Winter Outdoor Activities for Kids
When the weather gets cold, many parents worry that playing outside will be bad for their children. As long as you take the right precautions, encouraging kids to participate in outdoor activities, either with other kids or as a family, can actually help them in many ways, from keeping them physically active to giving their imaginations a boost.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
- Benefits of Outdoor Winter Play
- Winter Outdoor Play Safety
- Games to Play in the Snow
- Outdoor Winter Activities for the Whole Family
- Take Outdoor Fun to the Next Level With Miracle® Recreation
Benefits of Outdoor Winter Play
Just because the temperature has dropped doesn’t mean children have to stay inside all day. In fact, playing outside is extremely beneficial for children, especially in winter weather. Despite the misconception that cold weather makes children sick, fresh winter air is good for everyone. In the winter months, outdoor play:
1. Reduces Exposure to Germs Inside
Many parents worry about letting their children outside to play during the winter months because they’re fearful they’ll come back inside with a virus. While flu season falls during the prime winter months, cold temperatures alone don’t cause the flu. Instead, encouraging outdoor play in the winter can help reduce children’s exposure to germs and bacteria.
When the weather gets colder, people generally tend to spend more time indoors. With more and more people staying in, it’s easier for germs and bacteria to spread because everyone is breathing in the same air. Therefore, letting children outside to play can help limit their exposure to germs and bacteria inside.
2. Helps Build Immune System
Outdoor play limits contact with harmful bacteria and germs and may also help children build up their immune systems so that they won’t get sick as often. For example, plants in nature give off phytoncides, which are antimicrobial organic compounds that protect them from herbivores in the environment.
When children go outside, they directly breathe in the phytoncides that permeate the air. Studies have found that some of these phytoncides are antimicrobial when inhaled, while others increase immune system activity. Therefore, spending more time outside can help children build up their immunity to germs and allergens.
3. Increases Fresh Air Intake
Going outside during winter is a relieving escape from a stuffy home where bacteria could be hiding. It’s easier to spread sickness playing in one room, so go out and take a deep breath, exhale the cold winter air and reap the rewards.
4. Encourages Physical Exercise
It’s easy to feel restless when cooped up inside during the cold winter months. The best way to get energy out is by going outside to play. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children ages six through 17 should get at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each day.
However, less than one-quarter of children in this age range are actually participating in 60 minutes of exercise each day. Time spent outside is linked to higher levels of physical activity and can lower blood pressure and heart rate. Children must get outside to play, even in the colder months.
5. Increases Vitamin D Levels
Kids can get their daily dose of vitamin D when they go outside to play and soak up some sunshine. Even though they’re all bundled up, feeling the sun on their faces can still make a difference. Vitamin D has many benefits — it can help you fight off viruses and bacteria, keep your muscles moving properly and maintain strong bones, which is especially crucial in growing children.
Vitamin D deficiency is common during the winter and spring seasons since people are spending more time indoors. Therefore, it’s essential to go outside and get some sun exposure, as natural sunlight is a major source of vitamin D for children and adults.
Vitamin D is also believed to influence serotonin and affect your mood, and deficiencies have been linked to depression symptoms or even seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Commonly referred to as the “winter blues,” SAD brings feelings of sadness and loss of energy, most common during the winter solstice when the days are the shortest.
6. Refines Social Skills
Children who regularly get outside to play with other children boost their executive function, which are skills kids need to help solve problems, negotiate, plan, prioritize and multitask. Playing outside helps children refine their social skills, as they’re working together, learning how to share and solving conflicts. They learn how to play together and how to treat other people through outside play, which is extremely valuable.
7. Stimulates Imagination
Playing outside can also help stimulate creativity and imagination, as kids work to entertain themselves as they play. Add snow to the mix, and kids have a different setting where they might find new ways to keep busy outside.
8. Offers a Change of Scenery
When the snow falls, that playground they saw every day in the summer now has a whole new look, having transformed into a winter wonderland rife with possibilities. Whether they use the snow as a new backdrop for playing house or a source of ammo for snowball fights, the winter weather can create countless opportunities.
Besides, the fresh air offers an invigorating change of scenery to escape cabin fever. Even moving simple indoor activities to the background can offer a new experience. Plus, that brisk air can feel refreshing.
Winter Outdoor Play Safety
Winter brings fun, unique activities and opportunities, but it also brings chilling temperatures and some risks associated with those activities. This winter, take some extra safety precautions before you step out, including:
Dressing for Winter Weather
Bundling up for winter weather outside isn’t as simple as throwing on a coat. To stay comfortable while playing in the cold, be sure to dress for the weather, which typically means layering up. Start with some long underwear and a turtleneck, then add some thin layers to keep your child warm, like a sweater, before you’re ready to put on a coat and pants. Consider dressing in wool materials, as cotton isn’t the best at keeping people warm.
