In the winter months, the reduced number of hours of daylight and chilly temperatures can make it more difficult to ensure kids get at least an hour to play outside each day. However, there are multiple ways in which kids benefit from playing outdoors in the winter that make it worth putting aside time for play and bundling everyone up for an outdoor adventure.
Playtime outdoors in the winter keeps kids healthy
Spending time outdoors provides an opportunity for everyone in the family to get some fresh air and provides a break from the recycled, heated air indoors. The recycled air indoors can contain germs and allergens like dust and pet dander. Spending time outdoors reduces the amount of time kids are exposed to the germs and allergens in the air indoors, actually making it less likely they will get sick or have allergy trouble.
Outdoor play provides an opportunity for kids to exercise large muscle groups while they play games and explore the outdoors. Your child continues to grow during the winter months and daily exercise helps support her muscle development and gives her a chance to practice her motor skills. Also, research studies suggest that exercise can help give a boost to the immune system, which may help the body fight germs.
Spending time playing outdoors ensures your child is exposed to sunlight. Getting enough exposure to sunlight during the day helps regulate your child’s sleep pattern. Also, research studies may have found a link between exposure to sunlight and mood. Sunlight may stimulate the brain to release a hormone called serotonin. Researchers suggest that low serotonin levels may be associated with an increased risk of depression.
Winter outdoor play encourages kids to explore and use their imagination
Playing outdoors encourages kids to take a break from screen time and explore their surroundings. Take your kids on a nature walk and help them compare the way the plants and wildlife look in the winter versus the way they looked during summer. Bring along some binoculars and use a picture guide of birds found in your area to help identify the birds your kids see.
Even if ice and snow are a rarity where you live, your family can still have some winter fun. When the overnight temperatures drop below freezing, create ‘ice jewels’ by filling ice trays with water, adding food coloring and leaving them outside overnight. On the days when it does snow, after ensuring kids are dressed for the weather, give them plenty of time outdoors to enjoy the transformed winter landscape with all its new opportunities for imaginative play.
Dressing the part
As long as kids are bundled properly, stay dry and occasionally go inside to warm up, outdoor play in the winter can be extremely beneficial. Dress your kids in layers to keep them warm. The layers help prevent the loss of body heat. Also, layers make it easy to adjust for outdoor temperatures rising as the day goes on or your child becoming warm from exercising.
- Select a base layer made of wicking material, not cotton.
- The next layer should be made of an insulating material like wool or fleece.
- The outer layer should be a waterproof jacket that will help protect your child from wind and repel moisture.
- A hat, gloves and scarf protect skin from the cold winter air and help keep your child warm.
- Keep feet warm with heavy socks made from a non-cotton material.
Lambert GW, Reid C, Kaye DM, Jennings GL, Esler MD. Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet 2002;360:1840-2. 6.
– Thieu, Phan X, et al Intrinsic Photosensitivity Enhances Motility of T Lymphocytes, Scientific Reports, 2016.