Winter is no excuse for your little one to chill out in front of the TV. Try these fun activities instead.
It's cold outside. The half-dome monkey bars at the playground are an igloo, the snowdrift in the back yard is several feet high, and even going to Grandma's for a short visit requires getting all bundled up like the Michelin man. Small wonder that our small wonders end up cocooned on the couch, soaking up too many cartoons or playing too many video games.
Sure, a lazy morning here and there is perfectly okay. But your child needs to keep moving, even in the depths of winter. It's absolutely essential for his growing body. "Daily activity develops preschoolers' fine and gross motor skills," explains Scott A. Shipman, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and preventive health at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland. It's vital to your little one's emotional development too, since exercise is a proven mood booster and can help promote better sleeping habits.
The good news is that it isn't all that hard to make sure that your toddler stays physically active, no matter what the weather is like. See for yourself what a big difference these easy ideas can make.
Bundle Up and Get Going
To a kid, cold weather offers plenty of excitement, from twinkling, ice-coated tree branches to frost-covered windows and fresh, crunchy snow. If you dress your child appropriately and follow some basic safety rules (see "Cold Play," below), there's no reason your children can't head outside for a romp, even on snow days.
Try making snow angels or taking gentle saucer rides together, says Rae Pica, a children's movement specialist and the author of Your Active Child. When flurries are flying, give your little one a piece of dark-colored construction paper and encourage her to catch and examine a few snowflakes.
Toss snowballs against a wide target, like the side of the house or a large rock formation, or have a contest to see who can throw them the farthest. Break out your favorite beach toys -- the buckets and shovels you used last summer are ideal for scooping and molding the white stuff. Shoveling the walkway? Let your sidekick "help out" by using a whisk broom and dustpan to sweep up the powder you leave in your wake.
Outdoor play is a pleasure year-round -- you just have to be a bit more cautious in winter. Start by choosing your outfits very carefully (as they like to say in snowy Scandinavia, "There's no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing"). Put your child in a layered outfit so she isn't underdressed if she sheds her bulky coat. Make sure her skin is covered too, including her ears and mouth. And a warm hat or hood is an absolute must on cold days, since so much body heat escapes through the head.
If your child's mittens or clothes get wet, change her quickly or call it quits. Cold-related injuries, including hypothermia, are up to five times more likely to occur when skin is wet. Stay alert to other signs that she needs to head indoors -- whitish lips or fingertips and, of course, shivering.
Of course, winter has its share of more challenging days -- ones when the wind howls and the thermometer reading doesn't differ all that much from your preschooler's age. Can you stay indoors and still stay physically active? Yes, but only if you're creative about it.
- Stay social. Preschoolers are usually more animated when there's a good pal around, so maintain a steady schedule of playdates throughout the season, suggests Barbara Taylor, a senior consultant for program development for the YMCA. Instead of putting out "quiet" toys, like modeling clay, lay out some dress-up clothes or lead the gang in an old-fashioned game of hide-and-seek -- anything that doesn't require sitting at a table.
- Hit the mall. Its wide-open floors are ideal for a stroll, and the alluring store windows offer plenty of things to look at and talk about. Some larger shopping centers even have enclosed playgrounds.
- Consider some classes. "Last year we signed up for a family Tumble Tots program at the local YMCA," says Kristin Dexter, of Wichita, Kansas, mother of Scott, 3, and Allison, 2. "Scott loved it so much that this year, he'll take the Y's fall and winter basketball clinic with his dad." Other popular options include dance and even beginners' gymnastics.
- A-maze your child. Set up an obstacle course for your little one to explore. It doesn't have to be fancy -- a couple of boxes with blankets draped between them can create a fascinating tunnel. Tonya Hampton, of Lexington, North Carolina, has another suggestion: "We take all the cushions off the couch, throw them in a big pile, and go mountain climbing!" she says.
- Go for a tune-up. Music and movement go hand in clapping hand. "We dance around to crazy tunes!" says Dawn Cook-Price, who, as a resident of Walworth, Wisconsin, is a pro at keeping her daughter, Sophia, 2, and son, Quinten, 4, active through deep-freeze days. "One day we'll put on kids' music -- the next day it's country or '80s." Join init's a great way to encourage your kids to make all the right moves.
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