Winter weather can make getting outdoors seem like an ordeal – cold temperatures, snow and ice and a lack of summer sunshine can make even the most outdoorsy family want to stay inside. Pooja Tandon, MD, a childhood health researcher with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and a pediatrician, encourages children and families to get out, no matter the weather.
A recent study led by Tandon found that nearly half of U.S. preschoolers did not have even one parent-supervised outdoor play opportunity per day. The study also found that girls are less likely to play outside than boys and that mothers took their children outside to play more often than fathers. Fifteen percent of mothers and 30 percent of fathers did not take their child outside to walk or play even a few times per week.
“Outdoor play is essential for children to learn skills and have experiences that may not be possible indoors,” says Tandon. Outdoor time provides opportunities for physical activity and motor development, as well as improved Vitamin D levels and probably better behavior and mental health. “Plus, the social interactions and sensory experiences children have outdoors may not really be feasible when playing indoors,” Tandon says.
Top 5 tips for getting kids outdoors in the winter
Tandon offers five tips parents can use to help get their families outdoors in the winter:
- Change your mindset about the weather: Don’t think of it as “bad weather,” but rather a time of year when children and adults alike probably desperately need some fresh air and exercise to keep up their health and spirits! Plus the wintertime offers some unique outdoor experiences: from winter sports and snow play to seeing a unique landscape in playgrounds and parks.
- Dress for success: Even in traditionally temperate climates, winter temperatures can drop below freezing, and it’s important for kids to be properly dressed for cold weather. Children will enjoy the outdoors more if they are warm and dry. Invest in warm boots, jackets and gloves for a more positive experience. Kids are more likely to try outdoor adventures again if they enjoy them. Remember, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing choices,” a motto Tandon picked up from Cedarsong Nature School.
- It’s more fun with friends and family: Harness the power of your social networks (neighbors, friends, relatives) because kids and adults may have more fun if they share outdoor experiences with others. Try a walk or hike with others, plan an outdoor playdate or head to a snow/ski area with others.
- Involve all of your child’s caregivers: Child care providers, teachers, grandparents and neighbors may spend considerable time with your children – and probably during peak daytime hours when it’s usually easiest to get outdoors. Talk with them about the importance of daily outdoor play and get their help in getting kids outdoors at times when you may not be able.
- Start local and easy: No need to buy fancy gear – bundle up and take a walk around your neighborhood with your child. Or plan simple activities to engage them: a scavenger hunt (looking for things of different colors, textures, etc.), collecting items for a craft later (pine cones, leaves), or a flashlight walk in the evening.
8 wintertime activities for kids
Get outdoors! Children are naturally curious and creative. By encouraging more outdoor playtime, parents provide more opportunities for physical activity, which is important for maintaining a healthy weight and promoting overall health and well-being. Tandon recommends eight outdoor activities for all budgets and skill levels:
- Create a nature book: Grab a camera, colored pencils, glue and a notebook and explore nature. Have kids write down observations and draw pictures of plants and animals. Collect twigs, leaves and flowers and glue them in the nature book. See how many plants a child can collect and take lots of pictures to document the places you explore.
- Go on a scavenger hunt: Make a list of items – pinecones, rocks, seeds, etc. Take a basket and collect the items on the list. Be sure to cross out each item you find. Add descriptors to the list as well – e.g. something smooth, rough, brown.
- Take a night hike: All you need is a flashlight or headlamp, warm clothes and walking shoes. Get the family together and take a night hike around the neighborhood.
- Collect rocks: Collect various rocks for rock crafts. All you need is glue, paint and wiggle eyes.
- Watch for wildlife: Grab binoculars, a magnifying glass and a pencil and paper and go for a wildlife watch. Have kids draw the animals they discover.
- Go on a color hunt: Grab a couple of color swatches and take the family on a “color hunt.” Help kids write down the color and name of each item, and draw a picture of each find.
- Take a bike ride: Take a family bike ride around the neighborhood. Make sure the whole family wears helmets!
- Go snowboarding or skiing: Hit the slopes! Spend a day mastering the bunny hills. Skiing and snowboarding are great ways to get kids moving. Just make sure you have protective gear and bundle up.
- Dr. Tandon: Resurrecting outdoor playtime
- Children and Nature Network
- Arbor Day Foundation
- Seattle Children’s helmet fittings and giveaways
If you’d like to arrange an interview with Dr. Tandon, please contact Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.