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Ah, winter – the time for longer nights, cooler weather, and less outdoor recreation for kids. Yes, teachers may find themselves keeping the kids inside during playtime because of poor weather or fear of illness, but there are many benefits to outdoor play – especially on the playground slide and in the garden. To help you feel confident about playing in the cold weather, we are going to look at:

  1. Nature and the immune system
  2. Outdoor adventure and excess energy
  3. Fun games to play outside for child development
  4. Outdoor play and wellbeing

The big winter question is, can children play outside? Well, read on to see why it is a good idea to get your kids into outdoor activities whatever the weather…

Nature and the immune system

We may want to stay wrapped up warm in our homes during the colder months, but that can be detrimental to our health. 

When we are inside, all the germs and any viruses we have can’t escape and cycle around the home. The UK Government and all governments in other areas of the world have even advised that we need to improve our social distancing and reduce the spread of Covid-19 by making sure that “…rooms are well ventilated by keeping windows and doors open”. So, getting them to play outside may reduce the chance of your kids getting a cold or something worse.

Plus, when they play outdoors in natural environments, children can come into contact with bacteria and natural microbes, which is not a bad thing. Being exposed to these beneficial bugs helps challenge their immune system and, as a result, they become more resilient to auto-immune diseases such as asthma, eczema, and more.

What’s more, playing outside, or having a nature-filled childhood path, has been found to increase lifespans compared to those who have little or no connection to the outdoors.

Outdoor adventure and excess energy

Children seem to have boundless amounts of energy these days. They run, jump and play so actively, but that is not all down to how much sugar they have eaten.

Research suggests it is because they use more of their aerobic system than we adults do. As a result, they recover more quickly and have better endurance. This increased oxygen intake not only helps their recovery but also keeps them invigorated and energetic for longer too. That’s why they can run and play and have so much energy all day long.

As a result, when kids are more inside than out, they can get frustrated and restless. And letting them watch more TV or spend more time playing video games is not necessarily going to help.

You should take them to the playground swing or on bike rides – anything that will help them burn off energy and use their key muscle groups. It will help them remain fit and healthy and reduce any negative and bored emotions too.

Fun games to play outside for child development

The autumn and winter weather in the UK (and most of Asia, Europe, Canada, and the US) mean that some regular activities are significantly more dangerous for kids to do. Running on hard surfaces outdoors can be made risky through rain and ice, playing football on the school field can be made messier due to wet mud and waterlogged grass. Their play needs to be adapted, and children need to develop new problem-solving and cognitive skills to cope.

For example, if they are not allowed to play on the grass because of the snow, they can work out how to build snowmen instead, or it could lead them to ask their teachers how snow is made. If the rain has made all the equipment wet and unsafe, they can use their imaginations to make up a game that does not need it. These changes to their usual playtime and activities encourage them to question things and want to learn more.

Here are a few activities you can do in winter that will encourage their learning:

  • Outdoor scavenger hunt
  • Leaf painting
  • Bike rides
  • Pooh sticks

Outdoor play and wellbeing

One major missing thing in winter is the sunshine. There is a lot less of it, and it is not as bright or warm as in summer. As a result, there is much less chance of us absorbing the all-important Vitamin D from the sunshine that we need to regulate our hormones and emotions, and keep our bones healthy. 

This is especially important in children who are in a rapid stage of growth – they need their outdoor break times at school to be exposed to the natural light (even when they’re wrapped up in coats and hats). And they need time outdoors at the weekends too.

It is all about the Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) that the sun’s rays emit. We can’t absorb it (and therefore, the Vitamin D) through the window glass, so we need to be outdoors to benefit. Research suggests that we need as little as nine minutes in the sun per day in high summer with 35% of the skin exposed, and then just hands and faces in winter to maintain the levels. It varies with climate and skin color, but it is not a long time for such large benefits.

So, don’t keep your kids inside all winter, just a few minutes in the weak winter sun is necessary to keep their Vitamin D levels (and their moods and bone strength) happy.

As you can see, outdoor recreation in winter doesn’t cause colds, and it is beneficial for their mental and physical health and development. So, go have an outdoor adventure in the garden with your kids this winter, forget the weather, and just enjoy nature and playgrounds around you. 

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