Parents and teachers may hesitate to send children outside to play in the cold, but winter can be an excellent opportunity for kids to get exercise and explore a sparkling snow-covered wonderland. Kids love to play with soft, powdery snow, and they can reap many health benefits when they get out into the fresh air. Just like in warmer months, children need vitamin D from the sun, physical exercise and the chance to expand their imaginations.
Despite how much fun winter playtime can be, teachers and parents need to help kids stay safe. This post covers everything you need to know to make winter recess healthy and happy.
Benefits of Outdoor Play in the Winter
There are numerous benefits to playing outside, whether there’s a fresh blanket of snow on the ground or birds chirping in the trees. Let’s look at a few reasons to bundle up and head outside with the kids.
1. Fresh Air
Cold air often gets blamed for getting kids sick, but indoor air is the real culprit. When kids spend all their time indoors, they are constantly breathing in recycled air. Bacteria and viruses circulate more easily in trapped air, and that’s one reason people tend to get sick in the winter. Getting outside lets kids play together with less chance of rebreathing germs, and it lessens their exposure to recycled air.
Kids need exercise every day of the year. Playing outside during the winter ensures their muscles continue developing. Kids also get to use large muscles in new ways, promoting gross motor skills as they trudge through snow or build snow sculptures. Lastly, exercising in the fresh winter air gives kids an immunity boost for a full 24 hours, meaning fewer doctor visits and fewer missed school days.
3. Imagination Stimulation
Winter gives kids a chance to explore their imagination in a different environment. For example, a child might feel inspired to build an igloo and pretend they live among polar bears. Another child may enjoy the adventure of searching for hidden treasures in the snow. Outdoor play stimulates the imagination in ways indoor play can’t, and it helps children develop creativity and problem-solving skills.
4. Vitamin D
Kids and adults need vitamin D from the sun all year long. Kids need vitamin D because it helps the body absorb calcium which is essential for building strong bones. Vitamin D also supports heart health and the immune system. Just 10 to 15 minutes of outdoor play helps kids get their daily dose of vitamin D.
Fun Outdoor Winter Activities
You might imagine a snow-covered landscape like a blank canvas — there are so many ways to play in the snow. Here are some fun outdoor winter games and activities kids can play at school or home.
1. Snow Volcano
A fun way to show kids science in action is to make a snow volcano. To make the volcano, you’ll add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda, a spoonful of dish soap and a few drops of food coloring to an empty water bottle. If you wish to make the eruption look like lava, use red food color. Next, form a volcano in the snow and make sure there’s a hole in the center to hold the water bottle. Add an ounce of vinegar to the water bottle and watch the volcano come to life. If it doesn’t work, add more vinegar and dish soap.
2. Snow Maze
Making a snow maze is an easy way to make the most of freshly fallen snow. To make a snow maze, you can simply push snow out of the way with your feet and stomp on it to pack it down. Make sure to include lots of different paths and dead ends to increase the adventure. You might even add puzzles along the way and see who can reach the end of the maze first.
3. Scavenger Hunt
A playground in the winter is an excellent setting for a scavenger hunt. To play, divide kids into groups and give each group a list of items to find like pinecones, rocks and twigs. The first group to find the listed items win. You could also play a game where you choose an object, like pinecones, for example, and hide a bunch around the playground. Challenge children to find as many pinecones as they can. The one who finds the most wins.
4. Snow Throw
Kids will be happy to bundle up and head outside for a chance to throw snow. However, instead of encouraging a snowball fight, ask kids to throw snowballs at a target. You can use many different items for a snowball target. For example, if there’s a tire swing on the playground, kids can take turns trying to throw snowballs through the center of the swing. You can also stick plastic bottles or containers in the snow and have kids try to knock them down.
5. Snowman Hat Toss
If it snowed and the temperature is just a degree above or below freezing, you might have the ideal snow for building a snowman. You can take the kids outside to build a snowman and play a tossing game. After you build your snowman, kids can take turns tossing a hat and trying to make it land on the snowman’s head. You might make a few snowmen of different sizes to act as different game levels. For example, once a kid successfully tosses a hat onto a small snowman’s head, they get to move onto a taller target.
6. Nature Walk
Imagine taking kids for a peaceful winter walk in the woods. Wintertime is a quiet time of the year and offers an opportunity to connect with nature in a new way. After a fresh snowfall, take kids to look for animal tracks, which they can measure and sketch to investigate later. Ask them to search for other clues of animal life, like scratch marks on trees, and encourage them to take photos. A nature walk helps kids sharpen their observation skills and learn about the natural world.
You can also play I Spy on your walk to add another element of fun. To play I Spy, pick an object you see on your walk. For example, imagine you see a glove on the ground. You might say, “I spy something you wear.” Ask each player to take a guess based on your clue. Whoever guesses correctly becomes the next spy.
Winter is great for bird-watching because there are no leaves on the trees for birds to hide behind. You can make a simple bird feeder with the kids using pinecones, peanut butter and birdseed to set up outside. If you have a playset with a fort, consider placing the birdfeeder in front of the fort, so kids can sneakily watch birds with binoculars. Help kids identify different birds and record them in a journal to compare with bird sightings in the spring.
