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Published on January 31, 2018

kids playing outside in the winter

(Safe) Winter Fun for Kids

If you live in the upper Midwest, you have most likely complained about winter weather.

Even though this is our home, we usually don’t care for the bitter cold, winter winds, and snow storms. But one of the interesting things about children is that most of them don’t seem to mind the cold weather. They just want to be outside.

Time outside, even in winter, is good for us and it’s good for kids. As long as a few precautions are taken, time outside provides fresh air, fun and exercise.

Dress for Winter Success

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends outside play for kids as long as the wind chill factor is 15 below zero or higher. Dress your child in layers for warmth. Invest in wool socks that can be layered over regular socks, and that fit inside boots. Hands can be kept warm by wearing a pair of stretchy gloves, with a larger pair of mittens over them.

A hat is a must. Choose one with straps that snap or Velcro under the chin to help it stay on. Watch out for any strings or fabric longer than 7 inches on items such as scarves, strings on mittens or hats or belts. These can wrap around a child’s neck or get caught on playground equipment or under sleds, causing a strangulation hazard. Remember that it is illegal for children’s clothing to have strings in any hood.

Watch the Clock

The amount of time kids can play outside in cold weather depends on temperature and wind chill, as well as how warm and dry the kids remain. School-age kids can usually tell when they are getting too cold, but you can help them recognize that when fingers or toes get numb, or when socks and mittens are soaked, it’s time to go inside. Sometimes kids will ignore these signs because they’re having fun, so keep an eye on the clock.

Toddlers and preschoolers aren’t able to judge when they get too cold, so make sure to periodically check those little ears, fingers and toes. If rosy cheeks start getting blotchy, it’s a sign of frost “nip” or mild frostbite, and it means it’s time to go inside.

When it’s extremely cold, join your kids in bundling up for a run around the house three or four times, counting or singing as together you run. It gives kids a little bit of exercise and fresh air, even though you can’t stay out very long.

If you’re ready for some amusement, here are a few ideas for fun in the snow:

  • Fill spray bottles with water and a little bit of food coloring and spray the snow. You could also use small cups of colored water and droppers, too.
  • Try blowing bubbles outside on a very cold day to see if they will freeze.
  • Blow up some balloons and take them outside to see what happens. Try to keep the balloons up in the air.
  • Fill balloons with colored water and tie. Freeze outside or in the freezer. An adult can peel off the balloon and immediately discard the pieces. Then use the colored ice balls to decorate a snow fort or snow sculpture. You can also partially hide the frozen balls in the snow and count them, or name the colors as you find them.

(Remember to take caution with balloons. They’re dangerous and only should be used with adult supervision. Never let a child chew on an uninflated balloon or try to blow up a balloon because it can cause choking. If a balloon breaks, immediately gather all the pieces and put them in the trash.)

  • Make an exercise maze by making a track in the snow and marking off spots with a toy or small flag. When you get to the marker, the kids take turns choosing a movement activity like 10 jumping jacks, twirling in a circle five times, jumping in the air while you count to 50 or flapping your arms.
  • After a fresh snowfall, take a family walk to the park or other open area and look for animal tracks. Take pictures of the tracks and see if you can identify them at home.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on the snow and give the kids small spray-bottles filled with white vinegar. Spray the soda and see what happens. You could also use medicine droppers and small cups of vinegar.

As long as parents help kids properly dress and watch the clock and the thermometer, outdoor play in the winter can be healthy fun. When it’s time to go inside and warm up, try a cup of hot chocolate.

I think that’s the best part of playing outside on a winter day.

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