Monday, December 12, 2011

Getting Your Kids Outdoors this Winter

Helping the kids stay active can be tricky in the summer, but keeping it up over the winter months is a real challenge. Your little ones will probably be less enthusiastic about the great outdoors when it's cold outside and it can be very tempting to batten down the hatches and stay in the house til the sun comes back in the spring. However, it is possible to enjoy being outside all year round. Here are a few activity ideas that might help you get started:

-Keep a photo diary. Get the kids to take a photo of the back yard every morning, or a photo of the local park every week. Some days will be snowing, others sunny or rainy, and gradually, they will start to include signs of spring. If the kids are having fun with their winter project, let them keep it up all year. The result will be an intriguing sequence of pictures showing the progression of the seasons around your home.

-Skiing. Going on vacation this winter? A ski holiday can be more than just a yearly treat. You can extend the fun by heading down to your local dry ski slope (there is one in most major cities these days) before leaving. That way you'll sharpen your skills before hitting the slope and the whole family will be able to get the most from your time on vacation. Dry slope skiing is also a great way to tone muscles and get in shape. With a ski break to look forward to, the kids will have plenty of enthusiasm for improving their fitness.

-Snow sculpture. There is a lot to be said for the traditional snowman, but after a while most kids get bored. Encourage them to be creative and see what they can come up with- snow turtles, snow dogs, even snow giraffes and snow rhinoceroses. Try and build the biggest snowball you possibly can, or write a Christmas message of goodwill in the snow for passers-by to read.

-Wildlife spotting. Birds and animals might not be as easy to spot at this time of year but that can be part of the fun. Looking for fresh tracks in your nearest state park can be one of the best winter activities. With the help of the internet, it's usually pretty easy to figure out which animal made which track. Small birds like robins also like a helping hand in the winter, so your Christmas cookie scraps needn't go to waste. Winter is the ideal time to put up a bird feeding tray in your garden or install a nest box that birds can use in spring.

Every parent knows that their kids need to wrap up warm when going outdoors in chilly weather. If you're going to be out of the home on a winter hike or another activity that might last a while it's also a good idea to take along an extra pair of gloves just in case one gets lost or soaked through. If you buy the stretchy, one-size-fits-all-kids kind, one pair can be the spares for two or three children.

The other outdoor winter essential is the humble vacuum flask. A sip of hot chocolate can go a long way towards warming a child (or a grown-up!) from the inside out and providing a much needed energy boost. We all burn a lot more energy when it's cold, so if you do go hiking in winter, make sure to take along more food than you would in summer.

 There is one more thing all parents should remember that this time of year- the winter is a great time for everyone to enjoy the outdoors. Don't let the kids have all the fun!

Jess Spate is a writer and an outdoor sports enthusiast. She works for Appalachian Outdoors, a leading provider of snowsports gear and skiwear, and loves all kinds of winter activities, from ice climbing in the mountains to sledding in the park.

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