Get Outside Every Day (Even in Dark & Dreary Weather)
Moving to the far corner of the northern hemisphere has come with new unique challenges this winter. When Amelia asked me to write about getting outside in the dreary, dark winter weather of England, I replied that we need to actually get out after dark in the dreary weather in order to properly write about it!
What I’ve learned about living in the rain for the last few months is that regardless of the weather, life goes on. Even in a pandemic.
Get outside every day, even when the weather is nasty
I was driving myself mad trying to plan outings based around the weather. I humbly learned that one must just go out no matter what.
My most reliable parenting motto has been that we get outside every day. I now realize how easy this is to say when parenting in the 300+ sunny days a year in Colorado or the gorgeous southern coast of California.
Almost five months of fickle sunshine and endless rain of the English countryside and I am thoroughly humbled.
Getting outside everyday regardless of weather is essential to my family’s mental health. We are kinder, calmer and more organized if we’ve gotten at least one hour outside. That may only mean a walk around the block but each time we get out, we get better at prep and clean up.
Below I’ve tried to outline many of the challenges we parents face in the dark, cold and wet winter. I hope these tips help your family to get outside when the obstacles seems insurmountable.
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Sometimes getting outside every day means a race against the sun
During the school/work week, we have to work extra hard planning and prepping to make sure we get out. We get one hour of sunlight after school, plus at least a 20 min drive home and 7 layers of uniform and dress shoes to change. Often the best I can do is a stop at the playground on the way home AND THAT IS TOTALLY OKAY.
So far, we’ve only made it out a few times for a walk and a bike ride after school. I bring a change of clothes for biking (plus helmets and bikes) or a pair of hiking shoes for the girls to wear instead of school shoes, if walking.
The hardest lesson learned so far is that I need to make sure I’ve recently scouted the trail for impassable mud or water. Nothing like loading up and getting out there only to turn around mid- trail due to a several feet of impassable mud and puddles.
Usually I would invite friends to join but these days, during the COVID restrictions, we mostly go it alone. I so look forward to when we can meet up with friends regularly.
Outside time after dark
We’ve attempted several night walks with headlamps, flashlights (torches), and music/singing before my 4 and 7 year olds felt safe and relaxed.
One of our first outings after dark since moving to England was a well lit bike practice with lots of other kids and coaches. They were more comfortable but still spooked. A few months on, they attend a bike practice after dark with little light no problem.
Is going outside in the dark with kids safe?
A great debate has unfolded in our family: To what extent should a child be outside after dark in bad weather? Even if on a trail near home and in the right gear? I think it depends on the family, child, gear and location. There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Parents get the endless job of assessing risk.
Do what’s right for your family. We are here to support your family getting out at night in the wet and cold. Here at TTM we know it’s hard to get out on good days, let alone in dark harsh weather.
A good compromise for our family was a walk around Bleinhiem Place along a illuminated trail. It rained lightly the whole time but my children didn’t seem to notice. The girls picked their puffy jackets which kept them warm and dry for well over 3 hours outside along a illuminated trail.
I generally wouldn’t recommend a down/puffy jacket for wet weather but Patagonia’s Hi-Loft Down Sweater Hoody did just fine with the light mist/rain. You just have to pick some gear, hope for the best and go.
Creating a Backyard Conducive to Night Play
Work with what you’ve got. For now, I’m focusing less on how to get outside on the trail and more on how to get them outside at home. This means enhancing our backyard space to feel contained, well-lit and safe.
Tis the season to put up holiday lights early or leave them up through dark winters around a designated play space. There are many outdoor lighting options in addition to holiday lights. Flood lights, solar lights, garden lights, mason jar lights, twinkle lights, fire pits, and solo style stoves. The possibilities are endless.
Check out the camping lights section in Best Gifts for Campers for even more great ideas.
Placing lights on play sets, children and bikes are also a good idea. Glow in the dark reflective strips can be stuck to just about anything. We put them on bikes and backpacks.
I’m testing out several lighting options from Amazon. I appreciated having both solar and battery power options, but the one I’m appreciating most is the battery plus USB charging. I am happy that all the lights can be moved around as needed and can be used camping when it gets warmer.