8. Winter Obstacle Course
There are so many different ways to increase outdoor fun when there are heaps of snow on the ground. For example, you can make an exciting playground obstacle course by using snow to create obstacles. You might build small towers for kids to zig-zag through. You can add another challenge by asking kids to toss a snowball at a target before they move to the next obstacle. Even a simple row of snow piles transforms into a thrilling set of hurdles kids can leap over.
9. Snow Pies
Making snow pies is a fun outdoor winter activity for preschoolers or any child who wants to unleash their imagination and get creative with snow. To make snow pies, hand out aluminum pie plates and encourage kids to use sandbox toys to shape and decorate their snow pies. Kids can have fun adding layers and toppings using “ingredients” they find in nature such as dirt, rocks or pine needles. They might add stale bread or birdseed decorations and leave their pies for animals and birds to snack on.
10. Long Jump
Long jump is a simple way to help kids stay fit in the winter, and it only requires snow to play. All you need to do is draw a starting line in the snow and ask kids to jump as far as they can. Use their footprints to see who can jump the farthest.
How to Prepare a Playground for Winter Recess
Proper playground maintenance is critical for happy playtime in the winter. A well-maintained playground will help keep kids safe. Here’s how to make sure your playground is prepared for snowy weather and excited kids.
1. Inspect Playground Equipment
Do a thorough inspection of playground equipment before winter weather arrives to ensure equipment is stable and in top condition. Look for any broken pieces, cracks, loose bolts, corroded hardware or worn components. Also, check playground surfacing and replace loose-fill materials where needed. Make sure the proper depth is maintained throughout the playground, and pay careful attention to high-use areas like swings and slide exits. Note that playground safety surface can lose its impact attenuation when it freezes. If the safety surfacing is frozen and hard, don’t let kids play on the equipment.
2. Make Necessary Repairs
If you notice any damaged equipment or loose parts, make repairs or replace broken equipment immediately. When making repairs, follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely. If part of a playset cannot be repaired immediately, close it off until it is safe to use. If you plan to add new playground equipment during the winter, consider plastic equipment. Plastic will not get cold like metal or splinter like wood. Lastly, always keep a record of inspections and repairs.
3. Check for Slippery Surfaces
Freezing rain, ice and even snow can make platforms, steps, handrails and slides dangerously slippery. Always check for icy or slippery surfaces every time you head to the playground. Remove any snow or ice that you see before recess starts. If it is too difficult to remove or you feel that the surfaces may still be slippery, do not let kids use the equipment and explore other outdoor activities.
4. Check for Snow Buildup
You’ll want to remove all snow from playground equipment before use. Snow can conceal sharp objects or create a suffocation hazard if it blocks the end of tube slides.
Winter Playground Safety Tips
Here are a few winter safety tips to make sure kids can enjoy their winter wonderland without a care.
1. Check for Safe Temperatures
First, it’s important to know your school’s weather guidelines for outdoor play. Know what the policies are regarding temperatures, weather conditions and when kids must stay inside. Secondly, always remember to check both the windchill and the temperature. In general, when the windchill is 32 degrees and above, it’s safe to play outside.
It’s also important to keep in mind that temperatures below freezing can cause playground surfacing to freeze. Children should not use playground equipment when it’s freezing. Without safe surfacing, the playground is unsafe. Frozen surfacing will not absorb the impact of a fall.
2. Provide Adult Supervision
Kids need adult supervision every time they play on the playground. Establish winter safety rules and make sure kids and their parents are aware of the rules. Also, keep an eye on kids to make sure they are warm enough to continue playing outside.
3. Dress Appropriately
Many kids come to school wearing scarves which can get caught on playground equipment. Make sure kids remove scarves before playing on play equipment to avoid a strangulation hazard. Also look out for hood drawstrings which can get caught on playground equipment. Suggest wearing neck warmers to school or the playground instead of scarves.
Encourage kids to dress in layers to stay warm. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests dressing kids in an extra layer than an adult would wear. Kids should also avoid cotton clothing as that won’t keep them warm — wool or other fabrics are better. An easy way to remember how to dress kids is to keep in mind they will need a base layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. Waterproof pants and jackets are good for snowy activities. Make sure kids top off their ensembles with warm hats that cover their ears, socks, snug boots, and gloves or mittens. Encourage parents to send their kids with an extra pair of gloves in case their gloves get wet and let them know if your school offers extra winter gear for kids who need it.
4. Put Safety First
Although it’s important kids get fresh air and exercise during the winter, you’ll always want to put safety first. If you have any doubt in your mind that playtime outside would be unsafe, keep children indoors. There will be plenty more sunny days ahead.
Explore Playworld Play Equipment Today
Every playground needs innovative play equipment that is built to last. At Playworld, we are passionate about bringing high-quality, safety-tested playgrounds to communities across the globe. If you have any questions about wintertime playground equipment or equipment maintenance, please contact one of our Play Experts today. If you are interested in building a new playground, we will help you choose the best equipment for your needs and budget. Contact us to learn more, or explore our playground equipment today.