Outdoor winter activity makes a lot of sense

Published on Tuesday, 18 August 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Article hero image

There is no denying the benefits of outdoor playtime for children. Playing outside no matter what the season presents a smorgasbord of opportunities to learn through experience. Not only does it promote health and wellbeing through exercise and engagement, it also provides children with opportunities to understand the world around them including the changing of seasons and the life cycle of plants.

Every day can deliver exciting outdoor play experiences and the seasonal change in weather shouldn’t create a distinct indoor or outdoor period. In Scandinavian countries children play outside at every opportunity, even in the depth of their winter. In fact, there’s a common Finnish saying about weather, which translates roughly to, “There’s no such thing as the wrong weather; just the wrong clothing.”

In comparison to these countries our winters are mild. Playing outdoors in all four seasons and in a range of weather conditions allows children to learn from different sensory experiences, observe changes in their familiar environment, and foster a connection with nature.

Permitting children to play outside only in ‘good’ weather, means they will miss the many learning opportunities and health benefits that can be gained by being outdoors regularly.

Outdoor play is about fun and games but also provides children with benefits for growth and development of their mind, body and health. For educators the inclusion of quality outside play as part of the daily routine, regardless of cold weather, presents an important opportunity to promote joy and play-based learning for children.

Here are just some of the benefits of outdoor playtime in winter:

Fresh air and an escape from indoor germs

Providing a safe and secure environment for young children is essential but there is a misconception that cold weather is associated with catching a cold. It is not exposure to reduced temperatures that cause these viruses. In fact, it’s likely to be increased exposure to poorly ventilated indoor environments that can allow bacteria and viruses to spread quickly from child to child.

Research shows that being outdoors in a natural environment can boost immune systems and by encouraging outdoor play in winter, children gain much needed exposure to fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun.

Physical development and wellbeing

Getting outside with young children during winter does require more effort due to the extra layers and weather challenges. However, taking a bit of extra time to wrap children up in warm and protective clothing will ensure they enjoy their time outside and gain the many physical benefits of outdoor play.

When playing outdoors, kids can keep fit and continue developing their physical skills plus the activity helps to improve cognition, brain function, and has positive effects on mental health.

The New Zealand’s Active Play Guidelines for Under-fives recommend ‘at least three hours activity play every day for toddlers and preschoolers spread throughout the day’. This aligns closely with the World Health Organisations (WHO) standards and remember encouraging good habits early can support good habits in the longer term.

Boosts learning opportunities

Colder weather brings lots of different and fresh challenges for children and offers new ways of learning. Some areas of outdoor play spaces and equipment that are safe for young children during warmer weather may have to be used differently if the ground is wet and the equipment is slippery.

The wintery conditions can challenge children to assess risks such as slippery surfaces and to adapt their play to ensure safety. When children learn to solve problems on their own, they develop independence and self-confidence as well as their cognitive thinking skills. Outdoor play provides lots of opportunity for making discoveries and experimenting and learning about the elements by experiencing them can encourage a child’s curiosity and sense of wonder.

Allow children to go wild

Without fresh air and opportunities for vigorous outdoor play, kids can get that cooped-up, bored, restless feeling we call "cabin fever." Outdoor environments fulfil children’s basic needs for freedom, adventure, experimentation and risk taking.

This means preparing for messy play and saying yes to puddle jumping! It can be messy but this Peppa Pig favourite pastime is valuable for promoting movement, exploration and creative problem-solving.

Social benefits of outdoor play

Finally, playing outdoors with others encourages social development and collaboration. This is because play teaches children how to work together in groups, which includes learning to share, negotiate, and solve conflict.

Social outdoor play also provides children the opportunity to exercise and stretch their imaginations. In winter, the physical changes to the outdoor environment provide children with new opportunities for creative winter-themed games and playtime.

Children who are encouraged to explore through play are also more likely to learn new skills and overcome challenges, which promotes self-confidence, resilience, and self-advocacy. Developing these social skills are highly important to the development of healthy social relationships, communication skills, and a strong sense of self.

Providing for the outdoor play needs of young children is essential regardless of the weather. Educators who embrace the opportunities of different seasons to enhance learning and development, and have a positive attitude to being outdoors will not only enjoy the experience themselves, but will foster a sense of pleasure in the children as they explore and play together.

Resources and further reading

Outdoor activities – CareforKids.com.au: Winter Wonderland: Celebrate the season with fun activities and craft

The Curiosity Approach: How to inspire Winter Wonder in Early Years

Related Articles

Article image

Why you should consider taking children's naptime outside

It turns out there are numerous benefits to both children and staff for heading outdoors for nap time, which is why centres in both New Zealand and Australia are taking up this practice.

Article image

Winter STEM Ideas

From cute arts and crafts to interesting STEM projects for development, integrating the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, here are ten winter themed ideas to keep little hands busy over these cooler months.

Article image

Winter wonderland: Celebrate the season with fun activities and crafts

The colder weather of winter is a great excuse to head indoors for some high-quality season-themed crafting.