Just because it’s getting colder outside doesn’t mean that your kids are ready for a long winter’s nap! On the contrary, it’s more important than ever that kids get all the fresh air and outdoor play that they can, since childhood obesity rates are on the rise. Instead of letting the kids in your life zone out in front of a screen for the next few months, it’s important to encourage as much physical activity as you can.
Regular exercise helps children avoid dangerous chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and it’s also a crucial way to relieve stress. What’s more, spending time outdoors has been shown to increase creativity and cognitive abilities, making a daily dose of nature a goal worth striving for.
So how can you keep kids entertained and active this winter—even when bad weather strikes? Try these ideas to add some wholesome fun to your neighborhood. From holiday arts and crafts to getting outside to build a snowman (or sandman!), here’s how you can put more play into your neighborhood this season.
The More the Merrier
In addition to having family fun in the winter, you can also encourage the kids in your neighborhood to get together for some outdoor fun and games. If your neighborhood has a communal area like a clubhouse, playground or open lawn, you can help organize some safe, fun activities for everyone to enjoy. To get started, consider getting a group of like-minded parents together to brainstorm some ideas. If you collaborate, you can choose a day of the week and take turns hosting an activity after school or on the weekends. A weekly or bi-weekly event will give everyone something to look forward to throughout the winter.
Try these ideas for kid-friendly events in your neighborhood:
Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring, then let kids go wild decorating the snow. You can also provide paint brushes and buckets of color for finer detailing. Let kids paint pictures on the ground or build snow sculptures to decorate. If you don’t live in a reliably snowy area, you can provide some plain white sheets for a similarly grand canvas—this is even better if you have a common area to hang the banners you create to be enjoyed in the coming months.
Tug of War
Tug of war is one of those games that requires a big group to play, so it makes sense to make it a centerpiece of a kid-friendly gathering. All you’ll need to make it happen is a 50-foot rope. You can pick up a length of nylon utility rope at a hardware store, or you can order a specialized tug of war rope online. To play, create two even teams, making sure that little kids are mixed up with bigger ones. Have each team line up by size, with the smallest player at the front and the largest at the ends. This is a great game to play in the snow for an extra challenge, but it’s just as fun on the grass, too.
If you have a playground, you can use it to create a wild outdoor obstacle course to keep kids moving. Climbing ladders, crossing the monkey bars and jetting down the slide are all good exercise, but you can make your obstacle course even more exciting by adding some homemade portions, too. Place hula hoops on the ground for a kid-friendly tire run, pick up a few pillow cases for a sack race or find a few spare 2×4 timbers to create low balance beams. This activity is great for all seasons, but check for icy spots before setting up in the winter.
Creating a Space for Kids
If your community doesn’t have a place for kids to play, it may be time to create one. If you’re successful in getting a group of parents together to organize some regular activities for kids this winter, you might use that goodwill as a stepping stone to building a new playground in your neighborhood. If you already have access to an open space to use, consider planning and installing some playground equipment for the local children. Follow these steps to get your project off the ground:
- Consult with a playground design expert. A trained designer will be able to help you consider accessibility for differently-abled children, the best site for your needs and common insurance and planning issues.
- Design your play space. It’s a good idea to try several layouts and combinations of equipment. Once you narrow your ideas down to three or four designs, get input from the community—including the kids!
- Consider the prep work. Don’t forget that you’ll need to prepare the site by leveling the ground, adding drainage and laying out the play surface. You’ll also need to make sure your site is ready to handle trucks and equipment as your materials are delivered.
- Install the equipment. If you have a handy crew of volunteers, you can assemble your playground equipment yourselves. It’s also possible to opt for professional installation if you prefer.
- Stay safe. The final step? Lay some ground rules for your playground, and make sure everyone knows them. You can put up a sign, but make sure it’s simple and clear for kids—consider adding pictures for those who are still learning how to read.
- Host a grand opening. There’s no better way to get the word out about the new playground than to host a grand opening party. Invite all the neighbors for a ribbon cutting ceremony and provide healthy snacks and refreshments for playground goers to enjoy. You can spread the word about the party in your community newsletter.
Other Classic Winter Activities to Get Kids Outdoors
There’s an old German saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Embrace this hardy spirit and let kids head out to play whenever possible in the winter. As long as they wear lots of layers and have a waterproof coat and boots to keep the snow out, there are very few days when it’s really too cold to go outside. Just make sure to check the forecast as blizzard warnings and high wind chill can cause concerns.
Here are some great traditions to enjoy outside in the winter:
- Touch football
- Street hockey
- Pond skating
- Cross-country skiing
- Playing in the snow
Of course, if you live somewhere with mild winters, there are many more sports and activities you can enjoy. In fact, this may be the best time of year to get outside to avoid the blistering summer heat.
Whether you plan to build a play area from the ground up or just want to capitalize on a bit of fresh air for some winter exercise, there’s nothing better than bringing the neighborhood together for some friendly play. All it takes to start is a good idea and a little help from your neighbors—so what are you waiting for? Your kids will thank you for it!