Break from the Mold: Get Outside (Even in Winter)

Julian Ayer, MD, FAAP
Secretary, Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Board of Directors, BestStart Washington

As the seasons change, so do our daily activities. In the Pacific Northwest, fall and early winter bring beautiful colors, shorter days, and wetter, colder weather. Most of us go back to routines that revolve around school, sports or other activities. With these changes many of us are outside less than during warmer times of the year. This can lead us to be less active, spend more time on screens, and fall into less healthy habits.

Mounting evidence connects the amount of time we spend outdoors with improved physical and mental well-being. Kids who spend more time outside tend to be happier, more attentive and less anxious. Knowing this should challenge us to break from the mold (no pun intended) and spend more time outside, both in our own lives and encouraging it in the lives of our patients.

There’s often too much to cover in a short office visit but messaging this only takes a sentence or two. Consider using these lines, or variations, with your patient families:

  • “Rainy days are absolutely the best days to go to a park! You’ll often get most of it to yourself.”
  • “It’s not a weather issue, it’s a clothing issue.”
  • “Spending time outside in nature is good for young bodies and minds. Make it a priority, it’s important.”

While it takes more time, another approach to help families “break from the mold” is to explore with them the barriers that make it difficult to spend time in nature. You’ll find with a little creative thinking some obstacles can be easily overcome. In truth, having these conversations with families also bring out barriers that prove to be more challenging. Certain systemic issues (lack of open space, safe streets, parks, etc.) call for us to advocate for larger scale policy change.

Resources to support practitioners in Washington to empower families to explore nature with children are being developed through Project Nature, an initiative launched in 2018 by BestStart Washington. BestStart Washington is a non-profit led by current and past Chapter leadership. Stay tuned as there will be more information to come and opportunities to participate as the project proceeds.