Written by Dr. Danae Dinkel and Kailey Snyder of the School of Health and Kinesiology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Being stuck inside with your young kids due to cold weather and shortened sunlight hours can make you feel like winter will never end, especially when their energy is making them (and you) bounce off the walls. To stay sane during this time of year, make time for indoor and outdoor active play.  Active play can be any type of play that gets a child moving and using up that energy. Regardless of weather, it is recommended that all children engage in active play each day. In fact, children under five are encouraged to be active for at least 3 hours every day.

Outdoor and indoor active play has numerous benefits including:

  • supporting your child’s imagination and self-confidence;
  • improving motor skills and social skills;
  • and enhancing their mood and ability to regulate emotions.  

So how do you get your child moving in the winter? Try and offer opportunities for indoor and outdoor play.

Outdoor play
First want to make sure it is safe to go outside. Using a weather chart similar to what child care
facilities use to determine safe outdoor play is a helpful tool. Here’s an example.

Second, you’ll want to make sure your child is dressed appropriately. A good general rule is to
give an infant or young child one extra layer of clothing than you would give yourself. Also, try
to avoid outerwear clothing made of cotton material as it will absorb the cold and snow the
most. Aim for fleece-lined and waterproof pants and coats when possible.

Finally, make the most of your time outside by having some fun activities ready to go. Try some
of these age specific ideas:

  • For your infant, snow is a brand new experience. Simply let them experience touching and tasting it. Consider a short burst of snowy tummy time and just let your infant experience the snow for a few minutes.
  • For your toddler or preschooler consider a snowy scavenger hunt or icy treasure hunt to help your child to see the outside world with a whole new perspective. Toddlers and preschoolers also love to help so let them get in on the action when you are out scooping snow.

Indoor play
There are going to be times when temperatures are just too cold and/or it isn’t possible to stay outside for very long – don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to bring the winter fun indoors.

  • For your infant, try making a winter sensory tub. Put snow or fake snow in a tub with mini shovels or buckets and let them play and explore the new temperatures and textures. Or create a pillow mountain and help them to learn how to balance as they crawl/walk across the uneven surface.
  • For your toddler or preschooler, give them a larger shovel and have them practice scooping fake snow like cotton balls or pom pom balls in and out of the tub. You can even have your child dress up in their winter hat and scarf for extra fun and fine motor skill practice of taking the items on and off!
  • Consider singing some of your favorite songs with a winter twist. Turn the hokey pokey into the snowey pokey and have your child “put their right mitten in, take their right mitten out and shake it all about”. Or what about changing the traditional “head, shoulder, knees and toes” song to “hat, scarf, mittens and boots?” If singing isn’t your thing look up songs like the Sid Shuffle or Jack Hartman’s “Penguin Dance” and move together as a family.
  • For more age specific ideas on how to get your young child active this winter check out this resource guide.

No matter what activity you choose the most important thing is that your child is moving and having fun. Keep those winter blues at bay by joining in on the fun!

For other information and research on physical activity in health promotion please visit UNO’s Physical Activity in Health Promotion Lab’s website.

About Our Blog Contributors

Dr. Danae Dinkel is an Assistant Professor in the School of Health and Kinesiology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She directs the Physical Activity in Health Promotion Lab where she teaches and does research centered around helping families be more active. This winter Danae is enjoying being active indoors and out with her her husband, 3 year old son (who has a new found love of riding his back even in the snow), and 9 month old daughter.

Kailey Snyder is a Doctoral Candidate in the Physical Activity in Health Promotion lab in UNO’s School of Health & Kinesiology. This winter Kailey is looking forward to taking family walks to look at holiday lights and having living room dance parties to stay active with her husband and 2-year old daughter.