Embracing Outdoor Play this Winter


When I was a kid, growing up on James Island, I loved playing outside. I was blessed to have a grandfather who had over 600 camellia plants in his back yard (which bloomed in the winter), and I would love to play under the flowering camellia jungle, pretending it was my secret garden. On the weekend, I would pack my book bag with snacks and ride my little bike, which had my name on a bike “license plate,” down the street to the woods and explore. I’d pretend that those were MY woods and find branch shelters to sit and rest under while I ate my granola bar.Embracing Outdoor Play this Winter Charleston Moms

As an only child, I always found neighborhood kids to play with, and we found the only hill we had on our street, the ditch, to roll down. The smell of dirt always reminds me of those evenings, digging for Florida Betony tubers (the white roots that look like caterpillars) and seeing who could find the biggest (or pretending it was our dinner)! I would run home when I heard my mom calling. I’d like to think that my kids get as much outdoor time as I did when I was their age but often I feel like I have to challenge myself to veer from the easiest thing (the dreaded TV) when I’m exhausted and need to get some things done.

“We don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel . . . they can make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic, and more apt to engage with the world and with each other.”

Florence Williams, The Nature Fix

We are so lucky to have mild winters that only require a jacket or those days where we can wear short-sleeved shirts on the beach in December. I am making it my personal goal to get outside and soak up the vitamin D with my kids this winter, but it’s not always easy.

Here are some tips and ideas to make sure your kids get outside this winter too.

1. Don’t Over Commit

I like for my kids to have something extracurricular they enjoy doing outside of school, but it’s important to have the free time to let kids be kids. MAKE that free time to be outdoors! Tight schedules lend to stressed mamas (and kids).

2. Easy Dinners

The daylight hours are short, and I don’t want anything I have to do inside to take away from the time we could be spending outside. I try to plan out at least 2-3 meals a week that are pretty hands-off until time to eat. Slow Cooker meals or freezer meals are perfect to get you out of the kitchen and in the yard.

3. Go to the Beach

Embracing Outdoor Play this Winter Charleston Moms
James Island Ocean ActKIDvists after a Folly Beach beach sweep.

Most of us are so fortunate to live within minutes of a beach! Our winters are mild, so even though it is winter it could be 60-70 degrees outside! Let the kids run on the beach or bring some sand toys. We love looking for sharks’ teeth or having a competition to see who can find the coolest beach treasure. Also, follow James Island Ocean ActKIDvists on Facebook. They are local kids that educate others about single-use plastics and create events that will help to clean up our beaches and ocean. On their Facebook group page, you can find their next beach sweep which is a perfect way to get your kids involved in a great cause and get some awesome outdoor beach time! Their last beach sweep was right after the Folly Beach Christmas parade on December 14th. My kids took the opportunity to find a tidepool to play in after (with clothes on). Perfect Charleston winter outdoor play!

4. Find a Park (Hampton Park is our favorite!)

Embracing Outdoor Play this Winter Charleston Moms
Hampton park tree climbing.

Hampton park brings back so many great memories of trips with my grandmother to feed the ducks. Nowadays, the ducks seem to be a little more aggressive. If you plan to feed the ducks, I would go to the top of the little bridge and throw food into the water. Hampton park also has oaks with low hanging branches which makes them great for climbing. There’s something really special about my kids climbing the exact same branches as I did as a child. To the right of the parking lot, there is also a HUGE magnolia tree that has low hanging branches, and you can walk under them and hide. Next, walk across Mary Murray Dr. to McMahon Playground. This playground is a park maintained by the Charleston Park Conservancy “park angels.” Park Angels volunteer their time to garden, plan events, and educate the community about parks around Charleston. Check out the Charleston Park Conservancy website to discover more parks and playgrounds this winter!

5. Plant a Spring Garden

The end of January/beginning of February is a good time to start seedlings for a spring garden in Charleston. When gardening with your kids, let them choose some seeds that they are interested in and help with planting; they can’t mess it up! If the seeds grow, excellent! If they don’t, no big deal. Starting a garden will guarantee more outdoor fun time throughout the rest of winter and into the spring.

6. Make Fairy Houses

Caw Caw County Park hosted a Fairy House making competition a few years ago that we participated in. It was cold out, but we were bundled up. Our imagination ran wild discovering bowls made from little leaves, fairy food made from berries, and tree bark as a pathway to the front door. Since then, my kids have spent so much fun outdoor time making little fairy houses in different places with whatever nature has to offer.

Embracing Outdoor Play this Winter Charleston Moms
The inside of our hollowed stump fairy house.

What do you and your kids love doing outside this time of year? If you are feeling inspired, check out the 1000 hours outside 2020 challenge!

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Elizabeth Wagner is a 5th generation Charlestonian and a 3rd generation James Islander.  She and her husband maintained a long distance relationship throughout her nursing school and his Marine Corps deployments. They married in 2010. After working as a neurosurgical nurse for ten years, she became a stay-at-home mom of their now four kids. From her natural passion to help others and through caring for her own children, Elizabeth became interested in herbal remedies, the benefits of plant medicine, and natural ways to treat her kids illnesses. In 2016, after the birth of her third child, she started Island Bloom Herbals. She makes homemade elderberry syrup, cough syrup, and herbal teas. She and her husband are beekeepers and have three hives in their backyard.  Elizabeth and her husband also love to dive. Her husband proposed to her underwater off the coast of Charleston and they have dove in the Georgia Aquarium with whale sharks!