top of page
  • Bearfoot OT

The Amazing Benefits of All-Weather Play for Kids in Outdoor Occupational Therapy

“Since you do occupational therapy outdoors, what happens when the weather is bad?” 


👆That’s a super common question parents have about our outdoor OT practice. In fact, it’s the same question asked of outdoor OT practices whether they’re in mostly sunny California (like us!!) or the winter-prone midwest. 


And the answer is usually the same no matter the location or climate… 


WE STILL GO OUTSIDE!



(With some well-thought-out safety parameters of course.)


For us here in San Francisco, it’s the relative discomfort of wintertime rain or cold that threatens to keep people holed up inside. Other parts of the country have much different weather-related challenges from snow to extreme heat.


Here’s why we still all make the push to bring kids outside…


Dealing with warm, cold, wet, or windy weather is a big part of the growth experience that kids need to prepare for the dynamic and ever-changing world.


Your child can learn valuable life skills simply by playing in a wide range of weather conditions! 


Variable Weather for the “Can-Do” Attitude of Growth Mindset


We’re sure you can agree, it’s relatively easy to get outside when the weather is good.


On the other hand, it takes a noticeable effort to leave a comfy, climate-controlled indoor space when the weather is less than ideal. 


In fact, to conserve energy, human survival instincts drive pretty much everyone to pick comfort over challenge¹. However, this natural tendency towards comfort isn’t what your kids need to cultivate skills to grow and thrive in a world that’s full of challenges. The key to life-long success is embracing a growth mindset that leans into challenges rather than avoiding them. 


By embracing challenges and obstacles your child gets to hone a host of positive traits like resilience, flexibility, problem-solving, creativity, and a love of learning


In fact, Psychologist Carol Dweck says in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success":


“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.”


As a loving parent, it makes sense that you want to remove risks, challenges, and obstacles for your children. No parent automatically goes, “I want my kid to feel uncomfortable.” Nope. Doesn’t happen. 


This is why heading outside in different weather situations isn’t at the top of your to-do list. But maybe you’ll think differently after seeing some of the powerful benefits of all-weather play that’s not cookie-cutter comfy. 


Let’s look at how the “good” and “bad” weather can help support a can-do, flexible, problem-solving attitude in your child.


All-Weather Outdoor Play Teaches Flexibility


No one has control over the weather. This makes weather a wonderful teacher in flexibility! 


That’s right, you can’t change the weather, so it’s about figuring out what you can adjust. Even better if you can adjust with a positive, growth mindset attitude. 


In our San Francisco outdoor OT world, this looks like:

  • Finding a new path if the wind has blown obstacles in our path. 

  • Adding or taking off layers within a single OT session because of changing weather conditions.

  • Talking through the disappointment of a favorite activity that’s not safe to do outdoors on a particular day. 


By necessity of the dynamic element of weather, every session is different. This is a fun and realistic way of matching the unpredictability that happens in everyday life.


Alongside each child in outdoor OT, we model flexibility and emotional regulation to deal with situations as they come up. So with each session, kids get the chance to both observe and practice what it means to work through change and disappointment like they need to in the classroom or home life.


Perseverance Through Mild Discomfort


kid in mittens with arms outstretched in an outdoor OT session

No one likes to feel the discomfort of extra layers, the cold, damp, or hot. Kids complain. And it’s not the first choice of adults either. 


The thing is, there is good discomfort and bad discomfort. Good discomfort is where growth happens. Bad discomfort is a warning sign that needs attention. And your child needs opportunities to safely distinguish both types and move through good discomfort³. Weather conditions provide a safe and reasonable way to explore the good form of discomfort. This is the type of discomfort that leads to positive qualities like perseverance, learning, and growth


It’s a real-life lesson of pushing forward even when things aren’t perfect or even ideal. Sometimes the best lessons and the most fun happens when we push through what initially feels hard or uncomfortable. 


For instance, in our San Francisco Bay Area occupational therapy practice, we meet in 3 Bay Area Parks which feature tons of stuff to do rain or shine. When it's raining and chilly in the winter, it’s a new experience for many Bay Area kids to *gasp* - play outdoors! However, this same weather brings the yearly highlight of seasonal streams that bring all sorts of different adventures. Being outside connects kids to nature and seasons in a wonderful way.


All-Weather Play for Real Practice of Problem-Solving and Safety Awareness


Weather replicates the fact that the real world isn’t static. The weather is always changing and you need to identify and respond to those changes⁴. To us, that means tons of opportunities to practice problem-solving and safety awareness!


