At Jumping Mouse, winter introduces new dimensions of mentoring: trailing long-tailed weasels and coyotes through snowy meadows and tangled cedar thickets; building snow shelters; practicing survival fire methods in challenging conditions; and helping kids learn to keep themselves warm and comfortable in the wind, snow, and freezing temperatures.
What happens when kids go outside in weather most of us would deem 'icky', to be surrounded by other happy kids and mentors?
For the most part, a ton of fun. That's super important! Having fun outdoors means that kids are being patterned on the experience that outdoor play in winter is awesome, and they can totally handle it.
But lots of kids also experience moments of anxiety (it's cold! Will I be warm enough?), discomfort (my hands are cold and my mitts are frozen!), frustration (this snow is so deep! It's hard to walk!), or a combination (I can't get my lunch box open, my hands are cold, and I'm really hungry!). For lots of kids, simply being outdoors in the winter feels like a big challenge. To be outdoors with kids in winter is, at least at first, to be serenaded with a never-ending chorus of requests for help.
These challenges, and the difficult feelings they prompt, are HUGE opportunities. We are there to help kids warm cold hands and toes, undo frozen zippers, reassure them that they are safe, and role model fun and positivity. But the most important thing we do is to guide them to solve their own problems. The result is often a look of surprise and delight as a child solves a problem (cold hands, snow down the neck, opening a lunch box) that they didn't think they were able to handle themselves. The triumph and empowerment that comes with those small victories is so important for self-esteem. As they move from one small triumph to another, they become less and less phased by new challenges.
This very same pattern of resilience and problem-solving can be applied to other challenges in their lives. For some kids, this means designing and building a shelter wall to keep the wind at bay during lunch. For others, this means switching wet, cold mittens for a fresh pair without asking for help. Both are examples of resilience, self-reliance, competence.
Winter presents challenges for kids of all kinds of ages and abilities. Wherever they are, we can meet them there and help build resilience by guiding and encouraging them through the solutions, and stepping in when necessary.
For more thoughts on winter's lessons, check out this awesome blog post by p.i.n.e. project director Andrew McMartin.