If any top layers get wet from snow, you can take them off until you get to a dry replacement, but consider investing in a waterproof jacket and pair of pants if you haven’t already. This way, children can stay warm and comfortable while they play outside in winter. Children should typically wear at least one layer more than an adult would wear in the same weather. However, if you’re planning on traveling in a car somewhere, be sure to remove any bulky layers if your child rides in a car seat.
Before kids go outside, don’t forget to put on sunscreen. Although many people forget about sunscreen during the colder months, snow can reflect anywhere from 10% to 85% of the sun’s UV rays and increase sun exposure, so it’s still critical to protect their skin. You could also give children a snack for some extra energy before they go out to play. Before they head out the door, check to make sure they have thick, warm socks and their snow boots on, along with gloves or mittens and a hat.
Without a hat, children could lose a good portion of their body heat in some cold-weather conditions. Also, be sure to keep extra pairs of gloves or mittens handy if outside for a prolonged period since they’re often one of the first things to get wet. Avoid dressing children in loose scarves, clothing with drawstrings or any loose-hanging articles that could get caught on something while they play. As soon as children start getting uncomfortable outside, it’s time to go in.
Staying Safe During Winter Activities
Before kids grab their snowboards or lace up their ice skates, there are a few things to remember when it comes to staying safe during some favorite winter activities. Some cold-weather sports and activities, such as sledding, snowboarding and ice skating, are prone to injuries, especially for children.
If your kids want to go sledding, for instance, make sure you know which hill they’re going to. Children should only sled on familiar hills that aren’t too steep, are free of trees and rocks and aren’t close to any busy streets. It’s always a good idea to go with children or be nearby for supervision since sledding can result in severe injuries.
Are you planning on playing hockey or ice skating? Make sure to lace skates correctly, and if they’re skating on a frozen pond, be sure to check the ice first and make sure it’s free of any ice fishing holes or other debris. When possible, opt to skate at a rink instead. Those playing hockey should also wear a helmet at all times. When skiing and snowboarding, everyone should have a helmet and goggles.
Whatever activities you end up doing, always provide supervision. Kids don’t always understand the risks of cold weather or know the signs of danger. Keep a close eye on them during outdoor winter activities, even those as innocuous as making snow forts in the backyard. Something as simple as taking off a pair of wet gloves can be risky for kids in cold temperatures.
Playing on Reliable Equipment
If you’re heading to the playground, make sure it’s a trustworthy one. Ensure the equipment holds together well and isn’t shaky or wobbly. Watch for any bolts or screws that may have rusted or gotten damaged from temperature changes. Over the years, snow and ice can cause problems, but high-quality playgrounds are built to withstand them. Inspect the playground carefully to look for any issues, and only let your kids play on a playground that you trust.
Brush off any snow ice. If you can’t remove it, don’t let anyone play on it. Be cautious around metal equipment, too, as it can become colder than the outside air or plastic components. Make sure kids keep their gloves on when playing with these structures.
Avoiding Winter Emergencies
Always check the weather forecast before heading outside in winter weather, and make sure the temperature is appropriate for play. Prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures could end in a winter emergency involving a case of frostbite or hypothermia. Frostbite, which typically occurs in places like fingers, toes, ears, cheeks and the nose, occurs when one’s skin and outer tissues freeze.
These body parts will often go pale, sometimes turning a gray color, and become blistered. Children will often complain that their skin is numb or burns. If you suspect frostbite, bring the child inside and put the affected areas in warm water or apply a warm washcloth to the area for a few minutes. Then, dry them off and cover them up with blankets or clothes and give them a warm drink. If they’re still experiencing numbness, call your doctor.
Spending time in freezing temperatures may also put a child at risk for hypothermia, which sets in much faster in children than adults. Hypothermia may set in when the child is extremely cold, if their clothing got wet, or if their clothes aren’t warm enough.
Children may shiver or get lethargic as hypothermia sets in. In severe cases, their speech may slur, and their body temperature may also decline. If you suspect a child is suffering from hypothermia, call 911 immediately. Until help arrives, be sure to remove any wet clothing and wrap them in warm clothes or blankets inside.
Games to Play in the Snow
Bundle up and get outside for an outdoor game day of non-stop fun in the snow with these winter games for kids:
1. Snow Golf
If you love a good game of golf, why not play it all year round? Even with snow on the ground, you can smooth out your fairway and green. Just pack down a section of snow every couple of feet and bury open cans down into the snow as your holes. Mark the holes with mini flagsticks and fire away. If you don’t have any clubs to use, improvise with a hockey stick.
2. Footprint Tag
Kids are sure to get the energy out of their system with a game of tag. Only this time, put a slight twist on it. Play some footprint tag where players are only allowed to step in footprints other people already made in the snow. If you step outside of the footprint, you’re “it.”
