Kids NEED to get outside. It's a fact proven in many studies, and if you ask any parent they'll tell you the same. A dose of nature and fresh air is good for everyone, but children especially benefit by shedding excess energy and stimulating their brains to full potential. For those of us living in climates with freezing winters and lots of snow, getting out can be a big challenge. Just the thought of getting the kids (and ourselves) bundled up and out of the house can be exhausting. And then there's the challenge of finding fun things to do out in the cold. But once we're out, everyone enjoys themselves and we're all a lot happier later than if we'd just stayed inside.
Some of the many benefits of winter wandering
Soaking up Vitamin D. It protects against colds and improves mood.
Releasing energy. Kids can get as loud and silly as they want outside.
Inspiring creativity and problem solving. Without lots of toys, video games, and screen-time, kids are forced to use their imagination. The games children invent outdoors teach cooperation and self-awareness.
Appreciating nature. Observing the beauty of a snowflake or a flock of geese flying south fosters a love of nature that will last a lifetime.
Exercising good health. Kids who are active learn to love how good it feels, and are more likely to continue healthy behaviors into adulthood. Studies have shown that regular exercise reduces stress and aggression, and increases overall happiness.
Reducing symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
Many experts advise getting kids outside to play at least for a short period of time, even in temperatures as low as -18 F. Dan Flanders, M.D., a pediatrician based in Toronto, points out that the key to helping kids enjoy the outdoors in the winter is proper dress.
A good rule thumb in very cold weather is to dress in three layers: a base-layer (long undies) a mid-layer (fleece or wool) and a waterproof layer on top. Polyester and wool wick moisture away from the skin, and are great choices for base- and mid-layers.
Cold extremities are no fun! Add wool socks, waterproof mittens with a fleece layer underneath, and a balaclava for neck and head protection. You could even top it off with another hat. And these recommendations aren't just for kids. Make sure to dress warmly yourself so you can enjoy the time too. Chances are you won't be running around as much as your kids, so you might need the extra layers more than they do.
A few activities for winter wandering
Blowing frozen bubbles. In freezing weather bubbles will actually freeze as you blow them!
Finding a Geocache. A real-life treasure hunt! Geocaching.com rates the caches by difficulty for different ages and abilities.
Building a snow shelter. http://www.outdoors.org/publications/books/snow-shelter.cfm
Making snowballs. Have a snowball-throwing contest, throw them at a target, or see who can roll the biggest one.
Creating ice art. Freeze blocks and balloons filled with food-colored water and build with them (cut off the balloon first). You can also fill spray bottles with colored water and spray it on the snow.
Making colorful icicles. http://www.housingaforest.com/creating-colorful-icicles/
Eating outdoors. Make a fire and cook hotdogs and s'mores. Top clean snow with sugared food coloring for a winter slushie.
Shoveling snow. This may seem like boring work to adults, but kids love it. Especially jumping into the big snow pile at the end.
Playing it simple. Don't forget the importance of simple outdoor free play. It's ok not to always have an activity planned for your kids—just going to the playground can be a different experience in the snow. Being on their own with peers, they're forced to use their imagination, social skills, and much more.