Team member Jami has written a great article on Family Winter Play After Dark which include tips and gear recomendations like playing flash light tag, a scavenger hunt and using glow sticks, reflective strips, LED safety lights or even a fancy a Noxgear Tracer 360 Vest.
We have a fabulous TMM Winter Bingo Card, most of these items you can still do in the dark! It’s part of our FREE Outdoor Family Resource library that is for subscribers-only. You can join us here and get access.
Putting lights on a trampoline is super fun too!
Get YOURSELF Outside
Sometimes schedules just don’t line up. One kid wants to go out but the other is sick/busy or only I can get out for a walk while kids are in school. The default becomes, whoever can get out should go and those who don’t shall wait with food or tea at home for the brave ones that went out.
The rule isn’t that everyone must go outside together. It’s that we should all try to get out once a day. My eldest would prefer to stay in and thus, we try a little harder to be firm with her about getting some fresh air. Scheduling conflicts and a simple preference to stay in are not the same.
It’s been tricky getting the girls out after school, but I am loving the mid-day walks I catch with my husband while he is back in our village. We are both so much more refreshed and present for the rest of the days’ activities.
While I feel guilty, we got out and the children didn’t. We are undoubtedly better parents for getting out when we could. Parenting means putting on your face mask first so you can save your kids in the event of a crash landing.
So Much Rain: So Much Rain Gear
The most common challenge we hear to getting out the door is getting on all the gear. There is a lot of gear to keep track of, clean and store. Big kids wait while little ones struggle/tantrum. Everyone gets hot, overwhelmed and fussy. It’s all about finding the right rhythm for your family.
Take some time to plan ahead. Lay out gear ahead of time, teach big kids to lay out their own gear and pack bags. Also, have big kids help little kids get on their gear. Use tubs or bins to organize gear by activity or family member.
Let the kids that are dressed stand outside while they wait. Someone is going to forget their gloves or need a hat but the more we go through this process, the better my children are in preparing and dressing themselves according to their individual needs.
Pro tip: Put your gear on last as you are the one working the hardest to get everyone else dressed. No need to sweat while you wrestle a toddler into a rain suit. The more you go through this process, the faster it will get.
Don’t forget to properly dress yourself. I see kids dressed in top notch new gear while mom or dad are shivering and miserable. Make sure your gear is comfortable, warm and dry. The more you get out, the more they get out.
Rain can be novel occasionally, but abrasive when it’s a daily occurence. Sometimes I tire of the rain. I don’t want to feel the bombardment of droplets hitting my body. When I’m over it, I grab an umbrella (as long as it’s not windy). My children have broken every umbrella they’ve laid their hands on so mama’s the keeper of all the umbrellas!
Rain jackets with helmet compatible hoods offer extra protection around the face that also helps create some distance between you and the elements. A hat under the hood works similarly as well.
This Too Shall Pass
Often the rain is only fierce for a short bit and we will have lighter or dry patches between. Having a goal in mind or setting a time for an activity helps getting out in pouring rain feel manageable. I’ll tell my girls we only have to make it to the top of the hill or play in the backyard for an hour. I put on a timer to keep it fair and reward them with a hot drink upon arrival.
They don’t always like it and that’s okay. Flush cheeks and brighter attitudes upon re-entering the home is evidence enough for me that I’m doing the right thing. They eat better, sleep better and fight less. What else could a mom ask for?
If it is always raining, consider stringing up a tarp for the kids to play under so they can get a break from the rain but still be out in fresh air.
I have noticed that heavy rain and headlamps are not a good match. We have some headlamp testing to do but I have found that keeping the hood up to help cover the headlamp helps.
Too Windy: Hat plus Goggles
Gail force winds are no joke, especially for my youngest who looks like she might actually be blown away. She’s not fond of the wind, and adding dark and rain means we’ve got a real challenge.
A few things that help her are a tight fitting warm hat under her rain coat hood. If I don’t do this, she holds her hood the whole time as if it might blow off.
Also, googles are very helpful with wind protection. Convincing her they will help might require a dance and a bribe. However, googles and rain don’t mix well unless they are clear or made for rain like bike goggles.
If you can get going, the harsh wind might be ignored after a while, especially if the kids are having fun. A soft shell or windbreaker is needed if it’s not raining but windy. Holding hands and singing helps my little one with the wind. Wind is tricky but with the right attitude/destination/activity, all can be overcome.