3. Tug of War
Everyone can test their strength with a game of tug of war. Build up a wall of snow and have the two teams on either side of the wall. Whichever team loses ends up crashing through the wall of snow. Luckily, with plenty of layers and snow on the ground, this version of the game is much safer. You could also build the wall higher and carve a hole in it for the rope to go through.
4. Snowball Pitch
Form some snowballs and take aim at a goal or target! Your targets can be as simple as placing some cups on your snow-covered patio table, or you can go all-out with homemade DIY bullseyes. You can see who knocks down the most targets or create a point system, with smaller targets worth more points.
5. Dodgeball With Snowballs
Start forming those snowballs and gear up for a fun winter game of dodgeball — just don’t pack them too tight and only use soft, fluffy snow. Split up into two teams and get throwing. If you get hit, you’re out of the game and have to sit down. But, like in a regular game of dodgeball, if you catch a snowball thrown from the other team, the thrower is out, and you’re back in. Repeat until all the members of one team are out.
6. Winter Wonderland Scavenger Hunt
Enjoy some outdoor exploration and conduct a winter wonderland scavenger hunt. Make a list of items for children to find — it could include things like pinecones or a tree branch — and have a prize for whoever finds everything on the list and brings them back first.
7. Tic-Tac-Toe in the Snow
Ditch the pen and paper for this classic game and grab a stick instead. Like drawing in the sand, sketch out your tic-tac-toe board in the snow. Just use sticks for your Xs and pine cones for your Os. Or, use the stick to draw your Xs and Os.
8. Create an Imaginary Sweets Shop
Engage your kids’ imaginations with a creative winter activity and have the kids create their very own sweets shop.
Let them borrow some pans from the kitchen to mold snow cakes and other sweet treats. They could even take some holiday-themed cookie cutters for some sharply lined snow cookies. Top off the cookies with everyone’s favorite sweet treat — snow ice cream. Use a real ice cream scooper for perfectly shaped scoops. You can even give them some old mugs to see who can make the best snowy hot cocoa. Once the kids have sculpted their treats, let them color their confections with some diluted food coloring.
9. Snow Painting
If you have budding artists in the family, give them even more fun winter activities with food coloring and snow. Let them turn the snow into their canvas with just a few low-cost supplies.
Fill a few empty spray bottles with water and add drops of a different color to each one, then screw the lid on tightly and let your kids go out and paint the snow. You can use an assortment of full-size and travel-size bottles for extra fun. Encourage your kids to experiment with spraying one color over another, challenge them to paint different shapes and get creative.
Gloves are a must for this activity since mittens might be too chunky to work the spray bottles.
10. Build a Snowman
Did you really have a snow day if you didn’t leave behind a snowman to prove it? After you form your snowman, play pin-the-nose-on-the-snowman. You could take turns blindfolding the children and watch as they try to get the carrot on the snowman’s face. Whoever gets the carrot closest to the center wins.
Then, have everyone line up a few feet away from the snowman and try to throw the hat like a frisbee so it lands on the snowman’s head. Whoever gets the hat to land wins.
11. Pass the Snowball
Need a break from playing so hard? Gather around in a circle for a twist on hot potato. Form a sturdy snowball and pass it around in a circle until the music stops for a fun, simple outdoor winter game. Whoever is holding the snowball when the music stops is out. As a suggestion, put on some holiday or snow-themed music.
12. Snow Baseball
Consider a game of snow baseball, where all you need is a huge pile of snowballs and some empty bottles or cans. Have everyone make a bunch of snowballs and put them into a pile. Then, make four snow mounds for home plate, first, second and third base with a mound in the center for the “pitcher.”
You can put a can or bottle on the four mounds inside the baseball diamond. Instead of having a player bat, each person will instead stand on the pitcher’s mound and attempt to knock the bottles off of each mound by throwing snowballs at them. Whoever uses the least amount of snowballs to knock them over wins.
Outdoor Winter Activities for the Whole Family
Kids aren’t the only ones who can enjoy an exciting day outside in a winter wonderland. Celebrate the season and get the whole family together for a day packed with these exciting activities:
1. Playing on a Playground
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t have a great day as a family playing on a playground. You’ll just want to make sure the playground is clear of snow and ice before the adventure begins.
Thoroughly inspect the playground equipment and platforms for snow and icy patches, and remove buildup from handrails, slides, swings, ladders and platforms. Don’t forget to check sidewalks and other paved surfaces around the playground for ice. If it’s too difficult to remove snow from playground equipment, or if the surfaces are too slippery, consider other fun wintertime activities instead. Otherwise, if the playground equipment is snow-and-ice-free, get ready to have a blast, even in the winter.
