When cold, snowy, icy weather comes your way, resist the urge to hide inside! Winter offers lots of opportunities for fun family fitness, so pull on those mittens and get outdoors. "It's great when kids are active in any way, but being outside is special. It's an amazing time of year and it's fun!" says Fran Mullin, executive director of WinterKids, a nonprofit in Maine that helps kids enjoy winter activities like skiing, skating, snow tubing, and even dog sledding. "The biggest barrier is the attitude that winter is a time to hibernate indoors. Weather is only a barrier if you don't have appropriate clothing or equipment," says Mullin.
Super Snow Play
When the first snowflakes fall, most kids think "sledding!" and "snow day!" instead of "shoveling" and "salting." Take a page from their book and get outside to enjoy the white stuff. Go sledding or snow tubing in your backyard, a local park or golf course, or at a designated tubing hill. You don't even need a sled—a piece of cardboard or sturdy plastic does the job (do consider having your child wear a helmet, though).
If your yard or nearest park is too flat for sledding, there's still plenty to do. Make a snow fort, snowman, or angel. Use a snow shovel to create a twisting, turning maze. Adapt summer backyard games for snow play: Frisbee, soccer, tag, hide and seek, follow the leader. Break out sand toys (buckets, scoops, and molds) for snow castles and other creations.
Especially in December and January, daylight hours are limited. By the time kids get home from school, the sun's going down. How about equipping them with flashlights, camping lanterns, or—coolest of all—headlamps? Your biggest challenge will be getting them to come inside for dinner!
Move Those Feet—on Skis or Snowshoes
Some of the best winter workouts involve slip-sliding your way from here to there over snow and ice. Hiking, snow-shoeing, and cross-country skiing are all easy for kids (and klutzy adults—trust me, I am one) to master. Check local nature centers and state and national parks to see if they have trails and equipment rental. (Or use one of these handy trail finders.) To keep kids' interest, play I Spy or look for animal tracks as you go, and don't forget Thermoses of hot cocoa.
For a bigger challenge, downhill skiing or snowboarding have huge kid appeal. What could beat flying down a mountain at top speed, or shredding some awesome jumps and flips? Admittedly, cost and logistics can make it harder for families to participate in these sports. Find out if your state has a program like Maine's WinterKids that gives kids special discounted activity passes (click the link for a listing).
Blade Runners: Ice Skating and Hockey
These winter classics can be enjoyed indoors or out, depending on your local facilities. The parks and rec department in my city floods several parks each winter to create outdoor rinks, with adjacent warming sheds. And if you want to be really ambitious (and have a large, flat area in your yard), you can even build your own rink—team up with neighbors or friends to defray costs and share the workload. Find a basic ice skating skills program at the U.S. Figure Skating Association web site.
If your child gets into hockey, be prepared to transport a lot of bulky equipment. The good news is that you can acquire a lot of it by swapping with other families or buying used (do make sure that safety gear is in good shape and fits well). And remember, it's not just a boys' club—girls can and do play ice hockey too.
Have a Warm Attitude Toward Winter
Take a cue from Fran Mullin and remember that winter's challenges can be overcome. "Deep snow? Go snowshoeing! Icy snow? Sledding! No snow, just ice? Skating!" Mullin says. "Don't have snowshoes, sleds, or ice skates? Grab a piece of plastic or cardboard, find a slope of any kind and slide, slide, slide! Carpool together with your friends or neighbors to go downhill or cross-country skiing. You don't need fancy clothes, just dry, warm ones."
See you in the snow!