Children That Play Outside In All Weather Grow Up Resilient

Published January 10th, 2014

52 comments

It seems like an obvious statement, so why don’t kids play outside in challenging weather nearly as much as they used to? Why are schools keeping kids inside at recess when the temperature gets too cold? What kind of adult will this type of childhood experience create?

Most challenges, risks, and hurdles are swiftly removed from childhood in efforts to prevent anything bad from happening to the children that we love.

As Winter ebbs and flows, with temperatures ranging from minus 25 to plus 10 in the past few weeks, we’ve experienced a wonderful range of opportunities with the programs we run. Challenges and opportunities. From freezing weather with blustery winds, to rain and floods in the parks where we work, to massive snowstorms full of amazing forts and fun!

Imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions, in all seasons of the year. Imagine how they’d be different than kids taught to come inside when it’s raining, or cold. Imagine how they’d be different from kids that find entertainment from the TV, computer or video games.

Kids who play outside in challenging weather are more positive, more creative, and more adaptable. They don’t let challenges stop them. They rise to challenges and find ways to carry on in spite of them. And that’s just their baseline. It’s nothing special to them. It’s normal.

It used to be normal for all kids.

Add mentors and role models with smiles on their faces, skills to keep everyone warm and happy(ish), challenging questions to keep children growing and children become even more incredible! Especially if parents, family, and community are all making these types of experiences a normal reality for their children, rather than preventing them from going outside in all weather.

Imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions, in all seasons of the year. Imagine how they’d be different than kids taught to come inside when it’s raining, or cold.

Challenging weather creates real and perceived risks, and so risk creates opportunity for growth. Because risks teach. They have real consequences that ask us to be aware; aware of ourselves, others, and nature.

This type of risk is a rare opportunity for children today. Most challenges, risks, and hurdles are swiftly removed from childhood in efforts to prevent anything bad from happening to the kids we love. But this may be robbing children of life’s challenges and not preparing them for the realities of being an adult.

Kids don’t have to be positive, creative, or adaptable if there are no challenges. With no challenges, there are no consequences. What kind of adult will result from a childhood without challenges or consequences? Yikes is all I have to say.

The great thing is, it’s easy to switch this up.

One way is to just go outside. Go out in all conditions, and if you aren’t comfortable doing so, bring your kids to others that are. That’s community, and a “village raising a child”, so to speak.

Amazing things happen outside.

In one day of our programs last week, our day (five different programs for ages 4-10) included:

  • Watching a Barrel Owl hunting small mammals in a meadow
  • Making herbal teas from natural ingredients found locally
  • Finding and exploring a Deer kill site, and the tracks of Coyotes, and various scavengers
  • Finding and exploring a Muskrat kill site, and wondering who might have been the predator
  • Giving thanks and gratitude for all the lessons nature provides
  • Smoking a deer hide to make soft leather for projects
  • Making pine pitch to glue an ax head on to a handle
  • Finding an Owl or possibly a Hawk pellet and dissecting it to find clues
  • Finding a birds nest and investigating whose nest it was
  • Playing tons of games
  • Eating snack and lunch outside
  • Tracking and acting like animals to understand them better, and the lessons they teach us
  • So much more I can’t fit it all in here…

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So go outside. And keep going out there, no matter the weather. And keep sending your kids out there, or to us regardless of what may be happening out there. (Remember, children grow up healthy all over the world. In arctic conditions, in deserts, and in the tropics. -50C to plus 45C, and they do just fine).

Don’t let fears get in the way.

Get out there, explore, and see what you find. Sit still for long periods of time and take a break from the schedule and routine of a busy life.

Ask questions and search for answers, but don’t worry if you don’t find them!!! Just be as curious as little kids!

Go out in all weather, dress for it well, and make this a normal thing for yourself, and for children growing up. They’ll grow up resilient, adaptable, creative, positive and aware, things they’ll need to face their future in a good way.


Andrew McMartinAndrew McMartinAndrew McMartin, Executive Director at the p.i.n.e. project in Toronto, ON

Andrew believes that dirt under fingernails and rain in a child’s hair are essential components to growing up healthy, resilient, and connected to the place we call home, the local natural environment. He is passionate about education, having spent the better part of the last 15+ years working with children in the outdoors. He’s a certified teacher in Ontario, and has taught and traveled all over Canada and the world, but has come back home to Toronto to bring the things he feels are most important to the place that needs them the most. Andrew is the founder of the p.i.n.e. project, bringing 15 years of teaching experience in the outdoors, and 10+ years of nature based mentoring and community building work with affiliate and parent organizations across North America. More about Andrew's work.

