How To Keep Kids Active in the Winter

How To Keep Kids Active In Winter

Kids are naturally full of energy, but the natural response to cold weather is to turn to sedentary activities. With kids’ average screen time clocking in at five to seven hours per day, it can be tempting for them to stay in and curl up with their favorite device. So how do you keep kids active when the cold weather sets in?

The best way to get kids to exercise is to engage them in activities they’ll love. So we’ve put together this list of thrilling screen-free ideas for physical activities for kids in winter, even on the coldest days.

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Kids Always Need Physical Activity — Even in Winter

Exercise is crucial for kids’ mental and physical development. According to the CDC, physically active kids tend to get higher grades and exhibit better behavior than inactive kids. Of course, the amount of activity kids need depends on age and physical abilities, and some might need more exercise than others.

The CDC recommends the following activity levels for kids of different ages:

  • Ages 3-5: Small kids should be active throughout the day. Active play is vital for the mental and physical development of preschool-aged kids.
  • Ages 6-17: School-aged kids need at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. This activity can be moderate to vigorous in intensity, meaning they should raise their heart rates and feel that they’re working.

Some physical activity is better for small kids than adolescents. For example, five-year-olds typically strengthen their muscles through gymnastic exercises like climbing trees or playing on playgrounds. However, 12-year-olds are more suited to structured physical activity, like dance classes or team sports.

little girl looking out window

Indoor Winter Activities for Keeping Kids Active

Yes, you can keep kids active in winter, even when it’s too cold to play outside. Whether at home or in the classroom, all you need to get kids moving is a little creativity.

Need some inspiration? Check out these exciting, screen-free ideas you can try in your classroom, your daycare or even your home:

Start an Indoor Snowball Fight

If you have recycled paper handy, you can create fake snowballs. Depending on the number of kids playing, you can play with teams or as a free-for-all. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Crumple up as many pieces of paper you can into spherical shapes and place them into a bag.
  2. Divide the room into enough sections for each team or kid, and dump the bag’s contents in the center of the room.
  3. Set a timer for five minutes.
  4. Once the timer starts, the kids have to keep as many snowballs out of their area as possible. They can only throw snowballs — no kicking or carrying them into other areas.
  5. The winning team has the fewest snowballs in their section at the end of the five minutes.

Little boy making a fist

Play Indoor Hockey

Indoor hockey is a great way to burn some energy with older kids and encourage sportsmanship. Clear the floor in the room by pushing all furniture to the sides. Using masking tape, draw rink lines on the floor. Turn two empty trash cans on their sides and set them up as goals.

A small ball –about the size of your fist – makes a good substitute for a puck, and you can use brooms or other cleaning tools with long handles as hockey sticks.

If the room is too small or messy, that’s okay. You can also play a tabletop version using wooden spoons or spatulas as sticks. Players will score points when they knock the ball off the other side of the table.

Organize a Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are fun for kids of all ages. There are several different ways you can organize a scavenger hunt depending on how old your players are:

  • Treasure hunt: Excite your kids by sending them on a quest for “gold.” Take chocolate coins or fake jewels and hide them throughout the room when the kids are gone. When they come back, set them loose to find their prizes.
  • Color hunt: This version is a great way to teach colors to small kids. Write different colors down on a sheet of paper. Have your kids find objects that match the colors on the paper.
  • Five senses hunt: Preschoolers will enjoy this simple yet educational hunt. Have them find and identify something they can sense with each of the five senses.
  • Movement hunt: Designed by an occupational therapist, this hunt is best for larger indoor spaces with lots of safe obstacles, like a school gym. Tell the kids to explore the room and find things they can jump over, walk across or crawl under.

Throw a Dance Party

Get everyone on their feet by clearing the floor and turning on some funky music. Make the party even more fun by adding cool extras like glowsticks or a bubble wrap dance floor. You can also incorporate games:

  • Dance-off: Allow kids to face off in the center of the dance floor so they can show off their dancing skills.
  • Freeze dance: In this game, you have control of the action. Every time you stop the music, all the kids have to freeze. Anyone who doesn’t stop is out. The winner is the last kid dancing.
  • Limbo: Grab a broomstick or another item with a long handle and hold it parallel to the floor. Have kids pass underneath as the music plays. You can play this as an elimination game for older kids, or keep everyone playing for smaller kids.
  • Mirror dance: Pair kids up and have them face each other. One kid acts as the leader, and their partner must match their actions as closely as possible.

