Playing Outside in Januaryby Mary Murray from National Park Service
January in Minnesota: a time and place to grumble about the weather or to embrace the possible joys of cold and snow. I am the embracing type and this is why I am so excited about the park’s winter outdoor clubs. Thanks to a grant from the National Park Foundation, with support from Disney, and the Mississippi River Fund, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has been giving elementary students from Saint Paul Public Schools a “Ticket to Ride” to their national park. This ‘ticket’ includes bus rides for fall field trips, fishing clubs, and winter outdoor clubs. In total the program reaches over 600 students with in-depth programming on the Mississippi River.
I want to share about the park’s winter outdoor clubs and why they are important for keeping Minnesota winter traditions and children strong. The winter outdoor clubs’ goals are to get students excited and engaged with winter outdoor exploration. These seem like pretty easy goals to reach, given that kids naturally want to run and play outside. The challenge comes from the fact that we live in society where the ‘outdoors’ are becoming removed from everyday life. In fact, the outdoors are a scary place for some and in winter time the outdoors are often viewed as both scary and unpleasant.
The outdoor clubs work to challenge these views. Yes, cold temperatures and wind chills deserve consideration in terms of dress and time spent outside. And, yes our winter so far has been full of very cold temperatures. But there are many days when you can still go out and play. We live in Minnesota; if our children don’t learn how to have fun outside in winter this starts a bad trend of kids spending almost all of their time indoors. Nature becomes an abstract concept and inactivity increases.
The outdoor clubs give students a foundation for winter fun that they can use their whole lives. The clubs start with a ‘winter fashion show’ where students walk down the classroom runway wearing as many layers as they can fit on. We emphasize that layers don’t need to be expensive; pajama pants under sweat pants work just fine.
In addition to dressing for winter success, the club teaches students about Minnesota winter traditions, like tracking animals in the snow, going snowshoeing, and making snow angels. We show students how to get to some of the best places in the cities for winter fun: Mississippi River parks. We also are inviting families to join students for special outings, like our upcoming Junior Ranger Day, so families can participate in some of the activities their kids have been enjoying, and hopefully begin incorporating winter outdoor fun into their family lives.
Instead of seeing the winter ice, snow, and cold as a burden, the outdoor clubs work to keep Minnesota traditions of winter exploration alive. We know that keeping families engaged with the outdoors will help them stay active and healthy as well as working to develop stewards of nature.
A large part of the outdoor club’s success is thanks to partnerships and volunteer leadership. Dedicated National Park Service volunteers are joining and co-leading events so that we can reach more students. Our hope is to be able to expand the outdoor clubs with the continued help and support of volunteers.
Furthermore, we are able to support outdoor club programming that lasts beyond winter with fall and spring fishing clubs through a partnership with the Department of Natural Resources’ MinnAqua program. Partnerships and volunteers are some of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Areas’ biggest strengths. Thanks in large part to strong partnerships, our park reaches over 20,000 students a year in educational programming, including a growing number of winter programs. Wow!
To close, I would like to ask you to also keep our Minnesota winter traditions strong. Find a day this week when it’s above zero, put on a whole bunch of layers, and go do something outside with your family that you can only do in winter!
To find out about opportunities to experience Mississippi National River and Recreation Area all year long, bookmark missriverfund.org/events.
This blog post was reposted with permission from the Mississippi River Fund.