Keeping kids active when it's cold outside
Tips to keep your children moving all winter
Don't let cold weather stand in the way of children's physical activity. The winter months provide ample opportunities for active games indoors and out, says David Gallahue, dean of Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Gallahue, an expert on children and physical activity, offers the following tips:
- Dress for the weather and get outside. "If children are properly bundled, they can be outside for hours. The key is to dress in layers," Gallahue said. He recommends a first and second layer of moisture-wicking fabrics like polypropylene. "Don't have cotton close to the body, because it will trap moisture against the skin. Look for fabrics with wicking features that move moisture away," he said. For a third layer, add fleece for warmth, and then finish with a waterproof outer layer. "Add a hat, preferably made of wicking fabric, and mittens, which are better than gloves for keeping little fingers warm. If there's snow outside, eye protection and sunscreen are a must," he said.
- "Give it a name, make it a game." A walk through the park becomes an adventure when you're hunting for acorns or identifying winter birds. "A walk along a stream can be a 'creek hike' to find fossils or geodes. How about a 'tree hike' where you take rubbings of five different types of bark? Give your trip a name and a goal to make it exciting," Gallahue said. Older children can use a map and compass or the Global Positioning System to find landmarks or hidden treasures you've planted in advance. "With a little planning, you can put together a scavenger hunt for things like animal tracks, pine cones or interesting ice formations," he said.
- Visit a zoo or a farm. Places that house animals are fun winter destinations for learning how life changes throughout the seasons. "At the zoo you can see which animals are hibernating and which can survive in the cold. Or visit a farm to see how the farmers take care of their animals during the winter," he said.
- Make snow and ice your playthings. "Ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing and building snow sculptures are all great ways to enjoy the outdoors," he said.
- Create indoor adventures. "With younger children, imaginative play can be a great way to be active. Build a fort or tent in the bedroom and make up a story to act out. Let's say we're taking our camera, hunting for a bear to photograph. So we stalk the bear all around the house. Then we jump into our cardboard canoe and paddle to the other side of the river. Now we're pretending to climb a tall tree so we can get a better view. Capture a child's imagination and be absolutely silly. You can also act out nursery rhymes or favorite stories in the same way."
- Have a family step contest. For older children, pedometers can be a great tool for a goal-oriented family activity that brings activity indoors. "Work as a team or have a contest to see who can get the most steps around the house each day. The winner gets to pick the next family outing, or the whole family can celebrate breaking its old record. Children aged 7-12 are great with devices and gadgets. They'll find creative ways to work in more steps to see the numbers add up," he said.