Keeping kids active in the summer is easy: Long, sunny days are filled with playground time, bike riding, swimming, sports, and more. Winter…not so much. Cooler temps coupled with cloudy skies can convince us to stay inside and get cozy on the couch, making it near impossible to ensure your kid is getting the recommended one hour or more of physical activity each day. But before your family decides to hibernate until spring, try these kid-friendly tips for staying active in the winter.
Tip 1: Get outside
We know it’s cold, but that’s no excuse to stay indoors (unless it’s really, really cold). Seriously. Forget what you’ve heard about chilly weather being bad for kids — getting them outdoors in the winter can actually boost their immune systems, give them a much-needed dose of Vitamin D, and provide plentiful opportunities for physical activity.
But how cold is too cold? That depends. In Nordic countries, children spend several hours a day outside even when temperatures drop below freezing. But in the U.S., that’s not the norm, though there are no national weather guidelines regarding when children should be kept inside. The best advice? Use common sense and keep these tips in mind:
—Don’t just read the thermometer; pay attention to the wind chill. Wind chill is different from the temperature — it tells us how cold it feels, and windy days mean the air feels colder than it actually is. Be extra cautious when the wind chill or the temperature drop below freezing.
—Check the hourly forecast and plan to spend time outdoors during the warmest part of the day. A parent or sitter should supervise play and have kids take regular breaks to warm up inside.
—Dress kids in layers and outerwear that is water- and wind-resistant. This will keep them warm and dry. Gloves, hats, and boots are a must.
—Children who are less mobile are more likely to get colder faster. Dress babies and young children in an extra layer.
—Slather on the sunscreen. UV rays are still strong in the winter even when the sun isn’t out. On sunny days, particularly if there is snow on the ground, make sure the kids have sunglasses too.
—Know the signs of cold-weather related injuries like hypothermia and frostbite.
Tip 2: Bring the outdoors in
No matter how tough kids are when it comes to cold weather, sometimes staying inside is your only option. Cabin fever can make the days drag, and no one wants to deal with little ones who are losing their minds from a lack of physical activity. Battle winter sluggishness by bringing classic outdoor activities inside. Here are a few to try:
—While the sand and water table is a backyard mainstay in the summer, there’s no reason it needs to be stashed away during the colder months. Set it up inside and fill the table with rice instead of sand and water as well as cups, spoons and other scooping devices for some easy sensory fun. Sensory activities are always a hit with toddlers—and they are great for building developmental skills. And while this may not sound like high intensity exercise, having younger kids moving around and engaging with active play totally counts.
—Hopscotch is easy, fun, and will get your kids moving—and you can do it indoors. Clear a large space in any room, then with masking tape, create hopscotch squares. Number the squares using the tape starting with 1 in the first box, 2 in the second box, and so on. That’s it! Hopscotch is perfect for working on balance, gross motor skills, and even counting.
—Take your dance party up a notch with a game of freeze. Play your kid’s favorite music, turn up the volume, then when the music stops, everyone freezes. They may find themselves in some silly positions, which will only make the game more fun.
Tip 3: Join an indoor sports team or activity
Winter is the perfect time to get kids to try a new activity or sport. Soccer, dance, gymnastics, ice skating, hockey, karate, and even swimming are available indoors and year-round. Local park district sports leagues and children’s programs are usually reasonably priced and offer a variety of activities your child can join in the winter. Kids won’t just get exercise, they’ll also learn new skills, make new friends and have fun. Depending on the age of your child, stick with one or two structured physical activities per week — too many can become overwhelming.
Tip 4: Visit indoor play spaces and playgrounds
In many communities, rec centers, gymnasiums, child-friendly restaurants and businesses, and even malls offer indoor playground equipment where kids can burn off energy (and get that recommended daily dose of physical activity) without having to brave the bitter cold.
Indoor play spaces and playgrounds can vary in pricing from free to a small fee. If you’re a regular user, many even offer memberships or multiple-use passes. Put together a list of options in your town that you can quickly reference when you need to get the kids out of the house, but aren’t sure where to go or what to do. Not sure where to start? Check with your park district as well as dance studios and gymnasiums. With a little bit of planning and effort, you’ll find that keeping your kids active in the winter is simple and fun and will help keep everyone sane.