father and daughter dancing

Make Cleaning a Game

When you’re all done, it’s time to put everything away. But you can keep the fun going by turning the clean-up process into a game of its own. Turn on some music — if you haven’t already — and get ready to whip your space into shape. Here are some fun games to keep everyone motivated:

  • Time challenges: Encourage healthy competition by dividing the room into equal sections. Assign each kid to a section. When everyone knows what section they’ll be cleaning, start a stopwatch and see who manages to finish first.
  • Trash hoops: Set a timer to count down for one minute and set the trash can in the center of the room. Have your kids shoot trash into the bin like it’s a basketball hoop, and have them keep track of how many shots they make. Whoever gets the most trash in the can wins!
  • Color cleaning: This game works best with a large group of kids, like in daycare groups or classrooms. Assign each kid a different color and have them clean up only items of that color. The challenge of finding objects in their color will keep kids occupied and active while they’re learning more about colors.
  • Play pretend: Stretch your kids’ imaginary muscles by turning the cleaning into an exciting scenario for them to act out. For example, you could put them on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean. The best way to save everyone is to get the trash off the deck and in the bin. Younger kids will want to clean up if they’re taking part in an epic story as opposed to doing a chore.

Siblings playing with blocks

Where Families Can Go To Stay Active in the Winter

Sometimes, your kids just need to get out of the house to blow off some steam. But where can you go when the weather isn’t suitable for outdoor play? If your family needs a change of scenery, try taking everyone to one of the following places:

Recreation Centers

You can visit your local YMCA or recreation center to get some activity in their facilities. Many of these centers will have at least one of the following:

  • Indoor pools
  • Basketball courts
  • Badminton or tennis courts
  • Weightlifting rooms
  • Cardio equipment

You can easily get younger kids involved in basketball, badminton, tennis or swimming, but some older kids might be interested in using the workout equipment. Ask your kids what they want to do when you arrive so you know what to bring.

Skating Rinks

Roller and ice rinks are inexpensive places to get some exercise and have a blast. Plus, most rinks will have skates available to rent if you don’t have any at home. Most local rinks have dedicated nights for open skating, where the rink is open for everyone to use. Or, if you have older kids who know the game, you could bring your kids to a roller hockey night.

If you’d prefer to keep with the wintry theme, you can always bring the family to an ice skating rink. Some ice rinks offer kids’ hockey or figure skating lessons on certain days, so make sure to check your local rink’s schedule before you go. After all, learning to skate could be an excellent introduction to a lifelong passion. Just be sure to dress warmly.


Getting your family moving is as simple as heading to your local mall and taking a few laps around. This activity would be even more fun around the holiday season when stores have holiday-themed displays and bright lights to look at.

You can also turn window-shopping into a game to keep kids engaged:

  • Counting challenge: Everyone counts as many items of a specific kind they can find in store windows. For example, everyone has to count all the red things they find. At the end of the walk, the winner is the one who managed to count the most.
  • I Spy: This classic game is great for any setting, even shopping malls, and can be played by kids of all ages.
  • Mannequin challenge: This game will help you create fun memories anywhere mannequins are. Each player picks a store window and challenges the others to pose like the mannequins in the display. The challenger takes a picture and shows the rest of the group.

wrapped presents

Indoor Amusement Centers

Also known as “family fun centers,” indoor amusement centers like trampoline parks, indoor rock climbing facilities, and even laser tag arenas are great places for kids to exercise. They have more room to move around than most homes and offer thrills for kids of all ages.

If possible, find a family entertainment center that will allow you to play with your kids — playing together as a family helps deepen family bonds and enhance communication between family members.

Plus, you can watch your kids socialize with others their age, which can help shy or introverted kids develop interpersonal skills while still being under the care of a trusted adult.

Dressing Warm To Play Outside in Winter Weather

Kids are more susceptible to cold than adults, so it’s important to prepare them for playing in the snow. The trick is layering up and covering heads and hands.

Here are some pointers for keeping kids warm:

  • Light layers: Bundle little ones up in several layers of lightweight clothing. Thicker garments like sweaters will make movement difficult, so stick to thin shirts made from sweat-wicking materials like cotton or merino wool. Avoid thick socks, too – snow boots should fit comfortably over kids’ feet without pinching their toes.
  • Snowsuit: You should pick a snowsuit that has a waterproof or water-resistant outer layer and an insulating interior to keep your kid warm. Polartec or down are good materials to look out for. Make sure the cuffs fit tightly around their ankles and wrists so snow can’t get in – Velcro tabs or elastic cuffs are ideal for getting the perfect fit.
  • Gloves or mittens: Mittens are best for toddlers, but gloves are fine for older kids. Put these on first so that they’re held in place when you pull their coat on top.
  • Head covering: It’s important to keep that little brain toasty even when it’s chilly out. Make sure your kid’s got a warm hat on their head before going outside. You can pull their coat’s hood over their head to ensure the hat stays on.
  • Sunscreen: Even when it’s dark or cloudy out, it’s still a good idea to apply sunscreen to your child’s face about 15-30 minutes before play. While the sun is less likely to cause burns, UV rays bouncing off snow can still damage a child’s delicate skin. Reapply every few hours to make sure they’re protected.

