During the COVID-19 pandemic, families have been forced to find creative ways to keep kids active while still avoiding high-risk activities. With some youth sports canceled, the colder, winter months are pushing that creativity to new lengths. 

Stacy Chandna, co-director of Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right program, joins the blog with tips.

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Outdoor play, even in winter, is important for your child’s health and well-being.

Despite the colder temperatures, getting kids outside in winter can be the cure for the winter blues, even if it requires kids and parents alike to stretch and push themselves in new ways.

  • Outdoor play promotes physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids ages 3 to 5 need at least three hours of physical activity per day and kids ages 6 and up need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  • Outdoor play enhances child development. The benefits of play go far beyond healthy physical growth. Play, indoors or outdoors, supports brain development. Play inspires children to make up their own games, which builds skills for planning, problem-solving, and negotiating – which all foster brain development.
  • Outdoor play connects kids with nature. Research has found that there are tremendous benefits for kids and adults to spend time in nature. Not only does it take everyone away from their screens, but it incites wonder, spurs imagination, and has the power to reduce stress and anxiety – which is more important than ever during COVID-19.

To get your child outdoors this winter, keep these tips in mind.

At first, your child (and you) may be reluctant to head outdoors when the weather is cold and dreary. But you can help them build this new habit.

  • Start small. Suggest to your child that you go outside for 10 minutes and then you can re-evaluate. Hopefully, that 10 minutes turns to 30. But if it doesn’t, just try again the next day and continue to build the habit.
  • Dress appropriately. This will likely mean three layers: a base layer that is warm but also water repellant, like wool or synthetic materials; a middle fleece layer; and an outer layer like a puffy winter coat or snowsuit. Then, make sure heads, hands and feet are well-covered, too. NOTE: Is your family in need of winter wear? 211 Hartford Coat Drives can help.

Suggest a kid-friendly winter activity to make outdoor play fun. 

While one of the benefits of outdoor play is how unstructured it is, it may take time for your child to warm up to the idea of playing outside in winter. Simple activities can transform dread into excitement and spark creativity.

  • Read a book about winter together. Talk about what the characters saw or did in the book, then head outside to recreate the fun. A few favorites are The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, The Thing about Yetis by Vin Vogel, and Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter by Kenard Park. If you do not have these books at home, you can find many “read alouds” through children’s YouTube channels or your local libraries.
  • Create a simple lantern to take on a nature walk. Decorate a white paper bag, and place a battery-operated tea light inside it.
  • Create your own winter scavenger hunt. List items that you might see, like a pinecone, bird, icicle, animal tracks and more.
  • Build a snowman!
  • Color the snow. Mix food coloring with water and add to a spray bottle.
  • Make a birdfeeder. Journal with your child about the birds that come to visit every day.
  • Use sandcastle supplies to build a snow castle. Or if you do not have snow, make a winter fort using recyclables instead.
  • Play flashlight tag.

Stay motivated! Try a family challenge for outdoor winter activities.

Create a family goal to spend a certain number of hours outside each week, month or by the end of winter – it will inspire your child, and motivate the entire family to get outside.

You may even find yourself joining the #1000hoursoutside challenge!