Outdoor Adventures with Kids in Winter – Dahlem Center’s Blog Takeover
By Margaux Dever

So many studies have shown the importance of spending time in nature, for our physical health, mental health, and even the health of our planet. But when you live in Michigan with snowy, icy, cold winters, how do you get outdoors with kids?

Here are some tips and tricks for planning outdoor adventures with children, even in the cold weather. 

Dress for the weather!

Although it may seem obvious, dressing for the weather is the first step in successful winter adventures. For children and adults alike, wearing layers is key to staying the right temperature. Make sure that each layer fits comfortably and doesn’t restrict movement, muscles that move stay warm! If layers are too tight you won’t stay as warm. This is especially important for your feet! Make sure that boots have enough space so your child (and you) can wiggle all ten toes even with thick layered socks.  When you first start out you will feel colder than when you have been moving around outside for a little while.

A couple suggestions for making sure you are well dressed for cold and snow: 

  • Make sure you have water resistant outer layers.  
  • Snow boots with good traction are important. 
  • Keep your ears covered! 
  • Mittens or Gloves? Mittens are best when it is extremely cold because they allow the fingers to warm each other instead of separating them.

A note about babies, young toddlers or any child that is not going to be mobile during your adventure: whether they are riding in a pack, a stroller, a wheelchair, a wagon, or on a sled, less activity means that these children need more warm layers than the adults or children that are walking and moving more. One way to add an extra layer is to put fleece footie pajamas between the base layer and middle layer. A snowsuit with fold-over hand covers or closed arms works especially well for babies and can prevent mittens from being pulled off. 

Be prepared!

It is always important to be prepared for outdoor adventures, but wintertime adventures need a little bit of extra preparation. 

Pay attention to the weather. It is possible to go outdoors in any weather! You need to make sure that your preparations are suited to the weather you are going to encounter. Extremely low temperatures, particularly with wind chill, mean extra layers, moisture wicking coverings for the nose and mouth (and packing a few extra of these to exchange when one gets wet), and extra protection for any exposed skin. Temperatures closer to freezing or just above mean removable layers and a few extra clothing items like gloves to replace things that get soaked through because of wet snow or melting ice. 

Bring water! It is still easy to become dehydrated even in cold weather. Be sure to pack tepid or warm water in a sealable thermal container to drink along the way. 

Bring snacks! This is a given for any adventures with children, but make sure that you have some easy to eat high nutrition snacks like nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, or fortified crackers/pretzels. Wintertime adventures take more energy because the little bodies are working hard to stay warm and to move with extra clothing, so kids will get hungry fast. To add some fun, pack along some hot cocoa in a thermal container (in addition to your water). If your kids are a little bit older and you are planning on going for a longer walk or hike, bring along some sugar free gum. Chewing gum can help keep the mouth from drying out and if your kids have mastered the art of chewing gum with their mouths closed it will encourage breathing through the nose and prevent panting which can cause scarves or face coverings to become wet.  

Plan your path ahead of time. This can mean using a familiar route or trail, or looking up your planned route or trail online before you go. You can check out Dahlem’s trail map online to decide which trails you want to use and how far you want to go. For example, you could park in the main parking lot and explore the Nature for All trail or for a very short adventure, explore the children’s garden and look for tracks near the aquatic study pond. You could also park up at the Community Garden parking lot on Wickwire Road and explore our dog-friendly Butterfly trail. Keep in mind that kids typically cannot go as far in the winter as they can in warmer weather, again because cold weather adventures take more energy. If you are adventuring with kids of multiple ages, it might be a good plan to bring backup travel arrangements like a wagon or a sled in case the younger children tire out before the older children. Another option is to plan a break part way through your adventure where those with more energy can continue activity and those with less energy (including parent!) can rest and build more energy for the rest of the time. 

Plan for safety and have a backup plan. Taking steps for safety can help things to go smoothly and prevent problems. Make sure that everyone has good traction on their shoes, if you expect your path to be slippery bring walking sticks or poles, if you expect there to be ice you can find ice grips that fit over most shoe sizes, and in deep snow you can use snowshoes. Dahlem has snowshoes available for a 2 hour rental at the Nutshell Gift Shop ($12 for adults, $10 for members, $5 for kids) if you come by Tuesday through Friday between 9 am and 4 pm. If your planned adventure area doesn’t look safe, the weather is harsher than expected, or your kids seem tired sooner than expected, have an alternative adventure plan to fall back on. This could mean shortening your walk by turning around sooner, exploring a smaller area closer to shelter, or even staying close to home and exploring in your backyard or neighborhood. At Dahlem you can explore the children’s garden, the lawn, and/or in and around the nature play scape which are all close to the main parking lot for an easy retreat. 

Things don’t always go according to plan! Part of being prepared is to be ready if something goes wrong. If you are going on an adventure away from home, make sure you tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back. Bring a first aid kit. Make sure you bring your cell phone and that it is charged (even if you don’t have coverage, it can still help first responders find you if something goes really wrong).

Thanks for reading and we hope that you will remember Dahlem next time you are planning an outdoor adventure. Come spend time at Jackson’s Nature Place and be sure to tag us on social media with #dahlemcenter. See you on the trails!

About The Dahlem Conservancy

The mission of the Dahlem Conservancy is to provide environmental education and outdoor experiences to the residents of South-central Michigan. We have nearly 300 acres of woodland, wetland, grassland and gardens with five miles of walking trails. Our trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset at no cost, but we would appreciate a donation! Anything you can give makes a difference and the funds help us maintain the trails so you can explore the outdoors and have adventures here.  Our small staff of 6 people work very hard to make sure that our land, trails, parking lots and shelters are open and available every day of the year. The Nutshell Gift Shop, Exhibit areas and the Conservancy Offices are open Tuesday to Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. We are taking precautions to protect our guests and staff from the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings/masks must be worn indoors at all times. Our restrooms are currently closed, but we do have a temporary portable outhouse located near the Rotary Pavilion. We would be delighted if you would join Dahlem’s work and become a member. Perks of membership are discount tickets to events and summer day camp, a purchase discount at the Nutshell Gift Shop, and our monthly newsletter.  Let us know if you have any questions or would like to learn more about Dahlem! 

Carrie Benham, Naturalist Educator cbenham@dahlemcenter.org
Margaux Dever, Development Director mdever@dahlemcenter.org

Outdoor Adventures with Kids in Winter – Dahlem Center’s Blog Takeover

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