For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is coming.
Playgrounds turn into “play dead zones,” recess at school will be held indoors— possibly with the help of smartboard apps training kids to run marathons in place, and parents increasingly give in to expanded winter screen time hours.
Except it doesn’t have to be that way. The fact is that winter play can offer your child a bunch of benefits that summer play can’t compare to. And as long as you are smart about winter play by watching the weather conditions carefully and dressing your child properly, your child can have a blast in the cold (if you need some ideas, check out our list of favorite winter fun activities!). Also, a free printable you can share at your child's school to encourage more outdoor recess!
Here's our list of seven ways winter play can benefit your child:
1. Helps Boost Appetite
Here’s a benefit that you might be interested in. As the temperatures drop quickly, our appetite increases. A recent study found that being active in a cool environment stimulates our sense of hunger. So be prepared when your child is ravished after that neighborhood snowball war or morning of sledding runs.
2. Requires More Physical Activity
When the weather is colder, our bodies work harder to keep warm. While any outdoor play is important to help keep kids fit and develop their physical skills, winter outdoor play is even more demanding physically!
3. Offers an Escape from Germs!
Winter often gets a bad rap for making kids sick. But the actual reason why we see more illness in the colder season is because we are indoors more often, catching germs from others who are sick. In winter, we close our windows and turn on the heat, reducing ventilation and increasing the circulation of germs like bacteria and viruses that cause common winter nuisances such as the cold or flu. Playing outside allows your child to escape these nasty indoor germs.
4. Strengthens Immune Systems
Sadly, it’s not possible to escape germs altogether as your child will eventually be indoors with a contagious person. Fortunately, outdoor play brings the benefit of helping your child develop a stronger autoimmune system and a resistance to allergies. Studies have shown that the cold actually activates the immune system, bolstering our ability to fight infections.
5. Gives Ticks & Mosquitos a Time Out
Sadly, playing outside in warm weather is a game of Russian roulette for many families who live in areas where Lyme-disease carrying ticks or pathogen-causing mosquitos live. In warm weather, playing outside is a ritual of covering up, tucking in, spraying and tick checks. Winter weather brings on hibernation for mosquitos. As for ticks, these pests do become dormant in winter but, take caution because they do not go away in the winter, nor do they die because of the cold and they can be active when temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Wakes up the Imagination
In this world of screens that has been built up around our children, many kids are losing the true gift of childhood—imagination. Imagine how sad Fred Rogers or Dr. Seuss would be to witness the decline of the creative and imaginative child. But winter play can actually help get your child’s creative juices flowing. One research study found that the cold might actually encourage a type of creativity that the researchers refer to as "referential creativity." The authors of the study suggest that low temperatures help us to overcome mental habits and think outside the box.
And winter play with its “blank white slate” for children to work with, offers a multitude of creative opportunities from building snow dens and forts to fairy houses.
7. Puts Them in a Better Mood
Kids and adults need Vitamin D from the sun. It helps to regulate our mood, increases our energy levels and sharpens our memory. But if kids are cooped up during the winter, they have little chance of absorbing the necessary amount of Vitamin D from sunlight and can become deficient. The good news is that just 15 minutes of playing outside can provide a child with their daily dosage of Vitamin D, putting them in a better mood for the benefit of your entire family!
A word on winter safety tips!
While they can spend hours engaged in a snowball war or getting the snowman’s look just right, kids can not regulate their body temperature as well as adults. Children exposed to extreme cold can quickly develop a dangerously low body temperature (i.e., become hypothermic). Newborn infants are especially prone to hypothermia. Make sure that you educate yourself on keeping your child safe in colder temperatures. Check out this resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics with great winter safety tips.