52 thoughts on “Children That Play Outside In All Weather Grow Up Resilient”

  1. Brenda Nickolaus says:

    love ths! thank you so much for your inspiring words. http://www.brenda-artinnature.blogspot.com

    1. Wild Earth says:

      Thanks for taking time to read our blog and to comment Brenda! Looks like you’re doing similar work helping people to connect to nature through your art and your healing crafts. Keep up the great work!

      1. laura says:

        There’s science to back this up. Babies who nap outdoors sleep longer and young children who play outdoors build the sort of brainpower essential for later reading. Here’s more on this. lauragraceweldon.com/2015/01/21/the-magic-of-fresh-air-for-babies-other-beings/

  2. Adin Blankenship says:

    I love this! And thank you for sharing. And I agree with you. It is something that we teach our own two kids, and we want them to be outside, to play, explore, and learn things. Some moms I know are afraid or don’t like to take their kids outside because it is cold and they think it will make their kids sick. That’s not true! Those that are not active and are staying inside the house all the time are the ones more likely to get sick. It is part of growing up to learn new things, new adventure, learn about the environment, and learn about life. This is inspiring! :) I am from the Philippines and back then, we didn’t have a computer, TV or any kind of technology that we now have so I was outside more playing with other kids and was active. And I enjoyed my childhood so much because I got to play outside rain or shine.

    AdinB http://www.chetopianfamily4.com

  3. Joyce Dreher says:

    This is so true.I grew up out doors.In the rain,on the poarch,0 weather,in the house,Loved to walk in the woods,play in the streams,or creeks,skate on the frozen swamp.Never got in trouble,was to busy looking for new things to do,things to grow.Watch the birds,and the bats at night,swim in the creek.I would not want to change my child hood.Much better than watching TV and horrible veido games.The world was so much better for the young people,no drugs and murder, only alcohol,But that still is a problem.Get out doors kids.and learn something

  4. Miriam says:

    I grew up running wild iin the former woods of Rhode Island. I was only about 5 years old, unescourted and gone for hours as I examined rabbit holes, indian mounds, streams, rock quarrys, plants, wild orchids… and so much more. My mother never knew where I was or how far I went. Today, I know I can do anything, and create. I am very healthy and conscious of the foods I eat. I watch the plants and animals to understand the coming weather. TV was boring compared to what awaited me and my imagination outside!
    I now teach Parenting and I cannot figure out why most of these young parents refuse to let their children outside. The children become afraid of anything outside and are playing with tablets and Iphones by age 3. They whine and complain if they have to do something for themselves. Parents try to make excuses why they cannot even go to the playground. (???)
    Nature is the greatest teacher there is. Nature only harvests what they need in that moment and never hoards of sells of chunks for profits… and that is why they thrive. They even adopt well during stressful weather of lack of supplies.
    Thank you for your work and this article! It is so very true, all of it!

  5. Bettina says:

    My mother gave me the least amount o
    f advice, but the four words that stuck: let them get dirty! She could have also said cold, tired, and hungry, too… My girls are both very resilient, and at 25 and 22, one is a nurse/midwife and the other is finishing her degree in Natural Resource management. Both are very fit, eat healthy, don’t smoke and neither one has done any drugs. Thanks, Mom!!

  6. Leslie says:

    I grew up being outside and finding my way (albeit the streets of Manhattan – a different kind of fortitude) Now, having the fortune to give my kids the experience of the natural outside world , it is bliss. Both thrive in the challenges and with the magnificence of raw nature. Today’s world has children being far too insular in play and education. Balance is key. Skill building, personal growth and community are the most essential tools for a full life. Being outside in all weather, ‘weathering storms’ and the before and after quiet, is immeasurable.

    1. Wild Earth says:

      Bliss. And agreed, balance is key. Thanks for taking the time to comment Leslie!

  7. Linda McGurk says:

    This is a fantastic post – I really couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve shared it on Facebook before and I’m linking to it in this post as well: http://rainorshinemamma.com/rainy-day-fun-painting-with-mud/.

    1. Wild Earth says:

      Thanks Linda! What a great blog! Rain or shine or bust!!

  8. keco86 says:

    My favorite article I’ve read on the internet in a long time.

    1. Wild Earth says:

      Whoo hoo! Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment keco! ;-)

  9. bmb says:

    As a Waldorf parent, I fully endorse and confirm the merits outlined in this article!

    1. Wild Earth says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  10. Amanda Lynn McEwen says:

    This is a good partner to an article I got through the waldorf facebook page a while back, it was about nature deficit disorder. The inability to focus their attention due to a lack of full spectrum and 360′ stimulation. It was quite an interesting read, as is this one. This is a constant battle I have with my husband. He grew up in the city…I grew up camping. It takes some pretty serious weather to scare me. Thanks for this article.

