Playing outside in the winter

Written by Laurie Lafortune

All parent educators agree that outdoor active play is important for children’s health and learning.

But most parents have had the experience of getting the kids all bundled up and appropriately dressed to play outside in the winter, only to find that the children have difficulty staying occupied and may want to come right back inside. Proper warm clothing is a must, but a parent can also plan activities and provide materials to engage the children’s interest. Before you head out, have a plan in mind of what you might do for play-you don’t want to be standing around when it’s cold out.

Here are some ideas to help children get fresh air and exercise, keeping active during the long, cold winter season.

Digging in the snow is always fun, and will engage the children for much longer if they are focused on a goal such as making a fort, creating a hill, or even helping you shovel the sidewalk. Tunnels are fun, but can be dangerous. Do not allow the children to tunnel in the snow, in case of a collapse. Have child sized, or small snow shovels that are small enough for kids to handle, but sturdy enough to accomplish the task. Get involved in the project yourself-it’s fun, and an excellent opportunity to make plans, problem-solve and work cooperatively.

Winter walks can be tiring and cold, unless you find ways to make things more interesting. Walk in a park or open field and make different types of footprints. Let the children be ‘detectives’ and figure out whose tracks are whose. Point out any bird and animal tracks, or make your own. Follow your tracks back home. Use a stick to draw or make the letters of the your child’s name in the snow

Children will enjoy watching birds and will have an opportunity to experience empathy for other living things if you hang a bird feeder where it is easily seen from inside. Let the children take turns filling the bird feeder. Make a chart and children can count the number of birds that they see. Older children can draw pictures of the birds or take photos.

Have a treasure hunt in the snow, and allow the children to dig up items that you have previously buried.

Often, the snow is too dry for making snowmen. On warmer days when the snow is sticky, be sure to bundle up and take advantage of the opportunity to build snowmen or snow animals. Have carrots, buttons, old hats and other items. For young children, be sure to explain about melting-sadly their snow people won’t last too long.

Find an untouched area of snow and teach the children the arm and leg movements to make snow angels. Use a stick and help them write their name in the snow beside their angels.

The traditional game of Fox and Geese is basically a tag game played on snow paths.  Make a large circular path in the snow by dragging both feet, then make paths leading to centre of the circle. Stomp down the centre area which is ‘home’. One person is the fox, the other are the geese. The fox chases the geese around and tries to tag them. If someone is tagged, they become a fox also.  Players must stay on the paths. This running game is lots of fun in deep snow.

Go for a walk with the sleigh or toboggan. Let the children take turns pulling and of course you will be doing a lot of pulling, too. Be prepared that these walks will be shorter than a summer walk with a stroller or bikes-if the children sit too long, they will feel cold.

Go sledding. For preschoolers, you don’t need much of a hill for them to have fun. Even a small slope will provide lots of fun in sliding down or rolling down a snowy hill.

There are only a few days where the weather is so severe that no one should be outside. Be sure to check the temperature and wind-chill warnings.  On most days, you and your children will both be able to benefit from the fresh air and exercise of outdoor winter fun.