Winter brings cold weather and snow, but it can still be fantastic time for outdoor play. Opportunities for exploration are endless: forts can be built, tracks can be identified and followed, birds can observed, snowmen and winter fairy houses can be made…along with the traditional wintertime activities like sledding, snowshoeing, skiing/snowboarding, skating, and ice fishing.
Not only is outdoor activity fun in winter, there are many benefits to it. This is the time of year where illness and germs are more prevalent. Getting out in fresh air during the winter months helps build the immune system by exposing children to bacteria naturally found outdoors, and allowing them to escape the indoor germs. Additionally, wintertime outdoor play provides essential vitamin D, which is supplied to us by the sun. Adequate vitamin D intake helps promote better moods and energy levels, as well as increases calcium absorption which is necessary for strong bones. And finally, time outdoors in winter also offers fun exercise – think about the activity involved with sledding. Walking repeatedly through the snow uphill – that takes a significant amount of work!
Here are some tips for managing the cold and enjoying wintertime outdoor activities:
- Stay Warm. Dress in layers. This involves wearing a base (wicking) layer close to the body (such as a good pair of long underwear), an intermediate layer for warmth and insulation (fleeces and wools work well for this), and an outer layer to protect from the elements. Wear appropriate outerwear, including a hat, gloves/mittens, and, if the weather is cold enough, face protection in the form of a cowl or balaclava. A good pair of wool socks, along with sturdy winter boots, will keep feet nice and cozy. A glove liner layer can help keep hands warm, and if your little one’s hands are always cold, slip a hand warmer between the glove liner layer and the outer glove. Also, keep in mind, mittens tend to hold more warmth around the fingers than gloves.
- Stay Dry. Moisture is the enemy of outdoor fun. Once wet, it is difficult to keep warm, and the danger of frostbite or hypothermia increases. A breathable waterproof outer layer will keep wet snow from reaching the body, while also allowing internal moisture generated by body heat to escape. Waterproof gloves/mittens and boots will ensure that hands and feet stay dry as well.
- Stay Active. Movement generates body heat, which will help keep a person warm in winter weather. Go for a winter walk, build a snowman, take the snowshoes out for a hike, shovel a maze of paths, make a snow fort…there are so many opportunities for outdoor winter play when children use their imaginations. If a child is not active while outside in winter, he or she will get cold. So, it is important for children to move around and have fun.
**While there is enjoyment to be had exploring nature in winter, it is also important to be cautious of extreme cold. During times of extreme low temperatures, consider significantly limiting time spent outdoors or even postponing outdoor winter nature activities until the weather warms up. Times of extreme cold, offer an excellent opportunity for reading and sipping hot cocoa!