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The winter provides endless ways for one to become creative, inventive and adaptive in modifying the elements. However, it is often difficult for kids to just "get out and play," especially in the winter when the daylight hours are shorter and there are fewer safe places where kids can engage in unstructured activity.
But using the winter outdoors as a theme, parents can provide an opportunity for kids to experience some winter fun and physical activity. All you need is warm clothing and some creativity.
Engage your kids in the planning. Brainstorm as many outdoor winter activities as possible that they could do with you or with their friends. Consider equipment, and safety considerations for each activity.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
• Active winter lookout
Create a scavenger hunt that has the kids identify and gather items that they can see from various parts of your yard, block or in the local park. For example: How many pine cones can you gather in five minutes? How many trees can you count? How many snow balls or snow angels can you make in one minute? How many dogs do you see in the park?
• Frosty walks
Grab a breath of fresh air by taking a walk around your neighbourhood or a nearby local park. Invite neighbours, friends or pets along. To add some fun, you can have your kids estimate the time it will take them to reach a particular destination and then compare their estimates to the actual time. Younger children may also enjoy games of “Eye Spy” on the walk. This has the added safety benefit of helping them to become familiar with the landmarks in their neighbourhood and community.
• Snowball weigh-in; snowball melt-out
On your winter walk around the block, playground or park have your kids create the biggest snowball they can. Back at home, weigh or measure their snowballs and record this information. You can then place each snowball in its own dish or bucket in various areas of the house (e.g. under the radiator, by the window or on the kitchen table) and monitor the time it takes for the snowballs to melt in each location and how much water each produces. Alternatively, a little food colouring can make for fun indoor or outdoor snowball art. And try our cool ice art ideas.
• Tobogganing is a good old-fashioned activity that is great fun and good exercise -- plus the hike up the hill preceding the slide down is great winter fitness. A large plastic garbage bag can do the trick if you don't have a toboggan on hand. Remind kids to look ahead to ensure there is plenty of room before they proceed down the hill.
• Skating is also a great family pastime and can be done both indoors and outdoors depending on the winter weather in your area. Many locations rent equipment quite reasonably if you don't have it on hand. Second-hand equipment can also be a good option. Be sure to wear head protection as well as properly fitted skates. You can also follow our guide to creating your own backyard ice rink.Also, if you have the time and ability, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing together as a family are great winter workouts and time well spent together.
If you have a group of several kids together, you can have them engaged in fun snow games -- great for winter birthday parties!
• Snow pile: Groups have five minutes to build the highest snow pile.
• Spoon balls: Each group is given a spoon and a snowball. One at a time, each child puts the snowball on the spoon and runs around a marker. To be particularly active, the group can continue taking turns for a specified amount of time instead of stopping after each child has gone once.
• Dog sled race: Kids can take turns being pulled by their “dog teams” around a marked course on a toboggan.
• Fill it up: Groups can fill a bucket full of snow using a scoop. See which team can fill the bucket the fastest or see which team has the most snow in their bucket after a certain period of time.
• Heart energizer: Set up a large square using some sort of marker for each corner (clothing, sticks). Each child or group of children can have a corner. Place pine cones, sticks, stones, tennis balls or some other object in the centre of the box. On the “go” signal each child runs to the centre to picking up one item at a time and returning it to their corner. Play as long as you wish and add up the objects in each corner at the end. To make this a cooperative game you can have all children gather the objects in one location and time them to see how fast they can do it together.
So get on those woolies, hike up your boots, catch some fresh air, go for a hike and make the great Canadian winter as much a part of your family activity as you can.
Pat Doyle is a retired elementary school teacher and has authored or co-authored numerous physical activity resources and delivered numerous practical and innovative workshops to educators across Canada. Pat provides consulting services to schools and communities wishing to increase physical activity through active playground games and activities. Pat is a partner to Active Healthy Kids Canada.