A Winter Escape for Your Kids

Feb 18, 2021 | Family

Photos submitted by the Louisville Zoo.

The air is crisp, but my 7-year-old doesn’t mind. Watching my son run ahead, it occurs to me I might have bundled him up a little too well. He looks a lot like Ralphie’s younger brother from the holiday movie A Christmas Story, but at least my kid can put his arms down. Exploring the Louisville Zoo in the wintertime is chilly, but the animals don’t notice and neither does my son. He’s thrilled to be out of the house, and I’m finally relieved to have a safe way to grab some much needed time outdoors.

As soon as my child was born, my protective instincts went into overdrive. I worried about everything from diaper changes to which hat would keep him warmest. While my nervousness has lessened over the years, my need to protect has remained. I’ve done my best to roll with the changes, but I must admit trying to keep my son active and safe in the middle of a health crisis in the middle of winter is a conundrum.

In the times before, he had in-person school to fill this gap, but now we’re home remote learning. This means our day is all about sitting indoors and staring at a screen. When the weather was warmer, we’d take playtime breaks outside. This helped my son burn off energy, and I noticed his focus increase when we came back to schoolwork.

Now that the weather has turned cold, freeze-tag doesn’t hold the same appeal when one of the players is actually frozen, and many of our usual indoor activities aren’t safe right now. Children need to be active for at least an hour a day, and I’m guessing this doesn’t mean actively working the remote control. So I tried taking our outdoor activities indoors. We’ve played indoor tag and even run relay races with the dog, but these ideas crashed and burned.

Studies show that being out in nature can reduce stress, and another good reason for my son to run free in the great outdoors is because it boosts creativity. Harvard Medical School reports that being outside increases our executive function, including creativity and using our imagination to problem-solve and entertain ourselves. I’d love to see my kid lose himself in a little imaginative outdoor time.

“The zoo is a place to escape life and spend the day in nature learning about our animal ambassadors,” says Kyle Shepherd, the Louisville Zoo’s media and public relations manager. I was surprised to discover the zoo is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Buying tickets is easy because you can buy tickets in advance on the website. “It’s a paperless transaction this way,” Kyle says.

The protective parent in me checked their COVID-19 safety protocols. The zoo requires masks for entry, and “we have masks here in case someone forgets,” Kyle says. The zoo is also practicing social distancing and has a “one-way pathway, which helps us clean and keeps the route moving,” she says, Knowing these were in place, I felt confident getting us out and going.

Taking trips to the Louisville Zoo in chilly weather hasn’t hindered my son’s excitement. After our visits, his attitude is more carefree. He loves saying hello to his favorite animal friends — the tiger and the baby elephant, Fitz. I love that the colder weather brings less crowds, but mostly I love spending time in nature in a way that’s safe and uproariously fun. Like Kyle says, “We’re a place for building memories.”

P.S. These young people are leading change in our community.

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