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Playgrounds in Winter

IMG_1546What a weekend! One of my Godson’s turned seven and my family traveled to Connecticut to celebrate.  We arrived very late on Friday, enjoyed casual festivities all day Saturday, stayed up very late playing cards Saturday night, and after packing the car and helping to reorganize the house we headed out for a nice walk to a playground before heading home to Maine.

On both Saturday and Sunday we took walks with kids to the closest playground, a little less than a mile from the house. Our Saturday walk with five kids, four boys and my daughter, led to a snow covered playground. They had the run of the entire play structure. During spring, summer, and fall the place would have been teeming with kids. On this birthday outing, the kids created a whole nautical world and this play structure became a battleship, or maybe it was a submarine, but whatever the type of ship these five sailed they did so without fights, falls, or losing steam. Holly, my lovely sister-in-law and I sat on the warm asphalt and watched without needing to intervene. This 55 degree day felt down right balmy compared to the frigid winter we have had.

On Sunday the adults wanted to walk to spend time together and get some fresh air before the long drive home. We had to drag two of the three reluctant children along on the walk. I was surprised that the two boys, who simply wanted to stay home, carried their grouchy attitudes all the way to the playground. I think they were exhausted. Finally, they relaxed into their play and by the time we were heading home, they were back to their energetic selves.

I adore spending time with my amazing family outdoors.

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Thrills on a Hill

If you haven’t gone sledding lately, stop reading and head out. Right now!   Zipping down a hill on a plastic board will give you the cheapest thrill to share with your kids next to throwing snowballs. I love to speed down a hill with my arms wrapped around one of my children, the memory of which I will treasure for a lifetime. They are growing so fast that all too soon they’ll be heading to the hill without me.

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Sleds are a thrill on a hill but you can also use them on level ground. Children, new walkers, and babies love being pulled in sleds. Who wouldn’t? When my daughter was little, I pulled her to preschool while I cross-country skied. This form of transport was inspired by one of my fondest memories with my father. He pulled me on a sled to the corner store as he skied. The candy bar we shared there was not nearly as sweet as the love I felt being pulled behind my father in the snow-quieted neighborhood. I only remember it happening once, but I am determined to give the experience to my children again and again, with hopes that they will carry the fond memory into their adult lives.

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There are a few things I know to be true about sledding.

Fun is proportional to group size.  You can have races, link arms and try to reach the bottom together, or make one long train. How many ways are there to ride a sled? A big hill packed with sledders is a brainstorming session in snow. The larger the crowd of kids, the wider variety of techniques and games you’ll see. The more the merrier.

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Bigger hills are better. Although little children prefer smaller hills. They can make do at the bottom of a big one, and even piles of snow by the driveway can work.

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You can’t outgrow a sled. Your kids will outgrow any number of skates, skis, and snow pants, but they will never grow out of their sleds, and neither will you. Sleds come in different sizes, but even the smallest sleds work for everyone. But having a sled that holds more than one rider opens up many possibilities.

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Sharing sleds is part of the culture of many hills. Kids we’ve never met before think nothing of asking, “May we please borrow your sled?” People even offer up their sleds unprompted, as one woman did for me with her giant inner tube.  I’m still kicking myself for turning her down.

Bundle up!  Although you’ll certainly work up a sweat trudging back up the hill each time, catching a chill will cut short a great time.  Throw an extra neck warmer in your pocket for when your son face-plants after an absurd stunt and bursts into tears.

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(photo credit to Deirdre Confar)

Pack granola bars. Prevent bonking.

If you’re in the market for a sled, I recommend a new design we’ve been using that is made of a thick slab of flexible foam with handles on the sides. It slides effortlessly over all kinds of snow, can accommodate more than one rider, and its soft foam material absorbs a lot of shock from bumps and chunks of ice. (The material is 4-5 cm thick, compared to 1 cm of our other foam sled.) My son prefers it because in distance races it travels the farthest, my daughter selects it because it is the fastest, and my tush demands the shock absorption.

Some awesome sleds:

A Pull-your-little-one sled

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(photo credit Amy Priestley-Roy)

Our New Favorite


A Simple Classic

A great sled is wonderful, but you don’t need one to have a wonderful time.  You can slide downhill over snow on just about anything.  The kids at the Boston public school where I taught years ago used cardboard boxes for heaven’s sake.  And they had a supremely good time.  A friend of mine uses an air mattress!  Whether you use a cafeteria tray or a 6-person toboggan, you’re bound to have a memorable time.