As a parent of three active, energetic young children, I have one automatic outlet that saves my sanity: open a door and send them outside. In spring, we splash in puddles and make mudpies. In summer, we turn on the sprinkler or hide out in the shade of the woods. In fall, we hike our trails and rake leaves. I can be totally involved or just nearby, but they can run, jump, yell, and get that energy out without destroying our house.
Then comes winter.
Winter's tough. If your kids are too young to be in school, you have some long, slow hours to fill. And their energy levels don't dip just because the temperature does. The solution for me is to keep on getting my kids outside - for some amount of time - to give them a safe outlet for that energy. When we come back in, they're ready for some quieter activity, and I feel better about being more active myself. It helps burn off those cookies I keep making...
Be Weather Savvy and Geared Up
Depending on where you live, winter temperatures can range from moderate to severe: well below zero. But even in very cold temperatures you can get outside, as long as you're adequately dressed. (Take more precaution with infants, of course, who can't move about to raise their body heat; they should be bundled up very well and outside only for a short period of time.) Obviously, use some common sense: don't go out in a snowstorm, or when it's raining, or when the temperatures are so low that all those winter layers won't keep you and the kids warm. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends not letting kids outside when the temperature drops to 13 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. My own temperature limit is a lot higher than that, here in the Midwest. If it's close to zero degrees, we're staying in and jumping on the beds. But 30, 20, even 15 or 10 - especially on a sunny day - that's doable.
Go Out with Your Kids
The key to getting your kids out there is to go out yourself. You need to be around anyway, to make sure hats and mittens stay on and nobody slips on that icy patch by the driveway. And young kids love having play time with Mom (or Dad... or both!). If you're out together, you can keep kids moving, which will keep them warm and help you burn a few calories too.
Have an Activity in Mind
Go out with some idea of an activity, even if it's as simple as a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Play tag, throw the ball, chase the dog (he needs exercise too). Snow, of course, provides all sorts of automatic activities: sledding, snow angels, snow men, snow ball fights, and so on. You can also help your kids gain some skills and extra spending money by tackling a project: stack firewood, clean up those leftover summertoys, pick up sticks or rocks. Remember, especially for young kids, the project doesn't have to be anything important or even necessary. It just needs to be something that keeps them active. Moving a pile of rocks from one place to another (especially if big toy trucks are involved) is great work for a preschooler.
Set a Time Limit
As a general rule of thumb, the lower the temperature should mean the shorter the time you and your kids spend outdoors. You can take breaks if you want more time; play for 20 minutes, then warm up for 5, then play again. On milder days, a nice 30 or 45 minute walk might be just right. Just keep an eye on body temperature, especially exposed skin on the faces and extremities. Stop for a warm-up break as often as needed, and remember that a little goes a long way for outdoor play in winter: your kids' bodies are working hard to keep up a warm temperature, so active play of 20 minutes in winter might be plenty to expend that extra energy.
Image: Deepa Praveen