There are three things animals do to survive the cold winter months—migrate, hibernate or insulate.
For kids and their families I would add one thing more: stimulate.
Winter can be boring if we hole up in our dens all day. But if we learn to appreciate winter outdoors, and all the discoveries it holds, winter can be a time of beauty, fascination and fun. My favorite book for winter time is Stokes Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes. This book is full of fascinating information about winter trees, insect galls and cocoons, snowflake crystals, animal tracks and much more. A winter walk armed with this book can be an adventure.
Without their leaves, trees show off their graceful silhouettes—which are distinctive for different species. You can also see birds’ nests and squirrels’ nests in the branches, which were hidden when the trees were in leaf. A fresh snowfall captures the delicate footprints of squirrels, birds and rabbits as well as larger prints of foxes, deer, and raccoons.
If hibernating is boring and we don’t plan to spend the winter in Disney World or some other warm place, the remaining option is “insulate.” Children and their parents need to be well-dressed for the cold in order to stay comfortable outdoors for any length of time. The longer we stay out, the more insulation we need.
Since the weather in Virginia is very changeable, you should stock your child’s cubby with clothes for a variety of weathers. Polyester fleece and microfiber fabrics are great, because they are warm, lightweight, and dry quickly. Wool stays warm even when wet, so washable wool is good if it isn’t scratchy. I love wool socks. Cotton fleece (sweatshirts, etc.) is not a good winter choice, because as soon as it gets wet it is cold, not warm, and it takes forever to dry. A selection of fleece jackets in different weights, with a tightly woven, waterproof jacket with a hood may be more flexible and comfortable than one heavyweight parka that is bulky and hard to move in.
Don’t forget that legs need to stay warm too! Fleece over pants worn with long underwear or regular pants are my favorites. Long underwear is harder to take off indoors. A hat and plenty of gloves or mittens and extra socks are important. The Tadpoles, especially, suffer from cold hands in the winter. Gloves and socks get wet and dirty so easily in the winter, we can never have too many. If you put your child’s name on socks and gloves with permanent marker we can make sure they get back to the right cubby. Rubber boots for warm rainy days and snow boots — waterproof and insulated — for cold, wet days complete the ensemble.