How to Keep Kids Warm and Cozy While Playing Outdoors All Winter
Choose the right gear and stay on top of the post-play drying!
Sending children outside to play during the winter is one of the best things you can do for them, not to mention yourself.1 As the mother of three energetic young children, I can attest to the magic of the outdoors, how it gives them a space to expend energy and noise and then return indoors feeling considerably calmer. It also gives parents a brief respite from the chaos.
National and state guidelines recommend that children between 12 months and 6 years of age spend 60 and 90 minutes outdoors each day, and children older than that should get an hour, too.2 Babies should be taken out several times a day and exposed to the fresh outdoor air.2
One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that successful winter play is closely tied to the way children are dressed. Unless outfitted properly, they will have a miserable time and ask to come back in within minutes of heading out. It’s best to ensure they’re cozy and comfortable so they’ll stay out for a decent length of time, at least 30 minutes per session, repeated several times daily.2
The first thing to understand is that waterproof and windproof clothing is almost as important as insulation. They’re different qualities, of course, but a fuzzy sweater isn’t going to cut it in a biting wind, nor will a rain shell be sufficient in frigid cold. The two must be paired for optimal comfort. Staying dry is crucial, so even if it’s not that cold out, put rain pants on a child to keep their legs dry and break the wind.
Use boots that are high and waterproof. Choose heavy socks and a hat that are made of wool or synthetic material, as these wick moisture away from a warm active body most effectively. Cotton does not do this and will leave feet feeling clammy and cold3. Mittens are much warmer than gloves and should always have a water-resistant outer layer (so long, homemade knitted mitts!), and having a scarf or neck warmer makes a difference, too.
Bundle up your child so that there are no cracks showing. To quote a wonderful article in the New York Times on this topic, “Mind the gaps!”
“Dress kids in gauntlet-style gloves or mittens that cinch over their jacket’s cuffs, and keep cold winds from sneaking down their necks with a gaiter. A jacket overlapping with bib snow pants will be warmer than shorter layers that can gape open when kids are off and moving.”
I tuck my youngest child’s pants into his socks before putting them in boots, then pull the elasticized inner cuff of the snow pants around the boot. That way no snow can get in, no matter how vigorously he plays. I look for winter coats that have inner waistbands (“snow skirts”) that can be snapped shut around the child’s waist to keep snow from getting inside from underneath.
You don’t want to overdress a child, though, because then they will get too warm, sweaty, and uncomfortable.4 Make sure they have a good range of movement that allows them to play and keep active outside.
Give them tools and toys to use outdoors – shovels, buckets, frisbees, sleds, cardboard, colorful balls, items for an obstacle course, containers for making ice blocks, etc. They have to have something to do out there, like building a fort or a defense wall for a snowball fight or battling (as mine do on a daily basis) with homemade wooden swords and Nerf guns. My family does a lot of hikes on weekends to get out of the house, and having that supervised activity keeps them moving.
Don’t hesitate to cut the playtime short if your child is unhappy or cold outside. Even fifteen minutes will make a difference in their mood and energy level, and you can always repeat it again several times throughout the day.
If you think it’s a lot of work getting them ready to go out, just wait till they come back in. That’s when it gets really busy! Everything has to be dry before the next outing. Liners come out of boots and go onto heat registers, along with mittens and hats. (Buy one of those multi-pronged contraptions for propping up mittens and gloves over a vent. It makes a huge difference.) Coats and snow pants have to be hung to dry. Don’t skip this step or you’ll have angry, cold children in a few hours’ time and a whole lot of regret on your part. My advice is also to train kids to do this for themselves as early as you can.
Even the warmest clothing isn’t enough of an incentive to get some kids excited about playing in the cold, but other things can spur them to action, such as the promise of a warm treat when they come back in. Make hot chocolate, hot apple cider, or popcorn as a post-play treat. My kids ask for it in front of the fireplace, where they slowly toast themselves on all sides while snacking and sipping their cider through cinnamon stick “straws.”
Sometimes, if I’m outside with them on a hike or shoveling snow in the yard, I’ll bring the hot drinks outside and we enjoy them in the cold. That’s always well-received by the kids and makes it feel like a special occasion of sorts.
via tree hugger
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