children being outside in all weather and I find the same benefits in the children I work with each day.
My experience is unique and there are many other states and countries in the world with different weather. It is up to each educator to weigh the benefits versus the drawbacks of having children go outside in different types of weather. I am an educator that prefers to be outside in all safe conditions, which here in Oregon is all the time enjoying the liquid sunshine. I wish you great success in making your decision and in encouraging parents to assist with clothing and support for your outdoor program.
What is your opinion? Is being outside beneficial for children in all types of weather?
As an educator do you enjoy being outside in all types of weather?