son on dad's shoulders

Winter Outdoor Play Ideas

Even on cold days, outdoor play is beneficial for your kids. Fresh air refreshes the senses, and sunshine assists in the absorption of vitamin D, which is crucial for a kid’s health. Unstructured outside play also allows your child to exercise their critical thinking and imagination skills, which can help them later in life.

Plus, it’s always good to get out of the house after being inside for so long. Here are some ideas for making winter outdoor play magical for both you and your kids:

little girl in sensory maze

Go to a Playground

With the power of imagination, kids can transform a standard playground into a magical winter wonderland. Whether your nearest playground is at your kid’s school, at your local church or in a nearby park, playgrounds are helpful for encouraging children to play. Plus, if other kids are playing, your kid will have a great opportunity to socialize and make new friends in the area, which is beneficial for cognitive development.

Before letting your kid play, though, you need to make sure the playground is safe. Dust off any snow and thoroughly check the surface for ice. Kids can easily slip on hidden patches of ice and snow, so if a playground looks too icy for your kid, it might be best to come back on a warmer day.

three boy in sensory maze

Play Snow Golf

Your kids will have a ball creating and playing on their own backyard mini-golf course. All you need is a snow shovel and a few empty cans or jars. Use your shovel to carve out paths and flatten snow for the putting greens. To make holes, bury the cans in the snow and leave them uncovered.

Don’t have golf clubs? You can use broomsticks, baseball bats or any other long-handled outside equipment. Just make sure it’s small enough for your kid first. Similarly, if you don’t have golf balls handy, you can use corks, bouncy balls or any other small object that will roll across the ground.

Of course, any good mini-golf course needs challenges to keep players on their toes. Dig holes in your putting greens to make snow traps, or build little snowmen along the path to serve as obstacles. To make your course unique, you can also incorporate lawn fixtures, like fences or garden decorations.

Shovel a Snow Maze

Grab your snow shovels and get to work digging out a maze for your kids to crawl through. If you have the right tools, you can ask your kids to help dig, or you can have them dig using their mitten-covered hands. With multiple people designing the maze, it will be even more difficult to solve, which means more time to play.

Your kids will love crawling through the tunnels and trying to find their way out. Make the experience even more exciting by having your kids race each other. Start them at different ends of the maze and challenge them to race the other to the exit. Whoever gets out first wins, but it’s also important to emphasize that everyone tried their best.

Follow Animal Tracks

Turn outdoor play into an environmental learning experience by teaching your kids about the animals that live in your area.

While you’re outside, ask your kids to identify whatever animal tracks they encounter. Then, follow the tracks to see where it went. Exercise their imagination and environmental knowledge by coming up with stories about where the animal might have gone. For example, you might find deer tracks leading into nearby trees. Ask your kids what you think the deer might be doing now. Is it running through the woods with its family? Maybe it’s searching for food. Ask your kids to tell you what happens next.

Break Out the Sand Toys

Sand toys like shovels and buckets are more than just beach toys. You can use them to build snow castles or just dig in the snow for a fun, cool experience.

Let your kids indulge their inner architects by building a snow fort with them. Using your shovels and other sand tools, make blocks of snow. Then, stack each block on top of the other to create walls, making sure to leave a hole for the door. If you’re really feeling skilled, try extending the blocks into a domed roof, like in an igloo. You can even bring beach chairs inside for your kids to enjoy their fort after it’s finished.

Encourage Winter Play With Miracle® Recreation

At Miracle® Recreation, we know kids need a healthy outlet for their energy in all seasons. That’s why we create unique play products that bring the thrill back to outdoor spaces.

From traditional pieces to custom solutions, we develop commercial play equipment with excitement for kids of all ages and ability levels in mind. If your local park, school or even church needs a play upgrade, we’re here to help. Learn more about how our products work by browsing our wide selection online.

Interested in bringing our innovative play solutions to your community? Contact a Miracle Recreation representative today to get started.

Encourage winter play