Why Playing Outside in Winter Weather is Important for Kids

Kids playing outside in the snow

Why does it take so long to put winter gear on? Some days I dread going outside in the cold. And I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life (aside from a brief stint in Texas). But despite my strong opposition, every winter I spend the 30 minutes it takes to get all my winter gear on, and I take the kids outside. Why? Because it’s important. Studies show even 15-20 minutes of outdoor activity each day can have major health benefits. Playing outside is important for kids – even in the cold winter months and no temp is too low. And because there’s always a piping hot cup of coffee waiting for me on the other side.

1. Sleep Patterns

In the warmer months, you don’t need an excuse to go outside. It’s gorgeous out. In the winter – not the case. It’s hibernation season. I’m guilty of this myself. Sometimes I don’t even open the windows during the day and it’s like living in permanent darkness. Not good for natural sleep patterns.

The less sunlight you get each day, the more your body’s natural rhythms are thrown off. How does that translate into kids playing outside when it’s cold? Well, as parents we’ll do pretty much anything to get our kids to sleep at night. And if you give your kids the proper amount of sunlight, the more you’ll stack the odds in your favor.

It may be a partially selfish reason to get your kids outside. But it’s a reason nonetheless. More sunlight = better sleep.

2. Keep Them Active

Do your kids turn into zombies in the winter months – just staring at a screen all day? Or are you burnt out from scrolling Pinterest for arts and crafts projects? You’re not alone. It’s challenging to keep kids active when you’re inside constantly. We literally brought all our outdoor toys inside at one point just to promote exercise. But even if you compromise by turning on Youtube yoga, nothing can replace good ole’ fashioned outdoor play.

4-year-old girl how to stay active in winter

If it’s snowy, grab a snow tube and let them go to town. You can also get your own workout in by pulling them around in a sled. There are many ways to encourage outdoor play in winter. Add in some fun toys to make it more exciting and they’ll be begging to go outside.

Allowing your kids to run around outside will ensure they get the exercise they need. It reinforces healthy habits. Plus, tired kids mean happy parents.

3. The Many Health Benefits of Fresh Air

This is probably the first thing most people think of when it comes to outdoor play. And for good reason. Fresh air is essential to kids. Well, all humans really.

Why playing outside is important | Rocky Mountain National Park
Yes, there’s snow on the ground. Yes, he’s wearing sandals. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

Studies have shown fresh air contributes to increased vitamin D, improvements in concentration, clearing lungs, lower blood pressure, and yes, even raises happiness levels. According to an article from Harvard, going outside may even have healing powers. Who knew.

But how do you get fresh air when it’s freezing outside? Take your kids out for smaller chunks of time. Playing outside in winter is just as important as other months. But you don’t have to spend hours out there. Even 15-20 minutes of outdoor play is beneficial for kids.

All this to say, the more fresh air you can get into your kids, the better. Their little growing bodies will thank you for it.

4. It Strengthens the Immune System

Fresh air boosts immune system 4-year-old tree swing
Firm believer that tree swings are the ultimate source of laughter

Playing outside is important for giving your kids an immune system boost. It’s no secret that illnesses tend to run rampant during the winter months. And one of the key reasons for the spread – kids spending more time indoors. Less ventilation means germs are more likely to make their rounds.

Kids who play outside get a nice immune system boost to help fight off those illnesses. Plus, germs tend to circulate less outside.

5. Nature Play Encourages Problem Solving and Creativity

Our inside world tends to be somewhat predictable. Your kids know where all their favorite toys are (unless they are avoiding clean-up time). You have routines. And constant surroundings. Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to encourage independent, open-ended play. For the most part, though, being inside is familiar.

Outdoor play promotes problem solving

When you step outside, that’s when things tend to become more unstructured. Surroundings change. Weather varies. Wildlife comes in and out of the picture. It’s less controlled. Which also means it’s the perfect platform for learning.

Because spontaneity can’t be replicated as easily inside, outdoor play is better for teaching your kids problem solving and experimentation. They’ll need to react to constantly changing surroundings, which studies show, enhances creativity. Playing outside in winter can include snow play, ice, tree, or pine needles to get them engaged.

6. It Increases Their Attention Span

Have you ever noticed when you go outside, your kids naturally play on their own? They are curious and inventive. And the outdoor world is the perfect place for exploring.

And then when you go inside, they are back to being bored – cycling through a new toy every 5 seconds. Indoors, most activities are parent-led. Or when kids are left to their own devices, open-ended toys aren’t usually the first stop. So they play for a few minutes until they get bored. And then ask mom or dad for something else to do. This is repeated for what I can only describe as infinite amounts of time.

benefits of outdoor play 4-year-old hopping

If you want to increase your child’s attention span, let them play outside and use their imagination. It’s likely to keep them entertained for longer. You may be cold. But it’s a mental break you may not get otherwise.

But It Takes SO Long to Get Them Ready to Go Outside

In the winter, I’m with you. It takes SO long to get all their gear on. Probably longer than the time they are actually outside. Even in the summer you have sunscreen to contend with. It can be tempting to take the easy road and just stay inside. But this is when you must persevere.

Force yourself to get all the gear out. Take the step. Reward yourself with some hot chocolate to warm up. You’ll all be happier for it.

You may also like:

12 Brilliant Camping Activities for Kids

How to Encourage Independent Play for Toddlers

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