Contributor Dr. Elise Herman
We know how important it is for our kids to get outside regularly; all that fresh air and running around has numerous benefits. When it is cold, parents sometimes hesitate to let their kids out for fear that colder weather will make them sick. But it is actually the exposure to sick people and the viruses they carry that causes problems this time of year.
Winter play boosts physical and emotional wellness, builds muscle mass, and improves sleep. It means getting away from electronics and the temptation for unnecessary snacking. It also means avoiding crowded indoor spaces which can make it easy for viruses to spread. Vitamin D absorption is another bonus, especially if it is sunny. Exploring the outdoors in winter gives kids important exposure to nature which can lower stress. Getting outside when it is cold, blustery, snowing, etc. builds grit and toughness- in kids and parents!
Remember your childhood and what you loved to do in winter- maybe building a snow fort or creating a silly snowman. Sledding, cross-country skiing, and just going for snowy walks are terrific activities to do with kids. A scavenger hunt in winter helps kids slow down and pay attention. Can they find a bird’s nest in a tree or animal tracks in the snow? There are lots of suggestions online for outdoor play, but often children will just make their own fun without us adults “scripting” their activity.
To help keep kids warm out there, remember to dress them in multiple thin layers. Boots and gloves should be insulated and ideally waterproof. A hat and neck gaiter (safer than scarves, especially on younger children) really help on cold days. Infants and babies should wear one more layer than an adult would as a rule of thumb. If clothing gets wet, kids should come in quickly and change to avoid hypothermia.
There are some recommendations in terms of when it is too cold for kids to be outside safely. Pay attention to both the temperature and even more importantly the wind chill (what the temperature ‘feels like’). If the wind chill is 32 degrees and above, outdoor play is fine. If it is 13-31 degrees, just remember to take breaks to warm up perhaps every 30-60 minutes. Below 13 degrees windchill, outdoor play may not be safe for most kids though older kids may be OK for a limited time if they are dressed appropriately. Infants and babies tend to get cold faster since they are not playing actively and may also not complain of being too cold. Watch them carefully for signs of hypothermia- shivering, red cold skin, and decreased energy level.
Admittedly, it is easier to get outside on a beautiful spring day, but outdoor exercise in these colder months is equally important. Try to get your kids outside regularly this winter and lead by example. Your whole family will benefit by embracing winter in all its beauty and opportunities.
The local Kittitas Environmental Education Network puts out a seasonal kids’ newsletter and has some great info and ideas for wintertime fun with kids of all ages:https://www.ycic.org/_files/ugd/fbe211_0fb63dcb09744990994f0d205f32cb52.pdf
more about The contributor
Dr. Elise Herman
Dr. Herman is passionate about community health outreach, school programs, and child/family health and wellness. She has more than 31 years of experience as a pediatrician in Ellensburg, Washington, the last 3 with KVH Pediatrics. In 2022 Dr. Herman mostly retired from practice and continues to contribute blog posts and remain a visible advocate for kids in the community.