Go outside and play

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January 2012 header

New Year’s Resolution: Go outside and play

Nature is fuel for the soul. Resolve to get outside more -- it's one resolution that doesn't have to cost a penny and has countless benefits for you and your kids. 
Research on the benefits of nature shows that:
  • Being in a natural environment benefits the body, mind, and spirit.
  • Nature makes you more caring and enhances social interactions and close relationships.  
  • Being outdoors helps keep you healthy -- boosting vitality; improving vision; reducing risks of heart disease, obesity, bone problems, depression, and stress; reducing the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; and more.
  • Children and adults find it easier to concentrate and pay attention after spending time in nature.
  • Short outdoor education programs improve children's cooperation, conflict resolution, self-esteem, peer relationships, and behavior in class.
  • Nature provides a rich source of hands-on, multi-sensory stimulation, which is critical for brain development in early childhood.
  • Short outdoor education programs improve children's science test scores.
With all of this research coming to the forefront, it’s not surprising that everyone -- from researchers to politicians to educators to doctors to parents -- is encouraging us to spend more time outdoors on a regular basis.

Tips and ideas for getting outdoors

You don’t have to go far to spend time outdoors. Nature is right outside our door. You can enjoy walking, winter biking or bird watching from just about anywhere.

Make it a top priority. Dedicate time every week to spend outdoors. To really develop a lasting, deep relationship with nature, you need to be out in it, regularly.

Dress for the weather.  There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Make sure you are both dry and warm. Keep a set of winter clothing in your car so you are ready to take advantage of unexpected outdoor opportunities.
Enjoy the parks and trails. Parks and trails are all around us. Many are free; others require either a day pass or year pass for a small fee. Check your city and county websites for locations, fees, and outdoor activities and events. Check out these sites for Minnesota state parks and state trails.
Visit your local nature center. Nature centers are located throughout Minnesota and offer beautiful, natural settings to explore. Often they have snowshoes, cross country skis, binoculars, and other outdoor gear available to borrow or rent. Check out this list of Minnesota nature centers and other environmental educations destinations to find one close to you.
For the truly adventurous, try winter campingWinter camping has several advantages over summer camping. No Mosquitoes. You can easily hike across frozen lakes and ponds to directly access locations that might require lengthy hikes during other seasons. Clear night skies offer great star gazing. Night time sounds carry easily, so listen for coyotes, owls, trees snapping and ice cracking. Deciduous trees shed their leaves and provide unobstructed views of the surrounding landscape.
There’s an app for that. Free smartphone apps are available to identify bird calls, tree species, and Minnesota places to explore.

Additional resources

The National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There Campaign and Green Hour Activities

Kids know best

Fourth graders in Mrs. Wermers' class at Transfiguration Catholic School in Oakdale were asked what their top 10 favorite winter outdoor activities are.  They said:

10. Playing King of the Hill
9.  Skiing
8. Making a snow angel
7. Pond hockey *
6. Ice skating*
5. Snowboarding
4. Making a snow fort
3. Sledding
2. Building a snowman
Mrs. Wermers class

And their number one favorite winter outdoor activity is: SNOWBALL FIGHTS!
                             * (Check the DNR's website for ice conditions)

Community events and resources

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival celebrates all things winter with activities that include medallion hunting, sled dog racing, ice carving, and parade watching. January 26 - February 5 (Saint Paul).

Winter Arts Festival 2012 is a unique celebration combining two events, the Snow Carving Symposium & Winter Plein Air. The Snow Carving Symposium challenges artists to transform simple blocks of snow into ornate works of art. The Winter Plein Air is one of the only outdoor painting events of its kind. Be a participant, an observer, a student…just dress warm. January 30 - February 12 (Grand Marais).

Two Harbors Winter Frolic is an annual event to celebrate winter on the North Shore. Events and attractions include ski races, free horse drawn sleigh rides, s'mores on the open fire, a sliding hill, and more. February 10 - 11 (Two Harbors).

Grumpy Old Men Festival is a fun event in which visitors celebrate winter with that grumpy old man’s hobby of ice fishing, in the town that inspired the movie of the same name. The festival includes ice fishing contests, hockey games, the 4th Annual Grumpy Plunge, food, music, and more! February 25 - 26, (Wabasha, Minn.).

Quick links to other MPCA resources

Send questions or comments about living green to the address below.
Colleen Schoenecker and the Living Green Team