Help your kids stay active outside this winter (and enjoy it) with a few simple tips. It might be cold out there, but adventure still awaits!
When temperatures drop, it’s easy to hunker down, get cozy and stay inside. But let’s not forget the benefits of outdoor play, which don’t go on hiatus over the winter. With proper clothing and a positive attitude, we can still get outside, stay active and have fun!
Before we tackle the central HOW component of this post, let’s give ourselves extra motivation by reviewing several reasons for WHY it’s important to help your kids get outdoors and enjoy the cold weather.
WHY your kids should stay active outdoors this winter
Getting outdoors in the winter isn’t always easy, but there are many reasons why it is worth the effort. Contrary to common misconceptions, outdoor play in winter is beneficial to your kids’ health and well-being. Here are some of the reasons why we should get outside even when the temperatures drop:
- Despite several myths, playing outside in the cold actually strengthens your children’s immune system. Leave your fears of bacteria and dust behind and venture out into the fresh air!
- As we know, kids need to stay active. Playing outside helps them burn off “extra energy” and avoids a sedentary lifestyle. It helps with concentration in class and keeps them from bouncing off the walls.
- Playing outside in the cold helps kids problem solve when facing new challenges: slippery surfaces, harder surfaces, less flexible materials, loose parts frozen in place.
- Continues exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D. Getting their daily dose of sunlight provide essential Vitamin D, which helps with mental, physical, and emotional health. Sunlight can help improve mood and mental planning skills, help with concentration and energy levels, contribute to bone strength and heart health, and helps regulate circadian rhythms. It only takes 10-20 minutes for their daily dosage of vitamin D, which is doable even in the depth of winter.
- Children get to experience and interact with the outdoors from a different perspective. What used to be green might now be white. Puddles they used to splash in might now be hard and slippery. Instead of splashing around, they can practice breaking the ice.
- Using different muscles; gross motor development. Just like running in sand is different from running on pavement, moving around in the snow engages different muscles than playing on grass or dirt. Pulling a sled up a hill, pushing a snowball around the yard, not to mention skating and skiing — these activities help children continue to develop balance, coordination and gross motor skills.
HOW to help your kids stay active outside this winter
layers, layers, layers
Dress in layers! Start with a base layer of merino wool or moisture-wicking long underwear, then a layer of fleece or wool, then a weatherproof outer layer. Consider loose clothing, as the air in between the layers can act as extra insulation.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good accessory! Wool hats, wool socks, waterproof gloves with long sleeves, ski goggles (even just for backyard play), and balaclavas can all keep in their body heat and help them be more comfortable.
timing is everything
Don’t expect to be outdoors for hours at a time. It’s ok to keep your outdoor sessions limited, even if means going out in short bursts. Take frequent breaks, especially when the temperature dips. Yes, you may spend longer getting ready to get outside than actually playing outside, but you can still chalk it up to a WIN.
Choose an active activity that keeps your blood pumping. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, skating, nature walks — these are great activities to help maintain your core temperature. Just make sure you don’t overdress — You want to avoid sweating too much since wet clothes will promote heat loss. (This is where layers come into play!)
prepare a warm treat
Have a thermos of hot chocolate at the ready!
make a fire
Make a campfire and visit it every so often to soothe any frozen digits (but keep in mind the next bullet point).
If your clothing gets wet, go in and change right away. That also goes for gloves/mittens that get soaked. Wet clothes and accessories will only make you colder!
consider indoor/outdoor activities
When the weather is too extreme, consider alternatives. Think about where indoors and outdoors might collide: greenhouses, zoos, nature centers, aviaries. Even skating rinks!
interact with nature from indoors
Extreme weather may also lead to an adjustment in your get-outside policy. You can still interact with nature from inside your home to tide you over until your next outdoor adventure. Set up an observation zone near a door or window. Get a notepad, binoculars, art supplies. Ask your child to observe what they see. How many birds? What kind of birds? What kind of trees do they see: deciduous or evergreen? How can they tell?
When deciding whether or not it’s “safe” for you to play outside, be mindful of the windchill and make a decision that is right for your family. For some of you, the “no way” zone is temperatures less than 20 degrees. For others, that zone may be temperatures less than 13. Regardless, do what is right for you, feel no guilt.
For more information on the effect of windchill, check out this chart: https://www.weather.gov/safety/cold-wind-chill-chart
WHAT your kids can do to stay active outside this winter
- Go skating, skiing, sledding, tubing, snowshoeing.
- Go for a nature walk. How do your surroundings look different from last season?
- After a fresh snowfall, go tracking. Do you see evidence of any wildlife? Check out this article for tips on tracking wildlife with kids: https://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/wildlife-detectives-tracking-in-new
- Visit your local playground, see how their experience is different… Or the same!
- Carve/build a sledding path. For older kids, challenge them to build a banked turn.
- No snow? Biking, scootering, roller blading.
- Go on a winter scavenger hunt! (See form below for GTKO’s own.)
- Make snow angels, build snow forts and snow men.
- Go for a photo walk, noting the particular beauty of the season.
- Go birdwatching. With fewer leaves on the trees, birds can be easier to spot in the winter. Using binoculars and an identification book or app, see how many different birds you can name. (Better when the temperature doesn’t dip too far, since this activity requires less movement!)
- Play in the dark! Don’t let the earlier sunset inhibit your time outside. Consider some of these outdoor activities to do after dark.
- Target practice. If the snow allows, choose a tree or other object outside. Make several snowballs and see if you can hit the target. No snow? Use acorns!
- Tree identification: Check out the evergreen trees nearby and see how many you can name. Study their bark, cones, needles and note any differences. Check out this resource: https://www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/whatTree.cfm?ItemID=E6A
- Set up an obstacle course in your yard. Include unexpected elements like “make a snowman” or “slither through this snow tunnel”.
- Build a shelter, lean-to or fort.
- Fun with sticks! Gather a collection of sticks and see where inspiration takes you!
- Play hide and seek! Or switch things up and hide Easter eggs around your yard, surprising your kids with the unexpected.
- If you are limited to the space directly around your house, consider a few backyard nature activities, many of which can be done in all weather.
Helping your kids stay active outside this winter (beyond just snowmen and sledding) can be bring many rewards. Start by thinking through a family Winter Lockdown Survival Guide and see this as an opportunity for adventure. Make a plan, get out there, dress appropriately and find joy in being outside on a cold day!