When the wind chill sets in, it’s tempting to bring your kids inside and dictate that the winter indoor playtime season has begun. After all, what if your child catches a chill? What if he slips on the snow and hurts his head? What if he takes his gloves off and buries his hands in the snow and gets frostbite?
But this fearful attitude is misguided. Although you should teach your children basic safety tips for going outside in cold weather, it’s vital and healthy for your kids to play outside through the winter months. Yes, even when it’s snowing outside.
Use common sense - if the weather is below 0 degrees and you can’t see a foot in front of you because of a thick flurry of snow, keep them inside until the snow has melted and it’s a bit warmer out. Bundle them up before they go outside and make sure they’re not wearing wet clothes. But at the same time, you should allow your child to acclimate to your local climate, and that means showing them how to adapt to the cold winter season.
The upsides of cold weather
No matter what season it is, fresh air will always be better for your kids than recycled air. The cold outdoor air will have less bacteria and is less likely to get your kid infected than keeping them inside all winter would. In addition, letting your child venture outside in the cold is a great learning experience for them. It provides a number of new sensory experiences and activities that they may not normally be able to partake in (like building a snowman).
As an extra helpful bonus, your kids will soon learn the best way to stay warm outside is to keep moving. Your child should still be getting regular exercise throughout the winter season. Putting them outdoors will encourage them to run around and get more exercise than they would get if they were cooped up and gives them an opportunity to see their friends. In addition, even though it’s cold out, unless you’re literally in Alaska, there will be crucial sunlight available to supply your kids with necessary Vitamin D.
How to protect your child
Although you should be encouraging outdoor playtime throughout the winter season, it’s important to make sure that junior’s all bundled up before heading out. Give your kids multiple layers of clothing and opt for water-resistant jackets, pants and shoes. A scarf, gloves, hat and thick socks will go a long way to keeping your kid warm in the chilly weather, and make sure your kid doesn’t go outside wearing anything wet. If possible, run underclothes through the dryer before putting them on for outdoor play in order to keep your children snuggled up just a bit longer in the cold. Avoid cotton, unless you’re taking them scuba diving, because it absorbs moisture and will dampen and chill a sweaty, active child.
Make sure your kid doesn’t spend too much time outside. He should return home to warm up every hour to every half an hour before going back outside, and he should be back in before it gets dark and the temperature can drop significantly.
When it’s time to go inside
Although you should encourage outdoor play, there are times when it’s time to call your child back to the house. Along with periodic indoor breaks in cold weather, you should also call junior back in if you see any symptoms of cold or wind chill. Is she shivering or tired? Is she stumbling around or confused? These can be early symptoms of hypothermia - it’s time to come in if you see this.
If the temperature falls below 13 degrees, it’s best to keep activities indoor for most of the day. You can allow a quick 10 to 15-minute romp outside if the kids are bouncing off the walls, but at such low temperatures frostbite can set in quickly, so you want to keep a watchful eye on everyone. And the lower the temperature, the less time you can let them spend outside.
It’s important to be cautious during the cold winter months, but that doesn’t mean your children have to spend December through February indoors. When the day’s not too cold and the sun’s out, let your kids go for a romp in the snow. It helps their imagination, their fitness and their overall health.