  11. Joy Njiru says:

    I like the article, its all bliss; I mean its very critical to maintain balance in academic work and play. Play is inseparable with child’s life. It is life for him/her. For holistic development in every aspect of life play is crucial in terms of social competence, creativity, sensory motor fitness, release of tension, emotional stability and the list is endless.Myself am extremely playful, i grew up desiring $ always finding out, discovering things by myself exploring and very very curious. I loved (up-to-date) play that engaged my physical body actively; jumping, running, dancing( the best ). I highly recommend this to our dear young children.,
    Thank you so much for posting this, keep us up more with of the kind. God bless you!!

  12. Pascale says:

    the only reason we don’t take kids outside at recess when it’s -25 Celsius it’s because parents will sue us! yep instead of dressing up their kids with warm clothes they rather put the blame on us if their children get frost bite!

    1. Sally says:

      This is what parents sign permission slips for.

      1. doo dah says:

        Uh huh huh. Yeah I bet you have all the answers don’t you sally

        1. 7thGeneration says:

          There you go blaming someone else for an idea. In Alaska, the kids put their snow bibs on & go out every day! Here in NC, they don’t go out even if it’s only 45-50 degrees! It’s ridiculous.

    2. VLR says:

      That is the reason exactly. We live in a world where everyone blames everything on everyone else. There is not a school system in America that will risk that kind of law suit.

  13. Mike123456789123456789 says:

    I lived down at the river, sure I did a lot of things my parents would have killed me for. But then our mothers kicked us out to go play from 100 to -20. We didn’t have that many fat kids back then.

  14. Carolin Martens says:

    I grew up in the country and we waited all year for a blizzard to come so we could go play and build a fort.We we outside from morning till dark. I know we probably drove my mother crazy trying to keep all of us 5 kids clean but a little dirt on our feet did not hurt us at all. I have the same problem with my 3 girls. Outside all summer long, barefoot and in the dirt. My youngest had a thing about the rain. She would wait and go dance in it every chance she got. As long as their was no lightening I let her. Neighbors probably think we are crazy,but we are nature people. Long walks, hiking, once it is in you it is hard to get it out. Some people may never get it, but the ones that do are the people I relate to best. Great post.

  15. Sally says:

    This is what we want so badly for our child. As far as we can find, a forest school (preschool in our case) kind of environment doesn’t exist where we are. So I work three days a week and stay home with our son two days a week so that we can have these kinds of outdoor experiences. That said, I’m new to the cold (lived in Georgia and then California before moving to New York State), so I’m still figuring out how to enable us to do all of this without me being regularly worried I’m going to give my kiddo frostbite or hypothermia.

    1. drea says:

      There are lots of these in New York. I work for one opening next year, and my friends run one about 45 minutes from that. They are everywhere

    2. Theresa says:

      You sound like a thoughtful mom. Dress them for the weather, pay attention to how they’re doing, and you all will be fine. Make sure you check the wind chill as well as the thermometer temperature. Head inside when socks and stuff start to get damp– either from sweat or snow working its way in. Wet kids get cold really fast. And then you go in and get dry clothes and warm beverages. It’s part of the fun.

  16. Kurt Furlong says:

    I remember slapping wonder bread bags on my feet. We could stay outside all day. I lived on the end of a dead end road in Marlborough NH. It had a cul-de-sac where the plow would leave huge piles of snow. We would make some of the best forts. Unless it was a a storm that rivaled the power of Zeus we were to play outside. To this day at 42 i still find myself enjoying the frigid outdoors over the warmth of a couch. My parents bestowed upon me mental toughness and season resilience.

  17. Ida says:

    Love our Wild Ginger Girls and Coyote Crew in Peterborough! I thank D’Arcy Hutton (Jumping Mouse Nature Education) for getting my girl out in all weather and all seasons! Her life is so much richer for it.

  18. John Douglas says:

    As a child of the 40s & 50s, I was raised in a cabin situated on an isolated 35 acres next to a river, surrounded by uninhabited forest in Northern Michigan.
    Pretty much all my waking hours, besides school (a hour and a half trip, what with all the meandering and stops just to get there) were spent doing CHORES i.e. WORK!, like cutting wood, hauling water, shoveling snow off the roof and clearing about 100 feet of trailroad ‘driveway’ so we could get out to drive 13 miles to buy groceries, but I still had scads of time to spend on the river or in the woods ‘playing’, winter or summer, rain or snow.
    ALL of it was the best formative years of my life! The entirety of my experience taught me the value of hard work, independence, self reliance, personal responsibility and accountability.
    The point I’m attempting to make is that that “Imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions,” is certainly a start, but falls very short of turning boys into MEN and girls into WOMEN.
    I know that I represent a long gone era, but with the passing of that era the the concepts of hard work, independence, self reliance, personal responsibility and accountability have nearly disappeared .

