We know that an outdoor life is good for children. But why is that exactly? And how can we get outside more in the cold winter months when resistance levels are sky-high?
Trying to keep your kid healthy is a never-ending battle during winter. There’s always a cold or vomiting bug going around, but heading outdoors can make a big difference.
What Do the Experts Say?
There’s plenty of research that underlines the importance of outside play for kids, it’s not just a myth.
Many of us suffer from low levels of vitamin D during the winter. Our primary source is sunshine, and it helps promote calcium absorption and bone growth. It also contributes to fending off seasonal affective disorder (SAD) too. Unless it’s burning your child’s skin, the sun is their friend – even when it’s hiding behind the clouds.
Being outdoors is a great opportunity to develop your child’s physical health. Lots of space gives them a chance to exercise. Playing in the earth helps to strengthen their immune systems. This is due to microbes in the soil exposing them to tiny amounts of bacteria. Fresh air can stimulate their brains.
All that physical exercise can also promote a healthy appetite. Fussy eaters can get extremely hungry after playing outdoors. This will make it more likely they’ll eat their dinner and try new foods.
But it’s not just physical health that’s boosted by outside time. Mental health is improved too. Being outdoors can help concentration and school grades. In some cases it can also help manage Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Studies show that kids even learn better when they are outside – they’re more adventurous and stimulated.
Quality Time and Relationship Building
Many parents have time pressures that mean they don’t get to spend as much time with their child as they’d like. Lots of ‘quality time’ is spent playing Xbox games, at the cinema or at a theme park. This doesn’t allow you to have a conversation the way that walking does.
Once the moaning has stopped, walking outside provides a safe space for kids to chat. You can interact with younger ones by pointing out trees, clouds and letting them play with leaves.
Being outside also fosters an environmental relationship. When children interact with the great outdoors it creates an appreciation of nature and an interest in protecting it. Goodness knows the world needs this.
How to Get Outside in Winter
So those are some of the reasons why your kid needs to be outside, but as a parent I’m aware it’s not that simple. It can be a real struggle to get out there, but once you start it’ll become addictive so keep trying. Your children may resist at first but once it’s a habit they’ll get into the spirit.
Here are some tips to help you get outside in the winter months (and the summer ones too).
Look no further than your garden. Start growing winter veggies in containers, and collect leaves for a collage.
Jump in puddles, feed the birds and shelter in a pop up tent.
Head to the local park, you’ll find it much less crowded than summer months.
Take a friend so they can run together and jump in puddles like Peppa Pig.
Don’t worry about getting wet – it’s just rain.
Go for a Walk
Council websites list graded walks and provide maps with car parking. This makes it easy to walk with a pushchair or a shorter distance with easily tired toddlers. Shorter distances set your child up for longer walks in the future, so it’s worth starting early.
Incorporate a walk with a country pub stop for lunch or a hot chocolate. Try to find wooded areas, as trees are an endless source of fascination for younger children.
Think about walking to school. Research shows it sets your kid up for the day in regards to mental clarity. Even once or twice a week is better than not at all.
Can you head to the seaside? Winter beaches are glorious places. Just remember your hat and wellies, and take a flask of something warming. Buy a cheap metal detector for hours of entertainment. If not, collect cuttlefish, shells, driftwood and sea glass. Some kids like to have a task to complete like a scavenger hunt, while others prefer to run around madly in a wide open space – both are good!
Top tip: If you are heading outside for a few hours take a filling snack. Nothing kills the fun like a child who is hungry from physical activity.
Go and Explore
Winter months don’t mean you have to stay indoors watching films or getting cabin fever. There are plenty of proven health reasons why your kid should head outside, even on wet and windy days.
Once you get started they’ll realise that wind, rain and the cold are not enemies to be frightened of but energy, fun and fresh air providers. Just ride out the moaning that always accompanies an instruction to put the iPad down. All kids love being outdoors – even if they don’t know it yet.