You can still take a ride down the slide, swing across the monkey bars and fly through the air on the swings when there’s snow on the ground. You can even try to incorporate the snow into the play — try putting a pile of snow at the bottom of the slide to pad your landing, or building a fort to hide behind while playing tag.
Consider hitting the slopes for some skiing on your next family day out. If several people in the family are new to skiing, try bonding with a ski lesson. If the members of your family are regulars at the local ski lodge, check out their calendar for any special events to participate in..
3. Ice Skating
While ice skating is offered in some places year-round at indoor rinks, nothing compares to gliding across an outdoor rink or frozen pond as you breathe in the crisp winter air. Children and adults alike can enjoy this favorite winter pastime. You could even look into attending an ice skating lesson as a family.
What better way to explore nature during winter than with a family hike? Dress warm and gear up for some picturesque views. While you’re hiking, try to identify different trees and be on the lookout for animal tracks. You could even create a checklist ahead of time and check off different trees and animal tracks as you go.
Pack lots of snacks for everyone, and be ready to take more frequent breaks than you would in the warmer months. Winter hiking means heavier clothing, so everyone is carrying more weight. Everyone is likely to get hungry along the way, especially kids. Snack breaks are a great opportunity to refuel and catch your breath for the next stretch ahead.
Hiking is also an excellent way to get in some fitness for the day and can even cut down on stress. If there’s a decent amount of snow on the ground, consider snowshoeing.
Break out those innertubes from summer and get gliding down the hill on a fun day of family tubing. Find the perfect hill and have family members race against one another. For larger, more exhilarating hills, consider visiting a nearby ski resort that also offers tubing.
6. Shovel Competition
Shoveling a snowy driveway is a challenging task for one person to do alone. Instead, make a competition out of it and split up into teams for a shovel match. Divide the driveway in half and see who can shovel their side the fastest. This way, the kids can be helpful and productive while having some fun. As an incentive, come up with a unique winter prize for the winning team.
7. Sleigh Rides
This winter, consider taking your family on an unforgettable sleigh ride that channels the magic of the season. Look into local winter festivals or Christmas tree farms, for example, to see if they offer horse-drawn sleigh rides during the winter months for a picturesque journey everyone is sure to cherish.
8. Ice Hockey
Pull out the hockey sticks and find your puck to get ready for a game of ice hockey at your local rink, whether it’s indoors or out. After everyone is all ready to go and adequately dressed with extra padding in the case of any falls, set up a goal on either end of the rink. Divide into teams, get that goal shot ready and fire away.
9. Building a Snow Fort
Take advantage of the snow on the ground and spend some quality family time building a snow fort. You could all work on one giant fort together or split up into teams and hold a competition. Pack snow into plastic bins and let them harden into snow bricks before you start building. You could even use load pans, sand buckets, or cut-up empty milk cartons to help make the fortress of your family’s dreams. Finish final decorations with food coloring or pine cones.
Once you’re finished with the fort-building, you can use it as the storefront for your imaginary sweets shop, a castle to defend against a snowball-wielding army or a home base for a game of tag.
10. Winter Obstacle Course
Raid the garage for hula hoops, pool noodles, wooden boards — anything portable that will hold up to enthusiastic use. Use what you found to set up an obstacle course. If the kids are old enough, have them help.
Like all the most fun outdoor winter activities, the only limit is your imagination. Hula hoops can be obstacles to crawl through or jump into. Boards can become a ramp or a balance beam. If you’re short on supplies, you can turn a playground into an obstacle course or even create one with natural obstacles.
If there’s snow on the ground, throwing snowballs at a target or making snow angels can be fun additions. If you’re in an area without snow, the whole family can still jump, crawl and balance their way to victory.
11. Bird Feeding
Help your feathered friends get through the winter by setting up some bird feeders. You can even build your own feeders — slather some peanut butter on a pine cone, and they’ll come flocking! Just be sure to keep feeding the birds throughout the winter because they may start to rely on you as a food source. Winter bird feeders are a great way to help your kids observe wildlife.
12. Lights Tour
Celebrate the holiday season by taking the family to see some festive light displays. Check out some walk-through displays at a nearby park, zoo or other attraction, or simply bundle up and take a walk through local neighborhoods by your home.
Take Outdoor Fun to the Next Level With Miracle® Recreation
No matter the season, it’s never a bad time for children to enjoy some outdoor activities. From snowball fights and ice skating to tubing or a lights tour, there are countless ways you can spend time playing outdoors in the winter and keep the entire family happy and healthy.
Even when there’s snow on the playgrounds, kids can layer up and have some winter fun. Looking to spruce up your yard or community park and provide more opportunities for outdoor fun? Miracle Recreation can provide you with the playground equipment you need to create fun and memorable outdoor experiences all year round.