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Outdoor winter activities for kids

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Mom-tested solutions for fun

Winter doesn't have to mean chilly afternoons huddled indoors. Instead, bundle up the kids for some fun outdoor winter activities (and exercise!) that will get their hearts pumping.

Hey, baby, it's cold outside! But, that doesn't mean that you and the kids shouldn't bundle up for some winter fun.

Knowing the right outdoor activities for winter days (and nights!) is the first step to having a healthy, active winter. "I think it’s important to make fitness a part of your child’s life from the youngest of age. The best way for them to learn it is for you to model it. Do a stroller workout and/or take your baby to a mommy and me fitness class. They will see that Mom likes to exercise," says Lisa Druxman, creator of Stroller Strides.

Dr. Fatima S. Khan, pediatrician with Rush-Copley Medical Center and an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Rush University Medical College in Chicago says that keeping active all year round is an absolute must for families. "This is very important. The No. 1 reason for the childhood obesity epidemic is due to physical inactivity and spending too much time in front of TV or computer games," says Dr. Khan.

Things to know before playing outside in the winter

Ready to tear your kids away from the games and get them outside for winter activities? Here are a few things to know:

  1. Before heading outside, make sure that your kids are bundled up to be warm. You should bundle up too. Be sure to wear gloves, coats and warm socks, along with weather-appropriate footwear.
  2. Be aware of the signs of frostbite in kids. If your child complains of aching pain or numbness, most often to their extremities (hands, feet or ears) or their skin feels hard/waxy with a white color, come inside immediately and follow these instructions.
  3. Don't worry, playing outside won't make them sick. Dr. Khan says that the idea that going outside in the cold will give you a cold is nothing more than an old wives' tale. "Just going outside doesn't make people catch colds. Of course, they should be appropriately dressed... and if it's really cold, like we get in Chicago, staying inside is better," says Dr. Khan. However, Dr. Khan does say that if someone has been exposed to the cold virus, then being in the cold weather can make the cold come on faster.
  4. Stay hydrated. Just like any other time of the year, it's important that you and your kids drink enough. "Don’t forget to bring water, even when the weather is chilly," says Mindy Pierce, director of programming for Sport & Health Clubs.

Want more? Check out 4 safety tips during winter sports >>

Build a snowman

Do you remember rolling the snow into balls to create three parts for a special snowman? It was a lot of fun, but that's not all. Making a snowman is also awesome exercise. "Moving all that snow around takes a lot of work," says mom Alethea Smock, whose kids are ages 3 and 5.

Bubble time

You might associate blowing bubbles with sundresses, bare feet and green grass. But in the winter time, it takes on a whole new (and fun!) dimension. "My kids' favorite is blowing bubbles on freezing days and watching them turn into ice bubbles — they look amazing," says Sam'n Iqbal, a parent educator and mother of three.

Shoveling help

It goes without saying that shoveling snow is hard work. It's also awesome exercise — even for kids. Pick up a kid-sized shovel and have them help out by clearing a path in the snow, or digging to make fun patterns. Afterwards, they can look from second story windows to see their winding snow walks!

Geocaching

The mere mention of the word 'treasure' is guaranteed to light up kids' eyes. So, why not take them on a real-life treasure hunt with geocaching? People use global positioning devices and the internet to seek out items hidden by others. "When my guys were 12 and 13 it was fun to do geocaching where you find people's hidden items via internet clues and GPS. It's done all over the world [and] it's fun to hide items too," says mom of two, Kerri Hopkins. Hopkins said that from her experience, this is best for the age 11 to 13 crowd.

Want to try it? Check out Geocaching.com for help.

Look for animal tracks

Whenever it snows, it sets the stage for an ultra-fun family activity: Tracking animals. Grab a camera and your kids and check out the animal tracks in your freshly fallen snow. Take photos too, so you can compare them to photos of animal tracks later.

Mom Rebecca P. Cohen of RebeccaPlants.com, who is the spokesmom for the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There movement, says that although she has a book for IDing tracks, the internet is her preferred tool. "Most of the time we just do a quick internet search when we get inside for animal tracks pictures. It's a fun way to 'investigate' the mystery of which animal track you saw and to get used to looking up answers to questions together. Outside time definitely piques kids' curiosity and they have lots of questions. So looking up questions with your child on the internet is a great way to learn together," says Cohen.

Flashlight tag

Love the game of tag? Flashlight tag is like the fun classic game, except players tag each other with beams of light, instead of hands. "We started playing flash tag just by stepping outside at night with our flashlights in winter and the kids started flashing their flashlights and chasing each other," says Cohen.

So, how does she keep track in the dark? "I'm pretty specific with them about where they can play and I stay with them for flash tag," says Cohen.

Next page: 5 more fun outdoor activities

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