4 reasons your kids (and you) should play outside during winter

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Dr. Hilary Morley
Dr. Hilary Morley

Whatever the season, kids need to spend time playing outdoors. Being inactive takes a toll on your child’s weight and mood. Unless conditions are unsafe or blizzard-like, don’t let winter keep your kids inside, spending too much time on electronic devices. WVU Medicine Children’s pediatrician Hilary Morley, MD, highlights some of the advantages of outdoor winter play.

1. Fresh air boosts your child’s immunity.
Layer up and take in some fresh air to improve your immune system. Did you know that indoor air may expose your kids to more germs and bacteria? It’s a myth that cold weather causes a cold or the flu. Get together with other parents and kids for a play date at a local playground; it will provide a much-needed break from being cooped up in the house.

2. Vitamin D from the sun enhances mood.
It’s important that your child gets vitamin D, which is provided by the sun. With just 10-15 minutes outside in the sun, your child will get their daily dose of vitamin D, which improves mood, calcium absorption for healthy bones, and overall health.

3. Exercise creativity.
A winter wonderland in your backyard, neighborhood, or at a local park is an imagination station waiting to happen. Toys can be used in different ways in the snow, and the challenges of a winter landscape – maneuvering in layers of clothing or in snow – may open up your child’s creative possibilities of play and problem-solving skills.

4. Connect with nature.
Kids need to be exposed to the beauty and enjoyment of nature year round, even with challenges like ice and snow. It expands their development and growth. Have a winter picnic with hot beverages, like cocoa or apple cider, watch for birds and other animals, and listen to the sounds around you. Make snow angels and look up at the sky identifying shapes or images in the clouds.

More ideas for outdoor winter play:

  • Hand them a snow shovel - Show them how to use it safely, and ask your child to help clear the driveway or walkways. You might be surprised to find out that your kids actually like helping out with this chore. Plus, they can put the snow in a big pile and play in it later.
  • Make outdoor art - Fill spray bottles with food coloring and water and use them to draw in the snow.
  • Hide and seek - This classic game never goes out of style, and now your kids can use snow to hide behind.
  • Spruce up a tree - Decorate it with paper snowflakes or any kind of art.
  • Play “I spy” - What animals, plants, and colors can you find on a wintry walk? First one to five or 10 wins.
  • Make snow sculptures - Use containers from your recycling bin to help you make different shapes and sizes from snow sculptures. You can also freeze water in containers to create building blocks. Make a family of snow people modeled after your own.
  • Try summer sports in winter - Kickball, baseball, or playing catch may be more challenging and fun. Build your bases or goals out of snow.
  • Sled ride safely - Avoid trees, roads, debris, and any other hazards.

How to play it safe:

  • Don’t go out in an active blizzard, ice storm, or during high winds. Watch out for cold weather hazards, like ice and sharp icicles.
  • Use wind-chill as a good indicator for when it’s too cold to play outside. For a wind-chill of 32 degrees and above, it’s safe for kids to be outside. When the temperature dips to anywhere from 31 to 13 degrees, indoor breaks should happen every 20-30 minutes. For wind-chills of 13 degrees and below, stay indoors as frostbite can set in quickly.
  • Dress children with an extra layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions.
  • If it’s too cold to play outside, try videos games that get your kids up and moving or have a dance party to your family’s favorite music. Go to a bowling alley, fitness center, ice skating rink, or indoor play area.

Is your child due for a checkup? Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE

WVU Medicine, in partnership with BOPARC, is working to help create more inclusive and accessible playgrounds throughout Morgantown's City Parks. Learn more.

Play for All BOPARC and WVU Medicine partnership