Parenting Tips

Should Kids Play Outside During Winter?

Author: Best Brains Dec 28, 2020

A young girl on a sled sliding downhill while her father watches

Wintertime can be a very special time for families, when we enjoy time off from work and school, celebrate holidays together, and share uniquely wintery activities that just aren't possible or as fun at the other times of year.

However, wintertime can often lead to stagnation. Days are shorter, temperatures drop, and there's definitely an impulse to cocoon ourselves on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, a mug of cocoa, and shut out the world until Spring. But if we do that, we're not only missing out on what makes winter so special, we're also doing a disservice to our kids. Kids need physical activity all year round, and they can't get it without being let outside to play, no matter the season.

But why is it so important that our kids get daily exercise? Is it just to control their body weight, and counteract the effects of couch sitting and popcorn munching? Though physical activity is most often linked in pop culture to weight loss and weight management, the truth is that staying active has a wide variety of benefits, both for kids and adults. Just as weight is not the only indicator of good or bad health, physical activity can have only a minor connection to a person's weight. When it comes to child development, the positive effects of physical activity are numerous. 

Children over 6 years old should have at least 1 hour of physical activity per day. Since their bodies are developing every day, physical activity helps them build strong bones, muscles, nervous systems, and vascular systems. Physical activity also increases flexibility, stamina, balance, fine motor skills, and posture. All this activity is good for the brain as well as the body. Not only does physical activity improve cognition in kids, but it is also linked to self-esteem, mental health, and socialization.

With so many benefits for your child, there is no reason to limit their physical activity at any part of the year. So, why do so many parents keep kids in the house for much of the winter months? What are the risks associated with outdoor activity in cold weather?

Many parents avoid extensive time outdoors with their kids due to fears of illness. Cold weather has always been thought of as causing the spread of germs or a weakened immune system, so much so that we've dubbed common nose and throat infections "colds." So, is this reputation scientifically true? Yes and no.

Studies suggest that being cold does weaken the immune system. So yes, when our kids walk around with their coats undone or underdressed for the season, it does make them more likely to catch a cold. However, this is an easy fix, and all the more reason to encourage activity when children are outside to keep their heart rates and body heat higher. Cold air is also drier than warm air, and breathing in dry air over time can affect the body's ability to fight infection. Room humidifiers or taking a hot shower after prolonged exposure to cold, dry air are good ways to counteract this effect.

Another reason that winter is associated with colds is because we tend to go outside less often. Germs are more likely to be spread indoors than outdoors, so the longer you're inside, the more likely you are to get sick. Additionally, in wintertime we tend to get less sun, which is a vital source of Vitamin D. Absorbing sunlight through the skin helps keep our immune system in check and fight fatigue and general achiness.

As long as proper precautions are taken, outdoor activities are essential to a child's health in the wintertime. Plus, there are so many unique wintertime activities you don't want to miss out on!

First, we know that not every area experiences winter the same way. In many places in the US, the temperature does not drop enough to form ice and snow. However, there are places most of us can visit close by in wintertime that do. So, if you're in a place that doesn't usually experience below-freezing temperatures, perhaps plan a trip for the family and create new memories!

Here are some of our favorite wintertime activities in snowy or icy environments!

  • Snow painting
  • Frozen dreamcatchers
  • Snowball fights
  • Snow-based desserts
  • Ice block building

And here are some activities you can do at any temperature!

  • Creating bird feeders
  • Window painting
  • Bonfires
  • Winter gardening
  • Flashlight tag

Will you be encouraging your kids to spend more time outside this winter? Be safe and have fun!