Winter needn’t stop play for active families

After a mellow autumn, we are now in mitten and cold nose territory. The chilly weather makes the sofa and telly increasingly attractive, meanwhile coughs and colds and dark afternoons also conspire to keep us stuck indoors. It can seem like the odds are stacked against being an active, outdoors family.

Sometimes, you just need a little inspiration to get you back to nature. Here’s how to turn the challenges of the season into exciting opportunities.

The challenge: Dark nights

With the best of daylight given to school and work, this time of year can seem like constant dark and gloom.

The solution:

You can still get outside with the children, even if it’s dark. Try star gazing, with Sky Map or Star Walk apps that help you work out the constellations – simply point your phone or tablet in the direction of the stars. Also, head torches turn any dark walk into an exciting adventure. If daytime geocaching has been done, then how about trying it by night? Even a known cache will be trickier to find.

Dusk is also a special time to be out – look out for owls will be hunting. You could also check out the RSPB website to find out where to see a starling murmuration. Witnessing a great cloud of starlings swooping and swirling in the sky before roosting is an unforgettable experience, and even better, some murmurations happen in cities so are easy to see. Here’s a tip though – if you are right under the flock, wear a hat as you will get pooed on!

The challenge: Colds and snuffles

Family life can seem like an endless game of germ relay.

The solution:

Get outside and collect rosehips, they are packed with vitamin C and can be made into exotic tasting syrup. It may not stop the ills of the season, but it will taste great and cheer you up. My children love it on porridge or pancakes (and I think it is rather good with vodka too).

Rosehip syrup recipe (taken from The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting)

You will need: 

  • As many rosehips as you can find
  • Caster sugar (to match the weight of the rosehips)
  • Water (to double the rosehip weight – so if you have 500g rosehips you need 1 litre of water)
  • You’ll need a bit more water later too
  • A clean fine cloth (such as muslin or a tea towel) and a large sieve.

Wash and chop the rosehips and bring the water to the boil in a large pan. Add in the rosehips, return to the boil, then take off the heat and cover with a lid. This needs to infuse for half an hour – stir occasionally.

After it has infused, strain through a sieve lined with the cloth, over a large bowl. This should take about an hour, and a little stir every now and again can help.

Save the strained juice to the side, and put the rosehip pulp back in the saucepan, with more water. You will need half the volume of water that you used to start the recipe. Repeat the original process: bring to the boil, remove from heat and allow to infuse again for 20 minutes. Strain as before.

Now mix the two sets of strained juice and bring to the boil in a clean pan. You’ll need to simmer until the quantity has halved, then remove it from the heat. Stir in the sugar until dissolved before bringing back to the boil a final time, for a five-minute simmer. Done!

Store in sterilized and sealed jars or small bottles (it should last for about four months) and keep refrigerated once opened.

The challenge: Chilly weather

Cold fingers and toes do not make for happy children; surely it would be easier to go to the soft-play or cinema?

The solution:

Invest in some decent fleece-lined wellies and waterproof suits or trousers, warm hats and gloves and you’ll be ready for anything. Go for gender neutral colours that can be passed easily between siblings.

Lots of the things you loved in summer are still wonderful now, but the cold weather means they will be all yours. The beach is a perfect example of this; instead of fighting for space, you will have the whole horizon for kite flying, dune jumping and rock-pooling. Winter is also when grey seals come ashore to have their cute and fluffy pups – this is truly heart-warming. Find where you can see them here.

Winter needn’t stop play

Keep discovering wildlife and having outdoors adventures to stay fit, healthy and happy all year round.

Kate_Blincoe_book_thumbnail.jpg Kate Blincoe is the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting (Green Books) and is a freelance writer. Follow Kate on Twitter @Kateblincoe.

 Rosehip illustration: by Stephanie Laurence.

Main photo credits: Phil Barnes Photography

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