In the age of social media, video games, and streaming services, getting kids to spend time outdoors can feel more like a chore, particularly in cooler temperatures. However, spending time outside during the winter contributes significantly to the physical and mental wellbeing of children. Many great activities are tailored to the colder months that get children outdoors to improve their overall health and attitude.
Health Benefits Abound
The physical benefits of being outside are numerous. The most obvious gain is in terms of movement and the resultant exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control, younger children should be active throughout the day, while older children should engage in at least 60 minutes of varied activities to build muscles, strengthen bones and increase aerobic capacity.
Sixty minutes may seem like a lot of time, but just being outside encourages active play like running, walking, bike riding, and jumping. In fact, researchers in Britain recently found that children were over twice as active when they spent time outdoors. Another physical benefit of being outside is exposure to the sun. Our bodies, when exposed to the sun, produce Vitamin D, which is essential to the integrity of our skeletal and immune systems.
Helps Beat SAD
Sun exposure also plays a critical role in mental health. It produces serotonin that can help control Seasonal Affective Disorder. Serotonin can also lessen the effects of other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. The mental benefits of outdoor play also include the development of executive functions. Executive functions are skills like planning, focusing and remembering instructions. Multitasking is another such skill children must learn to become productive and well-adjusted adults.
Keeping Kids Engaged
Parents can encourage the development of these functions by fostering creative play and providing children with self-directed play opportunities. This might also sound daunting at first, but it is easy to achieve with this list of outdoor activities for kids.
You’ll find numerous doings to get kids moving and developing critical life skills. For example, a Winter Scavenger Hunt provides a bit of structure in the form of goal achievement, while letting kids wander and complete the process in any way they choose. The Scavenger Hunt can be tailored to any age, location, or activity level. It’s easy to incorporate additional physical tasks like lunges or squats to reap added physical benefits.
Perfect for Learning Too
Spending time outside during the winter will also help kids gain an appreciation of the natural world. It is said that humans have a biological tendency to seek out a connection with nature and other forms of life. Winter is an especially poignant time to engage in this type of behavior.
Encouraging kids to build a bird-like nest can lead to a multi-tiered discussion of migration habits of birds and other animals, as well as the struggle for winter subsistence among animals and previous generations of humans. Winter is also a great time for kids to spot birds and other wildlife amongst the bare branches. It is also a wonderful period during which, to bond as a family while reaping the mental and physical benefits exploring the natural world provides.
So bundle them up and shepherd them out of doors. It doesn’t have to be a big production like a skiing trip. There’s plenty to do right in your own neighborhood to keep your kids engaged and building lifelong skills that will serve them well, even when they grow up and have children of their own.