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'Since 1902 there was a daily 'butter' train, leaving Novosibirsk to Riga, Latvia, with 25 carriages, each loaded with 7 000 kg of butter'

Like ducks to water in the snow - keeping kids healthy Siberian style

By 0 and 0 and 0
21 November 2012


Getting ready: kindergarten assistant ensures all buckets are filled with icy cold water. Picture: The Siberian Times 

Anyway this is the strong view of kindergarten director Olesya Osintseva after 18 years experience dousing her pupils - and getting them to rub the snow into their skin while also throwing a few snowballs at each other.

The temperature when we visited this week was minus 10C but in fact these children happily go through this daily ritual even when it is as low as minus 30C.  Colder than this and the kindergartens are closed. 

Icy outside showers for Siberian children

Icy outside showers for Siberian children

This is fun! Five and six years old children run around in the snow at -10C. Pictures: The Siberian Times 

There maybe people in the rest of the world who think this amounts to cruelty, but Olesya, head of Kindergarten Number 168 in Barnaul, southern Siberia, insists they are wrong.

'Some eighteen years ago we gathered together teachers and doctors to speak about our children's health,' she said.

'They were catching influenzas, and there were moments when half of the children attending the kindergarten were unwell. 

'It was obvious that something needed to be done to make them grow stronger and be more resilient against viruses. 

'This is how we came to the idea of boosting their immunity up by doing this exercise with buckets of chilly water outside in the cold. 

'We tested it on ourselves and our own children first, when both adults and children were first going out and splashing their feet with water, and in some months pouring cold water bucket over our heads. 

Icy outside showers for Siberian children

'One, two, three - splash!' Daily routine with a bucket of cold water over the head keep children strong and healthy, their parents and teachers say. Picture: The Siberian Times 

'What six months of these water exercises showed was an immediately stronger resistance to illnesses. Our kids were now able to go to the kindergarten and even if someone  had infection, they were no longer catching it.

'Then we made the next step and spoke about our experience to other parents. Some got nervous about the idea of their kids showering themselves with cold water in the middle of winter; others said they were keen to try. 

'Now the kindergarten runs a separate group of children where all of them start with the cold water bucket from the tender age of two. 

'I am completely sure: these children are noticeably healthier.'

Icy outside showers for Siberian children

'Perhaps people will not believe us, but facts are hard to argue with' -  teacher Lyubov Daniltsova. Picture: The Siberian Times

Today her kindergarten is known as Rodnichok - or Water Spring - and the cold water treatment goes on for her two-to-six-year-olds all round the year, summer as well as winter.

The 'treatment' is suspended if there are high winds. 

Typically, they are out in the snow for up to a minute and a half. 

The children are not forced to join the 'wet' group. If their parents object, they stay in the 'dry' group and don't face the cold war treatment.  

In fact, it is in summer that new children are taught how the procedure works. The water is still cold, but the air temperature maybe as warm as PLUS 30C. 

The teachers say that once the first snow falls, the children do it themselves and don't bat an eyelid. 

Icy outside showers for Siberian children Icy outside showers for Siberian children

Masha Rymnova, 6 years old, pictured splashing herself and inside the kindergarten. Pictures: The Siberian Times 

Before running out into the freezer - as the playground is at this time of year - the girls and boys go through their morning exercises in the kindergarten's PE room. 

They run, jump and stretch with their teachers, as the assistant prepares the buckets of water outside. 

'Perhaps people will not believe us, but facts are hard to argue with,' insisted teacher Lyubov Daniltsova.

'Our doctor confirms that children in groups that practice dousing get through the flu season a lot more easily, and generally the statistics show there are 95% of healthy children in the 'wet' group, compared to 75%  among the others'. 

Masha Rymnova,  aged six, is one of the pupils who show no sign of shock at what many people may see as shock therapy. 

'I like dousing,' she explained. 

'How we do it? So, we put our swimming costumes on, run outside, scrub ourselves with snow and play snowballs, all of us.  

'When I run out I shout 'the water is warm, it's warm outside, the snow is hot, it's great!' 

'Then we come inside,  get changed and go and eat. 

'Why do I like it? Because I want to be healthy and strong'.

Watch Siberian children having their daily buckets of cold water outside in the snow

Comments (33)

After reading this I have to give it a try. Not sure what the neighbors will think but don't really care either. The kids here seem to be haveing so much fun and are are in better health for it.
Pyewasket, Delaware USA
01/02/2014 00:35
I lived in Miami for three years while I studied cooking. Six months before I moved back to Chicago, I would make ice cream in the walk in freezer by hand so I could acclimatize myself back to winter cold. I tend not to overdress for cold and believe it is what keeps me strong against infection.
Is it the cold, or the mindset?
I suppose I don't care too much, because if it works for me, it works for me.
Ken, USA
25/01/2014 18:27
So much awesome. I like to take baths in 40 deg F water (5C), but these kids really have an advantage starting so early. Hats off.

It serves as a great lesson to what we call "helicopter parents" here in America, which I blogged about with your children and parents as counter-examples.
Richard Nikoley, San Jose, CA, USA
13/02/2013 03:20
For the Nay-Sayers in this, especially those ignorant of the medical benefits, please research the term "hormesis."
Robb Wolf, Reno, Nevada USA
11/02/2013 05:38
Very smart strategy, I will do this with my future kids. Good to see that there are still places where people are not afraid of getting out of comfort zone. And the benefits are real. Very cool.
Reka, Budapest
11/02/2013 02:26
Love it! Kids enjoy stuff like that. I'll definitely try it...
Ana, Slovenia
31/01/2013 16:13
too much ignorance in the naysaying commenters. the rubbing of the body along with physical activity immediately following the dousing with cold water teaches the body to associate exposure to cold with reactionary increased blood circulation and thus higher body temperature. practiced long enough the body will start doing this with just exposure to cold. i was raised on this method and i get hot in the cold if under-dressed. its called tempering (as in tempering steel) and it works.
bodhi, nyc
26/01/2013 02:43
This is just cool and different. I think its a great idea. Look, they even enjoying that!
Anna, London
23/11/2012 23:50
A famous television charachter in the Uk in a comedy series called 'One Foot in the Grave' had the catchphrase; I do not beliiiiiieeeeeve it!

... Nuf said!

I think I'll join 'the Other Siberians' Thailand!
Philip, UK
23/11/2012 16:59
And do they live longer? I heard that taking a dip in the icy waters of Lake Baikal is meant to add a year to your life. I can understand it would be good for circulation and for building a strong heart.
Andy, Oxford
23/11/2012 09:38
If the children do not have a problem with it and rather seem to enjoy the experience, then I say go for it. It only becomes a problem when you force a child into doing something that they clearly do not want to do.
Vaz, Australia
23/11/2012 02:20
.....but this is a fact from longtime analysis of health from such procedures.....give a try Philip and i think you will agree....
Doctor Yelena, Russia
23/11/2012 00:05
my o my! they actually enjoy it!!!!
Tina, London
22/11/2012 23:44
It might be 'tradition' like saunas and cold dips in mid-winter, and ;Penguins' in Moscow etc., but please don't give us 'medical fact'! Nothinh 'medical' about it... If people want to pour freezing water over themselves, bathe in icy rivers and swim the English channel for fun, good luck to them... but please don't give us - 'medical'...
Philip, UK
22/11/2012 16:26
cccccccold!!!! i feel shivery by even looking at them!
Hanna, UK
22/11/2012 10:45

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