Six outdoor activities your kids can enjoy this winter

Looking for ideas to help entertain your children this winter? Here are six outdoor activities they can enjoy.

Between lockdown and cold weather it might seem like you’ve doubled up on reasons to stay indoors this winter, but getting your kids into the open air is more important than ever. 

According to Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust, while almost half of all children were taking part in up to 60 minutes’ exercise per day (meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines) before the pandemic, this figure has fallen to a shocking 19% during 2020.

The study also found that the number of children doing less than half an hour of physical activity per day has increased from 29% to 43%. 

There is a whole generation at risk of a physical fitness crisis, and it’s more crucial than ever to get kids out and playing. Being immersed in nature doesn’t have to mean going against Covid-19 restrictions either – being prepared by packing the right rucksack essentials means kids can stay protected.

Six expert tips for getting your kids outside and active this winter

Looking at how parents can get their kids outside this winter, antibacterial hand wipe brand Wet Ones spoke to a host of childcare experts and family bloggers for their tips on getting children away from their screens and outside to learn through play!

1) Go on a scavenger hunt (with a treat at the end!)

James Dixon, founder of the sustainable adventure pack Little Mud Club says that a great winter activity to get outside is a scavenger hunt. It can be tailored to your local environment, your kids’ age and their interests.

Make sure you’re getting them to collect seasonal items such as holly, ferns and acorns or spot animals that are likely to be active in daytime such as grey squirrels, robins and chaffinches. It never hurts to reward them for participating either.

Whether that’s a slice of cake afterwards or being able to pick the movie that the family watches later on, the idea is to make engaging with the activity worthwhile to them.

2) Create an obstacle course in your garden

Being outside, even when the weather seems rotten, increases our children’s physical activity, reducing the likelihood of obesity. According to Dr Maryhan Baker, child psychologist and parenting expert, even in the winter, a little sunshine gives the added benefit of vitamin D, which is linked to stronger bones and improved mood.

Children love a bit of healthy competition, and what better way than to pit parents against children in an obstacle course created in your own garden?

You don’t need a big garden to do this – even a ball of wool can be used to tie around trees, plants or even chairs, which you then need to limbo under, jump over or balance an egg on a spoon as you negotiate the course. This is a great way to encourage problem solving skills, and it teaches teamwork and agility, plus numeracy skills if you also time each other.

3) Get them green fingered and growing their own

Dr Maryhan also suggests creating a daily habit of being outdoors by encouraging your children to grow their own fruit or vegetables. Nowadays it couldn’t be easier to find varieties which are easy to cultivate so that children can see the natural life cycle of their food and understand its provenance.

Their faces when they see their seeds germinate and then nurture it until it bears fruit or ripens into the vegetable they can eat teaches them so much about having a scientific and enquiring mind!

4) Release your inner child and join in!

Amanda Frolich, owner and founder of Amanda’s Action Club, suggests that the best way to get children outdoors is to join in too. Find matching wellies, coats or hats and scarves – younger children love to look like their parents.  Character clothes are great too. 

Then embrace your inner child. Put on your wellies and jump in muddy puddles, climb trees, throw leaves over each other, make mud pies and build dens.

5) Let children’s imagination lead the play

Children love to use their imaginations, and what better place to use them than outdoors? Children are naturally great at doing this, but if they do struggle initially then encouragement and ideas from grown-ups can go a long way.

Becky Hoare, founder of Pop Up Play Village, says that setting up a mud kitchen is one of her favourite activities to do outdoors.

This doesn’t have to be in a fixed area. She has run many Pop Up Play Village Outdoor Explorers sessions where she’s have carried a bag of digging tools, a few pots and pans and some utensils to the woods and the children have made their own creations such as cakes, soup and food for the animals.

6) Take story time outside

Beck says that another way to encourage creativity and imagination is to take a story outdoors with you. Read the story to the children and then use the ideas in the story to inspire their play.

This could be building animal homes because the story was based around animals, it could be building a den to be the house in the story. It could even be creating a potion because the story is about a witch. The opportunities are endless!

Why is playing outdoors so important for kids?

There are many important benefits to encouraging your children to enjoy playing outdoors.

Outdoor play and mental wellbeing

Of course, physical fitness isn’t the only thing at risk as a result of the pandemic – there has long been talk of a looming mental health crisis, and this applies to children as much as anyone else.

According to ParentZone, 32% of parents say that their child’s mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, and children of households with lower annual incomes have been hit particularly hard. 

The solution is partly exercise, but simply getting out into the fresh air, getting hands dirty and being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world does wonders for the mind at any age – and underpins children’s education and emotional development.

A 2018 survey by Outdoor Classroom Day in 2018 found that 99% of teachers believed that outdoor play is a critical element of learning. 

The value of play

Climbing trees, building dens, getting dirt under your fingernails – these are things that many of us took for granted as kids, but according to the National Trust, the radius a child explores around the vicinity of their home has shrunk by 90% since 1970. A whole generation is growing up glued to screens and dependent on devices, and they’re missing out on much more than fresh air. 

This ‘nature deficit disorder’ leaves children completely disconnected from the world around them, less likely to feel the incredible benefits that nature can bring and less likely to care about the natural world in future. The National Trust’s report found that:

  • Children reported feeling happy and healthy if they had a higher level of ‘nature connectedness’ –  spending time watching animals interact, exploring green spaces and engaging in knowledge-based activities like using binoculars or reading a book
  • Children were less likely to report happy feelings if they shut themselves indoors and found reasons to be irritated by nature

Carrying these habits into adulthood brings its rewards, too – adults reported being more likely to feel that life is ‘worthwhile’ if they are spending regular time outdoors, visiting local green spaces and taking the time to notice birdsong, bees and butterflies.

Be prepared: what do your kids need to be outdoor-ready?

  • Warm clothing: Get them layered up rather than getting them to wear a big thick jumper, so that they can remove layers if they get too warm. Don’t forget the hat and mittens when necessary!
  • Wet wipes: The fun doesn’t need to stop when the mess starts. Make sure they’re equipped against germs with wipes that kill 99.9% of bacteria , such as Wet Ones
  • Wellies: Getting muddy is all well and good, but you don’t want to have to put shoes, socks and trousers through the wash for the sake of a few puddles. Nor do your little ones want cold, wet feet when they’re out enjoying nature!
  • Nature-spotting tools: Whether it’s a magnifying glass for bugs, a pair of binoculars for birds or a book to help identify them, a bit of help can go a long way in helping kids get the most out of the outdoors.

Where can you get more information?

There are plenty of organisations offering information on getting kids outdoors and making the most of nature:

Photo by Hasmik Ghazaryan Olson