Next time your kids are bouncing off the walls on a snowy day, try one of these winter outdoor play ideas to get everyone some fresh air. You CAN enjoy the outdoors, even in cold weather!
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When the snow begins to fall, it can be tempting to hunker down and stay inside until spring. And yet, getting outside even during cold weather has huge benefits for kids and adults. Here are just a few…
Benefits of winter outdoor play:
- Boost your mood. Being outside (especially in nature) can reduce stress levels and help you feel better.
- Move your body. If you’re outside in winter, you’re probably getting some exercise (not too many people I know lounge in a hammock in the snow). Exercise releases mood-boosting chemicals throughout your body, improves digestion, and has tons of other health benefits.
- Get your vitamin D. Exposing your skin to the sun’s UVB rays is vital for your body to get the Vitamin D it needs for normal growth and bone development. It also helps with that mood regulation we were just talking about above. (Are you seeing a pattern yet?)
- Improve your immune system. You will NOT catch a cold from being outside. On the contrary, exposure to fresh air is a healthy break from all the time spend indoors in close proximity to other people (and germs).
- Improve your sleep patterns. Being active and exposing your skin to natural light helps your body to regulate your sleep cycle. I think we can all get behind a plan that helps our kids fall asleep faster and easier!
Want to read more about the benefits of getting outside in winter? Check out this article from Tinkergarten.
Alright, so assuming we agree it’s good for us and our kids to get outside (even when we don’t feel like it), now comes the bigger question:
How do we make it happen?
Even if you’re an outdoorsy family like us (we love camping, hiking, and biking in the warmer months), winter is a whole different challenge. It can be hard to motivate myself, let alone my kids, to get bundled up and head outside. Give me a snuggly blanket next to the fire and a good book, and I could happily stay there all winter long.
Still, I know that my kids and I are much happier and healthier when we get outside. So I’m making it a goal this winter to get outside regularly, even if it’s just for a little bit.
Remember, something is better than nothing.
3 keys to getting reluctant kids outside in winter:
- Get good gear. I have lived in Utah for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally invested in a REALLY good winter coat…and it has made all the difference. Over the past few years we’ve started investing in good gear for the whole family: wool socks and hats, thermals, high-quality water-proof boots, mittens that are long enough to actually keep out the snow, and jackets with thermal reflective lining. Yes it’s an investment, but our older kids can pass gear down to the younger ones, and it makes being outside SO much more enjoyable. Look for sales or buy second-hand, but I guarantee that having good gear will be worth it.
- Go outside with them. I know, I know, I’d usually rather stay inside, too. But if we want our kids to go outside, we have to practice what we preach. I don’t always join my kids outside; sometimes I send them out and put myself in charge of making hot chocolate for them when they come back in. BUT, they are usually much more willing to go out and to stay out longer when I get bundled up and join them. Can’t get outside for some reason? Inviting a friend over for your child to play with outside often has the same result.
- Plan a specific activity. During the first big snow of the year, it doesn’t take much to convince my kids to go out and do all the classic snow activities: snowmen, forts, sledding, etc. But as winter drags on, the novelty wears off. But you can still draw everyone outside by inviting them to join you in some specific, simple activities that will make snow play exciting again.
This last one is where I can help! Keep reading to get a whole list of simple, low-prep ideas to make winter outdoor play fun for the whole family.
You certainly don’t always need a planned activity to get kids outside. I’m a firm believer in giving kids space and time to discover their own fun. However, if your kids are resistant to the idea of going outside, a having specific plan can jump start their creativity and get everyone moving in the right direction.
For those times, here are some of our favorite ways to play outside in the snow:
Winter outdoor play ideas for kids
1. Grab some shovels and buckets and make snow castles. It’s the winter version of digging in the sandbox, but even better because you’re not confined to a small box. Spread out and use the whole yard if you want!
2. Paint the snow. Put colored water (use food coloring) in spray bottles and let kids turn the snow into a kaleidoscope of color! Or, just put the “paint” (colored water) in plastic cups and use paintbrushes (bigger, fatter brushes work best) to make your designs.
3. Make ice cream or snow cones. Have you ever made a snow cone with actual snow? Gather snow (make sure it’s fresh and clean) into bowls and drizzle it with snow cone syrup (or maple syrup for a healthier option). Or, try this simple recipe for homemade ice cream that uses real snow.
4. Freeze toys & excavate them. This is actually one of our favorite summer activities to beat the heat, but it’s perfect for winter play, too! Just get some small toys (plastic figurines like dinosaurs or bears work well) and freeze them in a container of water.
5. Become a snow sculptor. Think BEYOND the snowman. What else can you sculpt from snow? A dog? A turtle? A throne to sit on? Let your imagination go wild!
6. Make a snow construction site. Grab your favorite toy trucks (dump trucks, loaders, etc.) and load, drive, & dump snowballs. (P.S. – This is my all-time favorite dump truck for kids. It’s super sturdy and doesn’t have any electronics that would be damaged by getting wet.)
7. Have a treasure hunt. Set a designated area to search, and hide a specific number of cars or dinosaurs or whatever. Make sure it’s something that won’t be damaged by getting wet…just in case one doesn’t get found till the snow melts!
8. Snowball target practice. Direct kids’ excitement about throwing snowballs toward throwing at a target on the ground or into buckets (rather than them throwing them at each other’s heads!). BTW, these snowball makers are inexpensive and surprisingly effective!
9. Snow kitchen. Grab some bowls, spoons, muffin tins…whatever extra kitchen tools you have, and invite kids to make up a “recipe” or run a restaurant.
10. Decorate snow pies. Instead of a mud pie, invite kids to experiment with packing snow into a container and using small rocks, sticks, pine needles, etc. to decorate the top of their “pie.”
11. Nature loose parts play. Keep things simple by giving kids rocks and sticks and see what they do with them in the snow!
*ONE MORE BONUS IDEA*
This one isn’t winter outdoor play, but it’s been a huge success with my kids. When it’s too cold (or dark) to be outside, or going outside just isn’t in the cards for whatever reason…
Bring the snow INSIDE!
Grab a plastic bin, fill it with snow, and put it in the bathtub. Give your child mittens and a few toys, plop them in the tub next to the bin, and voila! You have a quick and easy snow sensory bin!
Have you tried any of the ideas above? What are your favorite ways to play in the snow? Tell me in the comments below!
Want more wintertime fun for kids? Try these posts: