Bad weather, clothes, activities and parents

Last Friday my son’s school finally opened its doors to welcome the pupils back for a seasonal start amidst the snow. It was - 13° Centigrade. Being in S2, appearances are important. One unspoken teen social rule is to wear the minimal amount of clothing that your parents will let you get away with. I reckon it’s a self-inflicted rite of passage. So MJ eschewed the fleece pullover, thermal underwear, spare socks and a pair of gloves that I strongly advised him to wear. He wore a winter coat and Man United hat. Knowing the value of experiential learning I let him go to school inappropriately dressed for the climatic conditions.

Now I’m sure that most of you will have heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” But what about “bad” activities?

One favourite teen game is “Snowman”. This involves being shoved into the snow by your pals and being completely buried by having snowballs chucked at you. Snow goes down your back, into your shoes and the result is that you get soaking wet and cold very quickly. MJ thinks it’s wonderful. When my anxious husband enquires as to whether this is a form of bullying, MJ refutes the suggestion immediately. “If you don’t get snowmanned, everyone thinks you’re scared.” It’s a boy’s only game. MJ chuckles at the thought of girls being involved. “It would be funny if they did get snowmanned cos they’d all scream as it’s so cold.”

I’m sure if this activity was brought to the attention of school staff, it would be banned after the first incident arose. Aside from the possibility of this looking like a game that could easily get out of hand, many school staff and parents worry about children getting soaking wet and sitting in overheated classrooms all day.

This situation is probably the norm up and down Britain. Children are going voluntarily to school inappropriately dressed and then when let outside immediately start playing games where they are going to get wet and possibly hurt. Both the clothing worn and the activity undertaken are decisions made by the children who are being physically active and having fun.

Two days later, my son remains perfectly well. His Christmas cold has not reappeared. He remembered to put his wet clothes into the washing machine. He went to a football match yesterday where (again) because he wouldn’t wear enough clothes he came back freezing and thoroughly enjoyed warming up in front of the TV.

If we want our children to become responsible decision-makers perhaps the cold weather is an ideal opportunity to practice this and learn from mistakes. Let’s stop blaming schools and parents for being lax. Let’s stop banning games which may cause physical and/or social discomfort. Let’s give children an opportunity to learn for themselves in their way on their terms.

PS I wrote the above article for my blog but I was just interested to know your thoughts as many of you will live in places which are much colder and snowier than the UK. Oh yes and if you want some activities to do in the snow then download the free Winter Wonderland pack from my website. Happy New Year!

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Comment by Juliet Robertson on January 14, 2010 at 2:54pm
Hi - I'm sorry it's taken me a few days to respond to your comments. There does seem to be a varying degree of perceptions and opinions about low temperatures. In Sweden all the outdoor nurseries follow the policy...

I Ur och Skur schools have an indoor place. If the weather is really atrocious or the temperature falls below -10°C then the children will spend up to three hours inside at some point between 8.30am and 2.30pm which is the standard day. However over the course of the year, 80% of the time is spent outdoors.

So much depends on the climatic conditions. Damp weather can often be more miserable than cold, clear, crips days. What one wears and does makes a difference too. Do some folk in Canada still wear neoprene masks in cold weather? Jeannie , sometimes I advise schools to ask a friendly GP to write a letter confirming the origins of cold and the need to get outside. I also think that here in the UK we are very poor at dressing appropriately for the weather. For example most fleece jackets need a windproof outer to keep you warm.

Suz, I think one of the strengths of a social site like this is that hopefully members will feel they can contact others and ask for advice about what's happening in different places.
Comment by Suz Lipman on January 11, 2010 at 2:10pm
Thank you for posting and commenting, Juliet and Jeannie. This is wonderful information, especially as members here and on the C&NN Facebook page have been asking for "ammunition" to help them convince others it's okay to have kids play in below-freezing weather. (Truly, at freezing, which I know is ridiculously wimpy to someone in rural Saskatchewan.) A big part of the C&NN movement, I think, is removing traditional barriers to and fears about nature play in all seasons. I appreciate you both telling your stories and doing your part to help.
Comment by Jeannie Mackenzie on January 10, 2010 at 6:39am
Two of my children live in rural Saskatchewan where the received wisdom is that small children cannot play outdoors in -15 C or lower. I had my grandchildren out making snow angels at midday last Christmas at -28C. They do have to be wrapped up well, you have to do it at them warmest part of the day (it can go down to -46C at night)and you can't keep them out long as there is a genuine risk of frostbite, but they loved it and suffered no harm - not even a head cold. Why does the myth of being cold leading to colds and coughs persist, long after we discovered bacteria were to blame?

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