I recently received a question regarding long, dark Alaskan winters and how to survive winter with toddlers. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about this peculiar life we live up in The Last Frontier so I am happy to provide a glimpse into our reality and methods of survival as we embark upon another long winter!
First, the background information: the sun sets 5 minutes earlier and rises 5 minutes later each day after June 21, therefore we slowly lose sunlight at a barely perceptible rate. Then, it just hits you! The darkness is literally creeping in as temperatures drop. Winter basically starts in October when the rest of the country is in the throes of autumn hysteria and lasts until April. The average temperature here in Anchorage during the winter months, in case you’re curious:
|Month||Average Temperature||Hours of Daylight|
The weather, although always cold, can be quite variable. There are winters that are truly idyllic winter wonderlands with big white flakes falling and a foot of fluffy, powdery snow on the ground. Or, similar to the first winter I spent here, there could be several inches of ice, minimal snow, and constant freezing rain. Isn’t Mother Nature fun how she likes to spice it up? ( ♪♪ Spice up your life, Aah– Spice Girls)
People all have their own ways of getting out and keeping sane. (But not too sane because, PSA: Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country.) However, this feat is much more difficult to accomplish with children. When Nate and I made the decision to move here, we saw visions of the coziest winters and nonstop skiing in our future. We did not account for how raising children in this environment would manifest. Anyway, I digress! Let’s get back to the question at hand: how do I survive the winters with young children? I am approaching my FOURTH winter here and have learned several lessons along the way.
- Make your home as enjoyable as possible. Naturally during the winter we spend more time inside at home than outside or going to places. Therefore, I am highly intentional with creating a welcoming environment that is warm, cozy, and inviting. We light candles everyday, have the fire going nonstop, play music, there are essential oil diffusers in every room, and have a growing selection of blankets to snuggle with. We recently repainted all of the walls white and this helps tremendously to keep things light and bright during the darkest days. I fully embrace the concept of hygge, as our friends who share a similar latitude to us have clearly mastered coziness and happiness.
- Bath time all the time. When the weather is truly frightful and I am out of patience or activities, we get in the bath. It is not uncommon for me to give the girls a bath during the day, especially if they are sick. My girls love taking baths so it is a win for everyone: they participate in a fun activity, get clean in the process, and it burns up an hour after all is said and done. One of my favorite things about a midday bath is there is never a request for TV; There is just true imaginative play with toys and each other.
- Stock up. We don’t have a pantry yet we do have a garage with extra cabinets that resemble a small grocery store. When the weather is too awful to leave it’s reassuring to have many basic ingredients readily available, which brings me to…
- Cook with your kiddos. I wrote an article about cooking with your toddler and it is something we do frequently during the winter. It can take up a good chunk of time, is productive, and helps them learn important life skills. Depending on the age of the kiddo, just playing in flour or with measuring cups can be a blast.
- Get crafty. I am a big fan of the pre-curated craft kits. I neither have the time nor interest in creating craft projects for Waverley, so I usually buy several kits per season and save them for especially unbearable days. I also like to have big rolls of paper readily available for impromptu banners or holiday signs.
- Shift your perspective. Rather than complain about the weather or the inability to go outside, I make a very conscientious effort to verbalize the benefits of winter. The more I say it, the more I believe it. I am reminding us how lucky we are to have a cozy, warm home to live in, how fun it is to enjoy a fire and drink a warm beverage, and rejoice in the number of books we get to read.
- Create a playground in your house. It can be hard to transition from playing outside or going on walks before bed to not having that option. The girls still need to burn off the last bits of energy before bed though; It’s like they don’t realize winter is for hibernating. It is important to provide kiddos with an opportunity to perform a little heavy work (which is OT speak for activities involving proprioceptive input to a child’s muscles and joints, which has a calming and organizing effect on the body). Here is how we do it:
- We play on our bed. We build up piles of pillows and have them “climb the mountain.” We play “catch” with big pillows. We toss the girls onto the bed and basically just wrestle and tickle and laugh and play! It’s exhausting for everyone.
- Bear/crab walk races down the hall.
- We create landing pads of pillows and down comforters for Waverley to jump off of the couch onto.
- Get out of the house. As soon as the weather is remotely tolerable we try to get out. It’s important to understand/plan that it will likely take as long or longer to dress everyone in snow gear than they may actually spend outside. That’s okay! Waverley’s school goes outside regardless of weather as long as it is above 0° F. ZERO DEGREES. I am raising someone significantly more hardcore than I am. Even a 10 minutes walk around the block can be rejuvenating. Last winter, Nate bought me a pair of crampons and they changed my life! When going outside to be outside is not an option, I will pack them up and go to basic places like Target. Obviously I always find something I need and those aisles are great for running toddlers! Sometimes just a change of scenery is enough stimulation and gets us out of the house. Anchorage doesn’t have as many indoor opportunities as other cities that cater to young kiddos, but we do frequent the museum and Kaleidoscape Play Studio when possible.
- Start new traditions. Now that Waverley is getting older, we are able to do more and more. We started a Friday night movie night tradition where she gets to stay up a bit later, watch a movie, and eat popcorn with Nate and I. She looks forward to this all week! This winter we are going to start a game night, too, because she adores playing Candy Land. During the summer we typically run out of time for these activities, so it be will nice to incorporate these family activities in a special and meaningful way that are celebratory rather than begrudging.
- Go somewhere warm. It is a general consensus in Alaska that everyone must leave the state for Hawaii (or some other warm destination) at least once per winter. January and February are the most ideal times to travel there after the hustle of winter holidays and before prices skyrocket during spring break in March. We go to Hawaii every January for a continuing medical education conference and this vacation is definitely a sanity saver. Having this to look forward to helps beat the winter blues and post-holiday blues. Additionally, experiencing a week of sunshine and Vitamin D does wonders for our attitudes, even after we’re home.
In the past four years I’ve learned (like really, truly learned not just saying it as a catchphrase) that our attitudes dictate our lives. I easily fall prey to negativity and my perception of greener pastures. I fear passing those unfortunate traits onto the girls therefore have worked diligently to alter my words and mindset—at least in front of them. Living in Alaska has tested my will to my core and this winter will surely provide more tests in mental toughness and patience with two busy gals popping around. All of these methods of survival for cold winters with young children are important, but none will make the months go by faster or more enjoyably without focusing on the benefits that winter brings. For us, that means more time together, warm bowls of soup, curling up on the couch with a blanket and a fire, enjoying the holidays, baking, and maybe even providing time to read the pile of books on my nightstand. Because:
We will take you where you gotta go
Smilin’, dancin’, everything is free
All you need is positivity
Spice up your life
Every boy and every girl
Spice up your life
People of the world
Spice up your life