There are so many benefits to spending time outdoors connecting with nature, even in the cold and dreary days of winter. Spending time outside is healthy for our children’s mind, body and soul! Here are some benefits of playing outside in the winter:
Improves Mental Health
Cold temperatures and shorter days often results in more indoor time. A lack of natural light, Vitamin D, and getting less exercise can result in feeling down, grumpy, or even losing interest in activities we usually enjoy. Although Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the worst case scenario, it still affects about 6% of the population and that includes children and adolescence.
Experts aren’t exactly sure what causes SAD, but research has led them to believe it is caused by a lack of sunlight. This lack of natural light can upset your biological clock and your sleep-wake patterns as well as cause problems with serotonin levels, a chemical in the brain that affects mood.
SAD aside, getting more Vitamin D during the daylight hours of winter months will increase energy levels, enhance mood, memory and overall health. Just 10 to 15 minutes out in the sun, even if it is cold outside, will give your kids their daily dose of Vitamin D.
Enhances Brain Power
Outdoor play enhances problem solving skills. Kids who play outside come across real life problems more often than those kids glued to iPads and video game screens all winter long. They will determine the best way to build that snow fort, how to position themselves on the toboggan for maximum speed, and how to help their friend out of the tree they’ve climbed too far up! Regardless if they are playing outside by themselves or learning how to get along with friends in the neighbourhood, they are solving problems all the time during outdoor play!
Along with the digital age, and those screens we were talking about, has literally shown children everything before they have the chance to imagine something. Why go outside and dig tunnels for toy cars in the snow when they can do it inside at the computer or watch something seemingly more stimulating on TV. Playing outside gives children access to a big wide world (even if it’s the little backyard) and helps them tap into their imaginations.
Increases Physical Activity
When we were kids there was no issue around childhood obesity or children not getting enough exercise. Tag on the jungle gym, shinny hockey every day after school, a weekend of building forts in the yard, these were all things we just did – much to our body’s benefit. Exercising while having fun is the best kind of exercise and that’s what they’ll get when they play outside in the winter.
Give your kids supplies to make the perfect snowman. Make sure their ice skates are sharpened and at the door, take them on a nature hike and learn how to identify wildlife prints, buy a few $5 crazy carpets and send them down the nearest sledding hill. These are all activities that get kid’s bodies moving and helps them stay healthy while they’re growing in these cold months.
Boost their Immune System
“Bundle up or you’ll catch a cold!” Phrases like that give winter a bad reputation! Winter does not automatically equal cold and flu for all who embark outdoors. When practising winter safety skills and dressing appropriately for the weather, being outside in the cold can actually improve your child’s health!
Fresh air really is good for you! Children spend a lot of time indoors at home, daycare and school. That is time spent in circulated air in closed environments and likely the cause of increased cases of the cold and flu in the winter season. The more time you are inside the more you are exposed. Getting outside and breathing the crisp winter air is good for us and helps us escape the indoor germs and bacteria that thrive in indoor environments this time of year.
Being outside helps children develop a stronger autoimmune systems and a resistance to allergies. Studies have shown that kids who grow up in rural areas and are more active outside have the best overall health.
Have more fun!
There are so many fun things to do in the winter! Learn how to cross country ski as a family, go on a winter hike, snow shoe across a winter lake, ice skating, tobogganing, building snow forts and snowmen, and learning about winter wildlife are all tonnes of fun for everyone! It’s a time to bond together as a family while reaping all the health benefits of outdoor winter play!
There are many member camps of the Alberta Camping Association that offer weekend retreats, camps and outdoor leadership training in the winter months. Our Camp Finder will help you narrow in your search and find a camp that offers winter camping.
Stay warm, stay safe and have fun!