sensational winter play – for fun and neuroscience

December 14, 2018 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ in your neighbourhood,living la vida local!,stories

3 girls stand under a gazebo bathed in blue light at the Merry and Bright Festival at the MUN Botanical Garden.

by Lisa Pinhorn

two young children in a snowbank

snow time is good time – and though it can be job to keep the mitts and hats on heads and hands, it’s alright. Kim Todd photo.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we LOVE talking about the weather. We talk about the weather when it’s hot, and we certainly talk about the weather if it’s cold, wet or grey. Talking about the weather – especially winter weather – could be our provincial sport.

Sadly, winter gets a bad rap in most places, not just Newfoundland and Labrador. The majority of us adults, when we think of winter our minds go right to the negatives, and this negative bias drips into our kids then they get the message – summer=good, winter=bad. Unfortunately, it is this negative reputation that leads to our kids spending so little time outside when it is time to break out our hats and mitts. But there are lots of reasons to stop and take a second look at the sensational play experiences winter can offer families.

In my work at Feeding Futures we are in the business of leading with progressive child development and brain science, so here are some basic, yet crazy important facts about nature play – and that includes winter. Nature play is essential to our kids; it helps organize our senses, increases physical exercise, provides opportunities for risk-taking, supports social learning, and helps us figure out how the world works. Best if all, nature play doesn’t need an app, screen, or a charger – it is 100% technology free. Unfortunately, this generation of children experience less and less play in their lives – no matter the season. New studies are showing us our children are losing the ability to play – stop and think about that – children are losing the ability to play. This loss is having an impact on the physical and mental health of our kids. That is why play, especially rich sensory play, is so very important.

When we play, we are natural explorers and scientists. At no other time in the lives of children will they learn as much as they will during unstructured, uninhibited free play. We don’t need to take a full nose-dive into the neuroscience here in this short blog, but we need to know this important fact – all of this learning happens because the information comes into our body through all of our senses. Sensory play helps manage moods, regulates feelings of anxiety, and teaches about important elements of life. So, we need more real life, nature-based play throughout the seasons. With each seasonal transition, children are offered a new menu of sensory experiences that will only deepen lifelong learning about the world and their place in it.

So, let’s do a little imagination experiment. Close your eyes, picture yourself on a beach in the summer, you are throwing rocks into the ocean. If you imagine really hard you can feel the heat on your arms, see the waves, feel the water between your toes and hear the rock break through the water, and maybe even see the rock as it drifts to the bottom. Now imagine the same experience but it is winter. Everything is different. There is a temperature change, the sounds are different, the energy needed for rocks to break through the ice is higher. It is a whole new frozen world of exploration and learning. That difference in sensory experience is the magic of winter play. The choices of play experiences in winter are vastly different and in a good way.

In my work with families, I say this to parents all the time -‘we cannot expect our kids to do what we can’t or won’t do’. So try and initiate more winter play, then join in with them. Here is a list of easy things to try:

  • Add some food colouring and water in spray bottles, help your kids spray paint some snow
  • Learn a new winter sport – cross-country skiing or snowshoeing are tons of fun
  • Skating on a pond is magical
  • Make snow angels together
  • Fill up some bird feeders
  • Attend MUN Botanical Gardens Merry and Bright Festival
  • Go sliding, build snow forts, make snow sculptures
  • Bring ice and snow inside – take some pictures and watch how long it takes to melt
  • Have a winter picnic
  • And walk on the beach…it might be the best thing you do all Winter

Here is the thing about winter – we can always put on an extra layer. I am not suggesting that kids be outside no matter the weather, not every day is an outside day. But on those days think about how you can bring some winter inside. Put some snow in a pan and some superhero toys in there. Your kids will think they won the play lottery.

Newfoundland is not Disneyland, but fortunately, it is a Winter Wonderland. Jump into the warmest gear you have and experience it with your kids. It will increase connection time, decrease screen time, cut ties with technology, help restore energy levels, and supply a whole new world of experiences for your family.


Lisa Pinhold


Lisa Pinhorn is a relationship focused family interventionist and mom of two daughters.  She is the Co-founder of Feeding Futures – Nourishing Children, Families & Communities. She is Level 1 & 2 certified in Shanker Certified Self-Reg™ and is also Self-Reg® Learning Facilitator. She says, “For over 25 years my academic and professional life has been focused on the needs of children and families.  I have seen many childcare trends come and go, but not many movements have made me as happy as the rebirth of nature-based play.”  

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