Winter is here. And as we brace ourselves for the colder months, it’s time we as parents take a different view to winter for our kids. There are benefits of playing outside in winter for our children’s health and development; however, due to many parents’ fear for their children’s safety and health, many children will find themselves stuck inside in front of a screen for the foreseeable future. This year, we need to approach winter with a positive attitude and make sure our children reap the benefits of playing outside in winter!
- Children get to see the Outdoors through a New Lens
Summer months bring warm weather, increased hours of sunlight, and outdoor activities are thrusted upon children. The same cannot be said about winter. Children often find themselves cooped up, with their only contact to the outside world being their walk to and from their bus stop. This means they miss seeing fallen leaves, frost on cars, snow, and ice. The different experience with nature encourages children to use their imagination and to be more creative when playing.
- Increases in Exercise and Using Different Muscles
The changes to our environment means we must use our muscles in a different way, and encourages the use of new muscles when moving. Activities such as sledding, walking or running through snow, or building a snowman put our larger muscles to work and help develop children’s gross motor skills.
- Getting Fresh Air and Avoiding Bacteria
We are told to believe that the cold weather brings on colds and flus; however, the increased time children spend indoors (where bacteria and viruses live), can be to blame for most of our illnesses in the winter. Germs can easily be passed between children who spend long periods of time in heated and poorly ventilated spaces such as at home or at school.
- New Challenges and Problem-Solving
Patches of ice and snow covered hills provide children with new opportunities and challenges which develops new problem solving skills. Children ask themselves “Do I slide across the ice, or army crawl?” Or “What’s the fastest way up (or down) this hill?”. Children love challenges, and the winter months provide them with so many new problems, challenges, and outcomes for them to explore.
- Vitamin D Exposure
Although people aren’t “solar powered”, we do require sunlight to help regulate our mental and emotional moods. Children get Vitamin D through sun exposure, and absorb it even though the sun is not as warm in the winter. This means that the more they sit inside, the lower their vitamin D levels are, and this leads to feelings of the “winter blues”. It is recommended that children spend about half an hour outdoors in the winter to keep vitamin D levels up.
Activities That Will Make You and Your Child Love Winter Play
The beautiful thing about play in the winter is that you can use your environment in completely different ways. Whether you are sliding on ice, building forts, or having a snowball fight; the world literally becomes your playground! Here are some fun activities for you and your child to try that take very little prep time or materials.
Gear Up: How to Best Dress Your Kids for Winter Play
Unlike the summer, children can’t be sent outside wearing whatever they want. Children need to be wrapped up in the appropriate clothing, so they don’t come home frozen! Here are some tips to ensure your child stays warm!
Dressing your child in layers keeps their body heat close to them allowing them to play longer. To properly dress your child in layers, you will need: a base layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer.
A base layer like a long polyester shirt wicks moisture away from the skin and keeps your child dry and warm. This layer should be snug to the body. The middle layer should be made of down or fleece material. This layer is meant to insulate the body. It should be close to the body, but should not restrain movement. The outer layer should consist of a waterproof winter coat. This layer is meant to protect your child from wind, rain, and snow. The outer layer should be loose enough to have at least two other layers under it.
When it comes to your hands, mittens are the best choice! All things being equal (fabrics, thickness, and insulation), mittens are warmer than gloves. Mittens retain heat by keeping your fingers together and decreasing the loss of evaporative heat. Choose mittens that are waterproof and insulated with either down or a synthetic down. Gloves can be kept in your child’s pockets or close by, as they allow better dexterity and are better for making snowballs.
The hat should cover your child’s entire head (ears included). Because children sometimes dislike wearing hats, a good tip is to let them help choose their own hat.
Snowpants must be warm, waterproof, and allow child to move freely while wearing them. Snowpants with suspenders or drawstrings at the waist allow your child to play without the fear of them falling down. Some snowpants also have drawstrings at the bottom to tighten around boots.
Like snowpants, boots should keep your child warm and dry. A good boot is insulated with down or synthetic down, and has drawstrings at the top to prevent any water or snow from soaking in. Don’t forget to choose a good pair of warm (non-cotton) socks for your child’s feet.
With so much to see and do outdoors, inside is no to be in the winter. Remember that with every breath of cold air you take, you are supporting your children’s health and happiness. This year, let’s not show winter the cold-shoulder; Bundle up and get outside!