Winter is coming, and these are undoubtedly the most challenging of school holidays. Tiffany Brown shares five ways to turn demanding into delicious, gruelling into great, and exhausting into epic.
While the approach of summer holidays can bring pleasurable anticipation for the majority of the family, the wintertime equivalent can fill us with collective dread.
The weather is against us, our home quickly feels too small, and the temptation to dive into unhealthy screens can be insurmountable, not to mention, grump-inducing. The dearth of sunshine, exercise and fresh air, and the circulation of bugs in closed-up rooms can foster illness and a general malaise.
So how to tackle the winter beast and guarantee an epic holiday for yourself and your tamariki, despite the odds? Here’s a five-step guide to having the best winter holiday ever.
PLANNING + PREPARATION
All good strategy requires a little time in the war room before execution. Local libraries can be a rich source of inspiration. Introduce the family to a book like Growing Up Wild: 30 Great Ways to Get Your Kids Outdoors by Alexia Barrable as a topic for discussion a few weeks before term ends. Barrable set herself and her young family a challenge to spend at least an hour outside, every day, for a year, and the book is a lively retelling of that journey, as well as a guide to crafting your own regular outdoors routine. Online sources can also provide ideas for outdoor activities, games, building projects, creative pursuits, or instructive teaching for families keen to learn something new.
Strategy 1: Get Outdoors
An advocate of complete nature immersion for children and a recognised leader in the “bush school” movement, the late Erin Kenny once said, “Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.”
Spending the majority of our time indoors is a relatively new phenomenon that correlates with rising childhood illness and declining health. Ask the oldest person you know what their childhood was like, and you’ll likely hear the bulk of any free time was spent outside.
Winter walks, outdoor games, beach visits, bush exploration, foraging, outdoor treasure hunts, bird-watching, fishing, biking, outdoor sports, or just tossing a ball in your own backyard all fit the bill, as do visits to zoos, parks and gardens. Don some warm layers, grab a raincoat, poncho, or umbrella, and enjoy.
Both mood-enhancing endorphins and essential Vitamin D are produced when we make the most of winter sunshine. Even the weak warmth of winter sun can help banish any resistance to being outside. When physical activity further warms the body, you’ll soon find yourselves flush-cheeked and enjoying all the benefits moderate exercise and outside time can bring. While it’s a little more challenging to spend time outside in wintry rain, it’s not impossible. From splashing in puddles to squelching through mud, as long as you’re rugged up warmly, family play in the rain can be heaps of fun. Be prepared to warm up and dry out as quickly as possible following your foray outside. There’s nothing like a hot shower or bath and a dry set of clothes after rainy fun. Wind can be truly exhilarating, and has the added benefit of requiring bucketloads of energy to withstand. Spent kids are happy kids; they’re also kids who sleep well and wake the next day eager to enjoy the outdoors again.
Strategy 2: FOSTER CREATIVITY
Unending days outside throughout the holidays may be unrealistic, so a next- best strategy lies in nurturing our innate creativity. A bit of forward planning and your children’s involvement during the ideation phase is essential. With any luck, your children have identified their creative muse by now. Are they musical? Do they love to draw or paint? Is writing or reading more their scene, or are they active kids who love to dance or play? Maybe they have a flair for STEM-type activities, cooking, or craft pursuits. With a little preparation, the holidays can be unfettered time for your children to indulge in the creative passions they love.
Strategy 3: PROJECT FOCUS
A bit like a school project, but without any rules or boundaries, the idea of setting a focus for a winter holiday project can work really well for some children, as well as fostering family unity. Let your child lead the decision on an ambitious-but-achievable project they can work on. It could involve finding a holiday job to save an amount of money to buy something desirable, creating an elaborate diorama, making their own library at home by classifying their book collection, or bottling citrus preserves for future Christmas presents. The project could have siblings working together, or even the whole family. Perhaps a garage sale following a collective clear-out? Digging and planting a new winter garden, or some active volunteering together in the community?
If you need inspiration to spark excitement, there are countless ideas online or at the library, or your kids’ teachers may be able to guide you. The main considerations are ensuring the process engages the child as much as the outcome, the outcome is sufficiently satisfying or rewarding to maintain motivation, and you’re ready to meet obstacles or resistance with gentle encouragement, offers of assistance, and plenty of patience.
Strategy 4: RELAX + PLAY
Kids can struggle during the holidays because the structure and certainty of their school routine has disappeared. This in turn can make parents (whose memory of school holidays was the blissful absence of those same routines) scratch their heads, to put it mildly. A potentially effective way of dealing with this is to “structure the fun”, creating some order to free time at home. One example is to create a “jar of ideas” during the weeks before the holidays begin – with all family members adding ideas on scraps of paper to a large jar or bowl – things like: Make a fort, play in the sandpit, visit the library, video call a friend, bake cookies, or enjoy a family board game. Ideas are only limited to what’s possible, reasonable, and achievable. (So, “fly a plane to America” may not make the cut, but “go see Auntie Sarah” may be fine.) As the holidays approach, all the family can take turns drawing ideas to establish a plan for the weeks ahead, or if you know your kids relish some spontaneity, pull a few ideas each morning.
Strategy 5: HELPING AT HOME
As unlikely as it may sound, the majority of kids get a buzz from helping out. The relaxed period of the school holidays is a perfect time to foster the sense of responsibility and independence being helpful brings. Instead of the mad rush of weekday chores, tasks, and barked instructions during term time, the holidays can offer a time to sit down and communicate with your children on a deeper level about how the household runs, and how they fit into the whole picture. It can also be more exciting for children to contribute to infrequent DIY projects at home, such as repainting the kitchen cupboards, clearing out the guttering, or having a giant clean-out of their old toys during the holidays.
Caveat! Pre-existing conditions like asthma can be exacerbated by cold conditions, and it’s never a good idea to get wet and cold if suffering from a winter affliction like cold or flu. Make sure everyone is in tip-top condition before lengthy or energetic sessions out in inclement weather, but remember that once on the road to recovery, a little outdoor time can greatly assist the return to good health.