First, verify that the weather conditions are indeed safe. 


Based on the weather conditions of the Bay Area, Bearfoot OT has some specific policies that help keep everyone safe. 


For instance, when there are sustained high winds, we either cancel or move away from the potential of falling branches in wooded areas. If there is a storm with lightning or poor air quality due to wildfire smoke, we also cancel sessions.


As we’ve talked about before, your kids need access to safe situations that involve some level of risk. This is how you support your child’s ability to solve problems, assess safety, and learn about their environment. 


So, it’s hot out today? … That’s a chance to talk about heat safety, shade, time, and water intake. It rained last night and everything is muddy?... Let’s talk about how wet stuff can be more slippery. 


And then, maybe work together to come up with a creative, safe alternative activity like puddle jumping or playing in a covered space under a tree. It's these possibilities and novelty that give childhood the right dose of memorable adventures.


message for the Adults 💪


Turns out adults can be a barrier to kids getting outside in different weather conditions. Yes, you read that right. Between concerns about sickness, safety, or just general discomfort, it’s sometimes adults who are the gatekeepers to outdoor experiences across weather conditions⁵. This is NOT to shame you. You might have super valid reasons for not going outside in less-than-ideal weather - your health, your child's health, access to appropriate gear, community safety, schedule constraints, etc. So! If that's you, please don't take this as a dig at your parenting choices. As always, you know you and your child best!


That being said, if it's just a little mental shift about what's "good" weather that's needed, adults with a positive attitude towards a variety of weather experiences can create opportunities for the learning that comes with all-weather outdoor activities. 


Want to encourage a positive, can-do attitude for your child no matter the weather?


Here are 3 things you can do.


  1. Be positive in how you talk about all types of weather. 


Here are some wording swaps for you to try out!


alternative things to say to help your child embrace all weather play

2. Invest in the right gear for your climate and conditions for yourself and your kids. Maybe that’s rain or snow gear, a pair of boots, or clothes that can get dirty.


Side note: this is an equity issue that we know exists and limits access. If you don't have the financial ability to go out and buy good rain gear that would actually keep you and your kid dry, we understand that would make it nearly impossible to feel like you can explore in inclement weather. Same goes for cold weather gear - if you don't have clothes that keep your kid warm, it can be a severe safety issue (this is why we've stopped saying "there's not such thing as bad weather" without some serious caveats). For outdoor gear, we suggest Facebook marketplace, Facebook groups that focus on free stuff, Nextdoor and other forums that might have low cost or free gear.


And/but - if you feel like you have the gear you need, you can aim to head outside as part of your weekly routine that isn’t dependent on good weather. This way, everyone expects to go outside and it actually happens. It’s simply a matter of putting on the right clothing or adjusting the activities based on the conditions.


3. Finally, use some common sense to keep experiences safe


Some general examples are:  

  • Getting the right outdoor gear

  • Packing water and healthy snacks

  • Checking the weather forecast

  • Adapting plans as weather conditions change

  • Choosing activities that align with current weather conditions


Positively Embrace All-Weather Play For Successful Futures


That’s right, you can do it. You can encourage all-weather play with your child. And we’re right here with you! 


Rain or shine, our mission here at Bearfoot OT is for kids to receive the support they need to go forth successfully into the world. 


Yup, that means having the flexibility, tenacity, and problem-solving skills for a world that’s full of even bigger challenges than the weather. 


Want to follow along with how we go all-in with children and families through our outdoor OT services? Come join us on Instagram or Facebook for tips, resources, and a look inside the experiences of Bearfoot OT.


References


  1. Jensen, E. Do you Prefer Comfort Over Grit? Brain-Based Learning. https://www.brainbasedlearning.net/do-you-prefer-comfort-over-grit/  

  2. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

  3.  Fishbach, A. (2022). Get Comfortable with Feeling Uncomfortable. Behavioral Scientist.  https://behavioralscientist.org/get-comfortable-with-feeling-uncomfortable/ 

  4. Wild Earth. Children That Play Outside in All Weather Grow up Resilient. https://wildearth.org/blog/children-that-play-outside-in-all-weather-grow-up-resilient 

  5.  Hughes, A., Zak, K., Ernst, J. & Meyer, R.  (2017). Exploring the intersection of beliefs toward outdoor play and cold weather among Northeast Minnesota’s formal education and non-formal EE communities.  International Journal of Early Childhood Education, 5(1), 20-38. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1158463.pdf  


32 views0 comments
bottom of page