    1. Anonymous says:

      Well said John Douglas! I feel this is a great article, but do not agree that” it takes a village”. It takes a SOLID family.

  19. Amos_Clifford says:

    Great article. Thank you for doing the work you do. We are seeing momentum building for nature connection… you guys are doing great work as leaders. One of the questions I’ve pondered over the years is “How do we get as many people connected with nature as possible.” I learned about shinrin-yoku and have been using it to great effect, particularly with adults who want to re-connect. It’s a great complement to the child-focused programs. If we can get the parents and grand parents reconnected they become our powerful allies in this work! two organizations: http://www.shinrin-yoku.org, the local “laboratory” program where we are testing and developing techniques and http://www.nftg.org, the training and certification program for those who wish to develop their facilitation and guiding skills. Happy trails!

  20. James says:

    A really positive article – thanks. Andrew mentions making herbal teas from natural ingredients. I made a video all about doing this with kids. You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKiTSJ8Lp34

    We had a lot of fun doing it.

  21. dflo says:

    I agree with this point but it would be great if it had sources to its claims! I work in an elementary school, and they are only kept in if the temperature goes below zero Fahrenheit. Much lower than that and frostbite on exposed skin is a real risk, and I can understand why schools would want to be careful about that. Some children do not have the right winter gear, and it would disproportionately put poor kids at risk to keep them outside in risky weather. When this article says that kids are “fine” at -50c, it would be great if that claim was backed up too– what kind of clothes do the kids have? How long are they out? Are they out hiking and moving around, or standing around on a playground that doesn’t have enough playground equipment, wishing they could go in? Etc. I think this article is absolutely right on an emotional level, but I don’t know if putting the onus on the schools is the right place to put it, mainly because of resources.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Applause. I was really kind of surprised nobody commented on this earlier–having appropriate cold-weather gear is crucial for having an enjoyable outdoor experience. Schools don’t send kids outside when it’s cold because some kids don’t come dressed for it, and that might be because of economic factors or other factors in the home (mom is overwhelmed with a disabled child, etc)

  22. Elinor grayzel says:

    I’m with you all the way! However, I would say ” children WHO play outside——–“. They are people after all.

  23. KSAhomeschool says:

    Interesting article. Whilst I agree to most of it, more practical advice for hot weather would be appreciated. We live in the Middle East, in the second hottest country on the planet. It is incredibly hot here for 4-6 months of the year and we find it difficult for our kids to spend any decent amount of time outside. It’s over 45c during the day and does not get under 40c even at night. We go outside early morning or in the evenings but it is very difficult not to suffer from heat exhaustion and dehydration. And we totally love being outside!

  24. Fantastic post! This school year our school in Baltimore — The Waldorf School of Baltimore — started a Forest Aftercare program to ensure these kinds of experiences are commonplace for our students.
    #SustainableWaldorf #exploreWaldorf #WhyWaldorf

  25. Alicia Molina Wiley says:

    My favorite childhood memories are the ones of my summer times in Panama. My grandparents were farmers so we will spend summer there…climbing trees, taking baths on the rivers, riding horses, colecting mangos and all kinds of fruits with my siblings and cousins. I look forward to give my kids the same oportunities. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  26. sujata says:

    m running a Playschool which is outdoors and i find an amazing difference between a regular school kid . They are passionate about learning from nature!!

  27. Trapti says:

    Very very nice & educative for parents! Do you know anything similar in Luxembourg? Thanks & best regards :)

  28. Minal says:

    Thanks for the article, it was an eye opener!!! I am one of those who grew up inside but we didn’t have gadgets or fancy toys. It was more of reading, drawing learning girl things… Because I never got those opportunities, never gave them to my children and I wonder why they are so laid back and lazy, not at all motivated to get out of their comfort zone!!! Too late…. They are 18 & 15, where now they know better than mom!!:( I wish I had a chance to grow up over again or at least do indifferently with my boys!

  29. Karyn says:

    I sent my daughter to her outdoor preschool this morning in 4•F. I had my “What kind of parent am I? Is this cruel and unusual?” Moment. But I bundled her up like Ralphie and she padded off happily to the garden where they start program and had a blast. Thanks for this, especially today. I needed the reinforcement.

  30. Jayne Young says:

    I do want my children to play outside but when my 3 year old plays outside and it’s cold no matter how many clothes he wears his nose runs and he always has red under his nose. Also he always finds water and his gloves get wet then his hands get so cold. I carry 2 spare pairs of gloves and also put cream under his nose and on his hands and he wears a stalkers hat (very warm with flaps over the ears). Neckers don’t help.

  31. Doc says:

    Love the sentiment and I agree with it, but I’ve seen this being shared as a factual article and it isn’t. It is just someone’s opinion. I agree with the opinion too, but this shouldn’t presented or used as facts.

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