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'Siberia is a home to the cultures of indigenes, including people whose ancestors migrated to the Americas'

This is how little Siberians learn to love our trademark cold, and stay healthy

By 0 and 0 and 0
10 February 2016


'The children who do have the ice showers are also are more sensible, balanced - and optimistic.' Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

For pre-school teacher and swimming coach Oksana Kabotko, 41, there is no doubt that a pail of ice cold water is beneficial to her children ranging in age between three and six. This is part of the curriculum at Sibiryachok - or Little Siberian - state kindergarten number 317 in Krasnoyarsk, although it is not compulsory. 

'Children have the ice cold shower if it's no colder than minus 25C,' she explained. 'But this year we did it at minus 30C, on the Epiphany Day, along with their parents.'

Traditionally, Russians bathe in ice pools to mark this important Christian day, regardless of the winter temperature, marking the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, as our story here shows. Temperatures go up and down in the Krasnoyarsk winter: today was mild, only minus 10C.

Oksana insisted that far from being harmful to the children, this ice bucket treatment does them good in myriad ways, a 'medical fact' backed by many doctors in Siberia. 

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia
'But just imagine, you need to do it every morning, you require the willpower to do that.' Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

'Of course, there are some contradictions, and it's all very personal, but it is checked by a pediatrician,' she said, explaining her own observations about children who do - and don't - take the ice bucket 'treatment'. 

Still, she heard that the Japanese at some pointed declined to use pictures of these daily cold douches - believing them to be cruel for the children: to her, the truth is the opposite.

'Those children who have ice cold shower daily, not once every two weeks, come regularly to the kindergarten,' she said. 'Of course, they can come down with some illness during the winter but it passes more quickly, after a few days at home. Those who don't take an ice shower may spend up to two weeks at home recovering. 

'The children who do have the ice showers are also are more sensible, balanced - and optimistic. They are better organised. But just imagine, you need to do it every morning, you require the willpower to do that. We don't force anyone. There are also some children who don't go to our kindergarten but join us just for the shower.'

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia
'Before having ice cold showers, children spend some time in the banya (steam sauna), having a warm-up.' Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

Former pupils join in the bracing 8am treatment because once it is habit, you feel you need it. 

They go in groups, the youngest first, those in the middle, then the older children, dressed in either swim wear or underclothes. 'Those who are regulars can't live without it, it becomes an essential part of their lifestyle,' said Oksana. 'Before having ice cold showers, children spend some time in the banya (steam sauna), having a warm-up.'

Kindergarten staff prepare the ice buckets outside, all lined up in the snow. 'Children run from the banya. Some wear flip flops, others run barefoot,' she said. 'Sometimes they run around outdoors a little, just 20 metres in the fresh air. First they wash their faces and then shower. Some pour water on their head, others - on their chest. 

'The children really enjoy their showers. They line up to tell how much they like it. The younger kids run faster and scream louder. The older ones walk as if they are on a red carpet as if it's not cold. Some don't shower outdoors, and instead do it indoors.'

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia
A daily ice bucket in Krasnoyarsk kindergarten. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

Oksana said: 'At the beginning of the academic year, we talk to parents about their children having an ice cold shower in the street (meaning outside). They need to sign approval papers. 

'In the 1990s such programmes were quite popular - but we are now the only kindergarten which still has a 'street shower', although others have indoor programmes.

'Initially, in 1998, our staff took the ice cold water shower, then they started doing it with their own children. Later they invited parents to join in. Parents of some of the children attending our kindergarten came here in their childhood.'

There are some 150 children in her kindergarten. 'Normally, when we start in September, there are a lot of children, around 70, taking part,' she said. 

'By winter half of them drop out because it is actually quite challenging: you need to do it every day, you need to be in the right mood. And actually you need to do it regardless of your mood.'

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia
'I must say it is very refreshing and, more important, it helps to relieve stress very well.' Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

The youngest children - aged three - will only go outside for this ritual in March once the snow starts melting. 'Children aged four or five have the ice cold shower from autumn - and through the winter,' she said. 

'When we begin the programme, the water is normally about 30C and then we gradually decrease it, depending on the outdoor temperature, and the way kids feel.'

In midwinter, the water is as cold as it can be. Afterwards the children dry off, dress, and get back to their classes. 'It's not cold, I feel warm,' said one little boy, Sergei. 'It's exciting,' said Alina. 

Oksana said: 'When we first started, there were very curious people hanging over the fence literally to see kids showering with the cold water. Now we're part of landscape.'

Proponents of such cold cures cite a 1997 study in Sochi by Dr V Kharitonov when blood samples of students was tested before and after they had poured buckets of cold water over their heads. This found 'statistically significant' changes in a majority of indicators regarding the cellular immune system.

