It has been a fall to remember here in Bellingham, with temperatures hovering around 60 and sunshine well into October. I cannot recall a more colorful display in the 30 years I have lived and played in the Pacific Northwest. But this too shall pass. We have reached a turning point and now the rains and cold weather are upon us.
What does this mean for families with young children as the outside grows cold and wet, and the dark hours grow longer? One shudders to think of the wind and rain, the night hours longer than the day, and the walls suddenly feeling closer. The good news is, each season holds a gift of its own, and for this season it’s time to connect with each other. What better time to contribute to your family’s repertoire of memorable traditions than when the outside brings you inside for the long run?
Dr. Abigail Brenner says in “Psychology Today” that time with family establishing daily and seasonal traditions “[allow] us to express unity as a family and to create bonds that last a lifetime. Since every family unit is unique unto itself, the traditions created by each family are sure to be unique and special to the whole family, as well as to each of its members individually.” Having raised one child of my own while maintaining a full-time career in the company of preschoolers, winter weather has been an invitation to appreciate togetherness, build lasting memories, and embrace the opportunities connection provides.
Regardless of age, establishing traditions holds value throughout the year; a shared memory to anticipate revisiting when we find ourselves cooped up and restless. Fear not, there is a gift hidden here, glowing in the hearts of your children. It is truly exciting to celebrate the dark and explore the winter world with all of your senses in an effort to make this time safe, sane and meaningful for you and your young children. Here are a few suggestions.
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▪ String party lights around the periphery of your darkest room to warm your space and give it a magical effect. With the use of recycled and used materials (aluminum foil, Mylar, old CDs, glitter covered pine cones) you can create a variety of light catchers to hang between the lights. Flashlights or a disco ball can bring cheer and cause for a dance party.
▪ Spend intentional time with just one child; building blanket forts, telling stories in the dark (children love to hear tales of when you were young), preparing a meal or drawing while generating a silly story together. One hour spent this way nurtures a mutual appreciation for the special qualities each of you hold.
▪ Scour Goodwill or the Salvation Army for cookie cutter shapes. Keep cold balls of cookie dough in the refrigerator ready to roll out, cut, and decorate for your friends and neighbors. If you are trying to keep sugar consumption down, use raisins and other dried fruits, nuts and seeds for beautification. A homemade batch of Playdough can occupy a young child just as well, but a gift for a neighbor will never be forgotten.
▪ Have a “Give Away Day” when together you plow through that pile in the closet, in the corner, in the garage and sort piles for throw away, give away and sell. Load up and deliver them to their next life together. With everyone involved it becomes less of a task and more of a collaboration, resulting in a feeling of lightness and shared accomplishment.
▪ Make feeding stations for the birds to place in your yard or around your neighborhood and monitor who comes to visit them. Stringing popcorn and cranberries is something a preschooler can do (if you can tolerate a bit of blood). When tied together, each contribution makes a long string to drape in the bushes and smaller trees. Roll pine cones in peanut butter, sun butter or lard and then in bird seed to be hung near a window where everyone can watch the show.
▪ Bring a little of the outside in. Baskets of river rocks, pine cones, wood rounds, blunt sticks and cedar fronds can be used to build fairy houses and stick huts with twine. Electric teas lights and candles illuminate the space and cheer the heart on the darkest days.
▪ Finally, just go outside. There is no bad weather, just bad clothing, correct? Bundle up, don your favorite muckers, grab an umbrella (or not) and take a rain walk, wind walk, or night walk with flashlights. Guaranteed, you and your children will never forget these times together honoring the traditions that are uniquely yours; creating memories and strengthening the connections that make you a family.
Carolyn Mulder has been living and teaching preschool through 5th grade in Bellingham since 1995. For the past 24 years, she has worked, played and grown wiser in the company of preschoolers at Western Washington University’s Child Development Center.