The Weather Outside is Frightful, but Outdoor Play is so Delightful! 

As Canadians, we know the winter months tend to be a little colder (and longer) than we would like them to be. December, January, and February seem to drag into long, tiresome days that all blend together. Children get restless, parents get exhausted, and we are all waiting for those warm, light-hearted, and easy summer days to once again make their way back to us. 

However, winter doesn’t have to be so dreary, dull and boring. What if we decided to make the most out of the winter season and create a positive outdoor environment for our kids to play in? 

Outdoor play is an important part of early childhood development and living a healthy and happy lifestyle all around. Playing outdoors can help with both mental and physical health at all ages, so it is an important habit to instil in young children. The barrier between having fun and learning through play shouldn’t be cold weather, so here are some tips on how to make the most of outdoor play in the winter months. 

“Outdoor play is an important part of early childhood development and living a healthy and happy lifestyle all around.”

Being prepared for outdoor play: 

-Make sure you bundle warm. This seems self-explanatory, but it is none the less very important. Ensure that all little ones have the proper winter equipment like gloves or mittens, ski pants, toques, scarves and boots depending on the temperature. Make sure communication with parents is clear when organizing outdoor activities so that winter gear is sent daily. Try sending a reminder through email or newsletter or create posters to place around the entrances with reminders about the need for warm outdoor equipment. 

-Always check the weather. Some temperatures just aren’t safe for outdoor play, and sometimes winter can be sunny and warm and may not require as much outdoor gear as others. Oh, and don’t forget the wind chill!  

Read and learn about the fundamentals of play. Do some research, and find out what works for you and your kids. A good source of information is the Seasons of Play book! It comes with plenty of natural environment play inspiration and ideas for all four seasons, and a question-and-answer section at the back. It features lots of beautiful photography as well to really help get your mind picturing outdoor play!  

Remember safety comes first. Always use your best judgement to ensure the kids are safe, dressed appropriately, and having a blast! 

So, what kinds of outdoor play are good for the staying fit and healthy during the winter months?  

-Outdoor sports. When it comes to outdoor sports, the possibilities are endless. Any kind of games like winter soccer, sledding, or visit an outdoor skating rink. Anything that gets kids moving and encourages fitness outdoors counts!  

small child in winter gear playing on the playground in snow

-Going for a walk. There is nothing better than getting some fresh air, especially after being cooped up all day in a room. Going for walks has been proven to improve both mental and physical health, and during long, dark days with little sunlight and movement, this is especially important.  

Snow play. The possibilities are endless when it comes to snow play! From building forts, to sculpting snow men, to whatever their creative little hands can create. Provide kids with fun tools like buckets, mini shovels, mini rakes and watch their innovation come to life! It’s a classic, you really can’t go wrong with traditional snow play! 

-Let them get creative. Kids often don’t need guidance when it comes to play. They will have their own dramatic play scenarios ready before you know it! 

“Playing outside can help boost mood, mental health, and physical health.”

What are some fun activities and games for outdoor play? 

-Snow shovelling. Help teach kids how to shovel! Grab a shovel and show kids the ropes! This is a great and practical activity that kids can use to help at home whenever the snow falls!  

young child walking in the snow with a toy shovel and bucket

-Snow painting. Painting without the mess! Using spray bottles, fill up water with food colouring and let kids use it to spray in the snow. The best part: no clean up and it disappears completely on its own! 

-Polar Footprints. Using Let’s Investigate: Polar Footprints, allow children to make imprints in the snow. This is a great opportunity to teach them about wildlife that inherits the polar frozen landscape up north. Farmyard Footsteps or Let’s Investigate Woodland Footprints are also great options for learning about other types of animals! It’s educational, creative and fun!      

-Winter Scavenger Archaeologist Hunt. Burry various outdoor play items like Dinosaur Bones or Animal Friends under the snow and let kids dig them out to find it! They will love feeling like little archaeologists as they dig their way to find hidden treasure!  

“Getting fresh air and taking a break from the routine of learning indoors can encourage longer attention spans and help children feel refreshed and ready to take on new challenges.”

What are the Benefits of Playing Outdoors? 

Reducing the risk of catching a cold. Despite popular belief, playing outside in the winter is a fantastic way to help build kids build their natural immunity. The fresh air as opposed to recycled air in an enclosed space is much better for ventilation. Additionally, cold temperatures do not allow certain types of bacteria to survive minimizing the risk of catching an illness. 

Lowering the risk of developing childhood obesity. The winter months are notorious for eating lots of unhealthy foods and treats, which is great in moderation but can also lead to fatigue and weight gain. Outdoor winter play helps keep these things at bay and encourages movement, is great exercise and helps maintain a healthy life balance. 

Mental health benefits. Staying inside all day long is not healthy for anyone, especially children. Getting active outside helps boost mood, mental and physical stamina. Seasonal depression is prevalent at all ages, and children are no exception. Getting fresh air and exercise is extra important in the winter months!  

two kids smiling going sledding in the winter

Why is Outdoor Play so useful for Early Development? 

From mental and physical benefits to allowing children to be creative and have fun, outdoor play is an all-around important part of childhood growth. Playing outside can help boost mood, mental health, and physical health. Getting fresh air and taking a break from the routine of learning indoors can encourage longer attention spans and help children feel refreshed and ready to take on new challenges. It’s great for helping kids build connections with other kids and working as a team. Maybe those winter blues aren’t so bad after all!     

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