How to thrive this winter

During the coldest winter months in Minnesota, it can be tempting — and maybe just a little bit easier — to spend the free time of our days hunkered down in front of some kind of screen. 

Indeed, I value the time spent with my kids on a family movie night and with my husband each week watching the new episode of This Is Us.

We all need a break sometimes. But we don’t need to hibernate indoors to survive winter. In fact, getting outside each day can truly help us thrive!

Increased darkness and painfully low temperatures make it more challenging. 

However, studies show that spending time outdoors each day can help both children and adults boost creativity — and focus — while improving mood and self-esteem. 

Seasonal mood shifts aren’t uncommon in our geographical region and some of us, myself included, can experience the “winter blues” or, in more intense cases, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). 

Symptoms include, but are not limited to, moodiness, fatigue, weight gain and depression that tend to appear during late fall or early winter (and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer). 

When children (and adults) get outside in the winter and are exposed to natural light, it can help us all get a dose of vitamin D, which helps to regulate our mood by increasing serotonin levels in our brains. 

Outdoor play helps kids exercise, which contributes to emotional well-being and offers a multitude of other health benefits.

Here are some tips to help you get your family comfortably outside this winter:

Discover your thing

Find winter sports and activities that your family can enjoy together. During winter, our family participates in activities with the Minnesota Youth Ski League, a volunteer organization with chapters throughout the state, offering children age 4 to 15 the opportunity to learn cross-country skiing. 

Thanks to this program — which emphasizes skiing for fun and fitness as a lifelong activity — we’ve made it a habit to get outdoors together as a family in a structured way. We’ve also used the skills our kids have learned in the program on other winter adventures, including downhill skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing.  

Invest in gear

When kids and adults are warm, everyone can feel comfortable and stay outside longer. 

High-quality gear will stay drier and last longer, often through multiple seasons/years, which is a plus if you have other children to hand down to, or if you plan to sell (or purchase) items second hand. 

Dress in layers

A good quality base layer (socks and long underwear) made of wool, wool blends or microfleece will help keep you and your kids warm and dry. Avoid cotton as a base layer if at all possible, because when cotton gets wet from sweat or melting snow, it stays wet and gets cold.  

Fleece is an easy to find and reasonably priced mid-layer. Depending on the weather, your outer layer could be a down coat. You may also need a waterproof, windproof shell layer. 

Many companies that cater to outdoor families — including REI, Columbia, Lands End and LL Bean — sell combination jackets with zip-out/zip-off middle and outer layers.  

Don’t forget snowpants for grown-ups, too! I recommend investing in Lands End Squall Snow bibs for school-age kids. They’re waterproof and windproof, have reinforced knees as well as “Grow-a-long” legs, which are extendable up to 2 inches. 

Accessorize

Keep everyone’s faces, heads, hands and feet warm, too! 

Make sure everyone has a warm hat, a neck gaiter or scarf as well as mittens (warmer than gloves), and be ready with warm boots (our family favorites are Bogs).  

On your outings, you may want to go the extra mile and bring along a supply of hand and feet warmer packets — and a tub of Dermatone sunscreen to protect exposed skin. Sunglasses are important in the wintertime as well.

Gear up and get your family outdoors. It’s good for you!


Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. She blogs at kidsandeggs.com.