Too Cold: Layers and Hot Drinks
Getting out at night in the dark and cold requires more work, including planning ahead and keeping track of lights, food, layers, fingers and dangers. A hot drink and some serious movement go a long way.
Team member, Kristin wrote an excellent post on Surviving (and Thriving) Below Zero with Kids. Likely your climate temperature isn’t below zero, but Kristen has great ideas for keeping warm. Tricks like bringing out a sleeping bag as an extra layer are great if it isn’t pouring rain.
Staying warm in the rain includes layering properly. Check out our How to Layer Kids up for Cold Weather but bear in mind rain gear is usually less breathable, so your child might need only a base layer and a rain jacket, or a mid layer and a rain coat instead of all three.
There are many kinds of very affordable cold weather fleece balaclava options available. These are nice because they can be easily pulled up or down, and have drawstrings and excellent coverage. We are loving Jan and Jul rain mitts this year. Check out Amelia’s Jan & Jul Review.
Our family is starting to discover that if we can just get out the door, it’s not so bad. Give your gear a chance to do its work. Staying warm and dry is key.
Ideas for activities that keep the body moving: Snowshoeing, XC skiing, dragging around a sled, building a fort, building a mud kitchen, jumping on a trampoline or swinging on a ninja line, and playing flashlight tag.
Post Party Mud Cleaning
Okay, you got out the door! Congratulations, a system of drying and cleaning is helpful to have in place. The first time we got super muddy after arriving in England, I washed the shoes in the mudroom sink. Terrible idea. While there wasn’t an immediate plumbing problem, I stressed about that possibility for some time. All the small rocks and muck can get stuck at the bottom of a drain and might need to be professionally cleaned.
Our new house has an outside, spigot and as soon as I find the right adapter, we will rinse shoes and bikes from there. Till then it’s been a warm soapy bucket and a few tough brushes. From there I dry with a rag and put them near the boiler in our laundry room. This was the warmest and driest spot in the house until the boiler broke for several weeks. Adventuring defiantly has slowed down due to lack of heat and hot water.
Developing a proper cleaning protocol takes time. Give yourself the time to get into the swing of things. My girls now know they must help rinse shoes when we get home. Sometimes one more carefully timed jump in a puddle is enough to rinse their boots for me.
Bikes have been harder, A whole article could be devoted to maintaining bikes during cold wet winters. General rule is to rinse, dry and occasionally oil chains before storing in a dry spot. That said, our chains are already rusty and I have a lot to learn.
Pro Tip: If you can swing it, buy more than one set of gear (hat, gloves, jacket, pants and boots) per person. While one set drys, we use another. It takes about two days to fully dry in our damp climate so I’m slowly gathering a third set. Finding good quality used gear can help ease the financial burden and give your first set some relief.
Also, gentle cleaning and laying out gear to dry naturally will prolong the life of the gear and increase resale value. Check out team member, Ginny’s post on Nikwax Products for Improved Gear Performance. There is a lot of great info on how to protect gear and find cheaper good quality gear. Team member, Jami’s DetraPel Gear Protectants Review also talks about environmentally sensitive ways to protect gear.
I’m also in love with Noso Patches – Extending the Life of your Gear. I brought some to England and have already patched several pieces of gear. These work like a charm. Inspect and patch gear after cleaning.
Finally, as long as our gear is rinsed, I don’t always scrub it that night. Kids need dinner, bath, bed and so it gets stored outside but under awning. Do what you can. The whole point is sustainability. It’s about getting in a rhythm so you keep going out in the mud. I’m pretty sure mud season doesn’t ever end in England.
Organize gear when you have finished cleaning. Lay it out before the next activity to make sure it’s all there.
Getting outside in the dark and dreary weather takes more time and gear but it is worth it. Getting outside everyday is essential to stable mental health and wellbeing.
Be patient with yourself, practice and keep trying. Every outing is a triumph. Show us how you get out and tag us on social media (@mtnmamatales). We’d love to celebrate with you.
- Surviving Mud and Muck Season
- Family Winter Play After Dark
- Favorite Women’s Gear that Straddles the Season
Get Outside Every Day (Even in Dark & Dreary Weather)
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