Is it too cold to go outside to play?

Bundle up and head outdoors! Winter outdoor play is good for your children.

Do you want to build a snowman? Get outside and play this winter – it’s good for your children! Photo credit: Carrie Shrier | MSU Extension
Do you want to build a snowman? Get outside and play this winter – it’s good for your children! Photo credit: Carrie Shrier | MSU Extension

With the snow falling and winter winds blowing, it might be tempting to keep your young children indoors. However, with proper attire there is no reason to stop children from playing outside in the winter months! In fact, research indicates regular outdoor play is important for children’s growth and development. Contrary to the old adage that exposure to cold air can cause children to get sick, current research actually indicates the rebreathing of indoor air in small spaces is much more likely to spread the viruses and bacteria that cause illness.

Children of all ages benefit from outdoor play in all weather. The Michigan Department of Human Services licensing recommendations for child care centers do not have an indicated temperature for which outdoor play should be restricted. Instead, they advise that parents and caregivers should pay attention to posted weather warnings, be aware of the symptoms of cold exposure and exercise caution. School polices about temperatures vary widely and tend to be very regionally dependent. In warmer climates where children are less likely to have appropriate cold weather gear, outdoor play might be suspended at 40 degrees; where in northern climates, children are often still outdoors when the temperature dips below zero. A good rule of thumb is to take a break from outdoor play at least once every 30 minutes to come inside and warm up.

Children should be dressed appropriately for the weather including layered clothing, snow pants, winter coats, boots, hats and gloves or mittens. Be sure to label the clothing you are sending to schools or child care centers to limit confusion over whose clothing is whose. Teach your children how to dress themselves in their winter gear as much as possible. Young toddlers can pull on boots and put on their hats. Purchase mittens for easy on and off. Preschoolers begin to have the ability to organize what needs to go on first (snow pants), next and last, as well as dexterity to close their boots and/or glove fasteners, start the zipper on their winter coat and in general, be more helpful in getting themselves outside. Remember 50 percent of our body’s heat is lost from our heads, so try to keep those hats on!

Children’s bodies, and yours, will keep warmer if you’re moving so plan to have lots of fun while you’re outside. In addition to sledding and building a snowman, consider the following fun outdoor games in the snow:

  • Snow painting: Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring. Let children explore with colors on nature’s biggest canvas!
  • Snowball target throw: Create a safe target for children to practice their throwing skills. Examples might include a hula hoop, laundry basket or even just a circle stomped in the snow. Remind children to be careful not to hit friends or unsuspecting classmates when throwing!
  • Snow maze: Create a path for children to follow in the snow. This path can have twists and turns, go in circles, up and down and around. Children can find the quickest way through, play pretend games along the path or take turns creating their own new mazes!
  • Snow pies: Utilize containers packed with snow to create “snow pies.” Consider adding birdseed for our feathered friends left outdoors in this cold weather!

When the winds are blowing too hard to get outside, remember you can bring the snow in! Snow play in a sensory table or tub is a lot of fun for children! Find other ideas for winter play online from Michigan State University Extension.

Grab your coat, hat and gloves, bundle up and head outside! Outdoor play is good for you and your children’s health and physical development, even if we are trapped in another polar vortex!

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