Another advocate of this treatment is Olesya Osintseva, a veteran kindergarten director in the city of Barnaul. 

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia
'Children aged four or five have the ice cold shower from autumn - and through the winter.' Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

When The Siberian Times talked to her several years ago she explained that a former problem of winter illnesses among children was cut dramatically when the ice bucket procedures began.

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

'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.

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia

Ice babies Siberia
'Our doctor confirms that children in groups that practice dousing get through the flu season a lot more easily.' Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

'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.'

Teacher Lyubov Daniltsova added: 'Perhaps people will not believe us, but facts are hard to argue with. 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.'

Comments (11)

I think all the children are brave to be outside in the cold weather and wetting them self. You have to be strong. To do that to your body
Josh Diaz, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
24/02/2022 01:11
I was born in the United States. I grew up in France. In France we did the same thing. Pouring a bucket of ice cold water over our naked body. then we have us do our exercise outside nude. During the spring, summer, fall, it was not bad. But in the winter it got bad. One time the temperature got down to - 23C we still had to go out side naked for P.E. Nude. After 30 minutes they let us go inside. And we did the next hour of our P.E. Class in side nude. During the summer we had swimming classes. And we boys and girls had to be nude. The pool was outdoor we be nude where anyone driving or walking by can see us. Nobody cared. I enjoyed being nude outside. When I went to a local beach I went nude. I love the hot summer sun shining on my body.
Susan, Bonham, Texas
06/09/2020 14:37
I guess I’m odd for an American. While i never did anything like this I really don’t see how it should be a problem. Americans are to hung up on how they think their country is better and can’t accept that some of the stuff we do is so stupid or makes little to no since.
Dwayne, Marion, USA
31/12/2019 08:54
Micha, what you just described is how the United States is such hypocrites and weak minded. Europeans and depending on other countries around the globe are more open in their thoughts. It's not like this over here dealing with the new Me Too movement, and the effeminate ways today's males behave. Angry females complaining about how their sexuality is being violated, yet walking around exposing body parts for attention seeking financial and political gain.
Steven James, NYC
07/11/2018 21:42
Oh no.... ICE water is steaming off them - it's SO cold... This is not meant to be funny, but I think people get averages of temperatures, like our cold here is say5*C in winter and high 30's and low 40's*C in summer... and yet people in Moscow are dropping dead in a heat wave of 24*C - but your winters are like -30*C etc... The funny thing as in how can they be dropping dead at 24*C and be calling it a heat wave? For us as long as the seasonal changes are not too quick, low 30's low humidity are a NICE mildly warm day..... But temperatures below say 15*C are considered cold weather (depending upon where you live in Australia)
Shane, Victoria, Australia
15/05/2018 08:02
I used to do this as a kid with hundreds of other kids. Except we would all be completely naked. All boys and girls would take all our clothes off and do it all together. We did this from when we were six until we were 15. We were all school mates, so we knew who everyone was. Everyone knew what everyone else looked like naked. No one cared. While we didn't know how boys and girls were different, boys knew boys had penises and girls had this slit where their penises should be. And girls knew that girls had vaginas and boys had this thing where their vaginas should be. Also, there were no gender bathrooms so all the boys and girls had to shower and relieve themselves together.
Micha , Russia
07/08/2017 12:59
Wonderful! I am envious alas our american children, are soft, and frail, and weak.
Phyllis DeVries, Juneau Alaska
07/04/2016 21:28
I have practiced for several years taking a hot-cold shower shock cure, particularly when I have the slightest feeling of catching a cold or flu, and it really works, I can tell there is nothing that comes even close to this kind of cure, not even pain killers.

The technique I use is, by start showering in fairly hot water, then switch over to colder, I switch between hot and cold and increase respectively decrease the temperature more and more for every time I switch over, and then finishing off with warm shower, a bonus is the amazing and very light feeling in the body afterwards.

To get rid of the cold/flu I usually don't need to do this more than a second time the day after or two, but be cautious the virus might still be in the body for a week even if one feel very well, so before it's gone completely any physical stress is best to be avoided.
Räikkönen, Finland
21/02/2016 09:21
Coming from someone who lives in a city that regularly goes above 40 deg celcius in summer, those ice buckets make me feel optimistic too.

Want to ship some to my address? lol
Mark, Adelaide, Australia
17/02/2016 16:38
Only if previously they were in a sauna or very hot enviroment.
Enrique, Spain
11/02/2016 20:06
Well done to the children! I agree with the health benefits (physical and neurological). I have run from the sauna to the snow (and back again) after a day of skiing. This does not come anywhere close to everyday ice bucket showers I realize, so I am very impressed and encouraged to see such happy, healthy, adventurous young people. Please keep on going!
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
11/02/2016 04:48

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