In Scandinavian preschools, you will find children playing outside at every opportunity. Even in the depths of Winter, children will be wrapped up in warm overalls and will spend the day exploring forests, climbing moss-clad boulders or wading in creeks up to their rain boots. With these forest schools promoting exclusive outdoor play and its benefits, why is it then that we are not following suit?
As with many things in life, we tend to adopt the behaviours and ideas of our culture because it is what we are used to. In the UK, this typically involves staying indoors for the Winter for worry of catching colds! While this seems logical to us, the wet and cold weather actually offers many benefits that we don’t know about, so we should be spending more time outdoors especially in these months.
In Scandinavian countries, children are found to be fitter and more attentive with better motor skills as well as being generally healthier. To help you understand why here are surprising reasons for why outdoor play is healthy in Winter.
Children Can Escape Indoor Germs
Probably the most surprising health benefit of outdoor play is that it is better for our health! With viruses and bacteria being more prevalent in the Winter it is important to get outside where there is fresh air as the germs that we bring in the house are being recycled over and over again through our air vents. For children, in particular, getting outside is also essential for them to develop a strong immune system as they come into contact with bacteria in a natural setting and the more time they spend outdoors, the less likely they are to develop autoimmune disorders and allergies in the future.
Fresh Air is Healthy – Even in Winter!
Another contradiction to our common beliefs, exposure to the cold doesn’t necessarily cause acold. In fact, if dressed appropriately, fresh air is healthy for everyone even in the Winter. When people spend a lot of time indoors, especially when they are overheated and poorly ventilated, germs are recirculated and easily passed from one person to another. That’s why outdoor play is crucial! Not only does it allow children to breathe fresh air and reduce the spread of infection, but it also refreshes the mind, allows them to burn energy and establishes a positive understanding for year-round exercise throughout the rest of their lives.
Outdoor Play Provides Opportunities for Better Exercise
We all know that we as adults should be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. For children, it is advised that they should get 60 minutes a day and this is even more important throughout the Winter. When children don’t exercise enough, this excess energy can affect their sleep cycle and appetite which in turn affects their development and ability to maintain a healthy body weight. While exercise, in general, regulates this and ensures a healthy lifestyle, Winter exercise, in particular, is essential for muscle growth, strength and gross-motor development. Why? Because everything about this environment challenges us! Whether just walking through snow, or engaging in slightly more strenuous activity such as shovelling snow, sledging or building a snowman, this season provides us with unique opportunities for exercise that develop us in various ways.
Winter Play Helps Children to Develop
Much like exercise, outdoor play also provides opportunities for learning and development, some of which are exclusive to those Winter months. With outdoor play equipment being frozen and covered in snow, children are challenged with finding alternatives which stimulate their imaginations and offers different ways to learn. Physical and cognitive challenges such as “how will I pack this snow tightly to build shapes?” and having an awareness that they need to adapt their behaviour in this new slippery and less safe environment, all ensure that they learn important life lessons and develop vital skills.
Playing Outdoors Supplies Children with Essential Vitamin D
You may not think that there is enough sun in the Winter months to provide us with our daily requirement for Vitamin D, but you’ll be surprised yet again. While adults can take vitamin D supplements to compensate for the lack of sun and amount they get from their diet, children can’t. Vitamin D is even more essential for children as well as it promotes calcium absorption, ensuring strong bone growth and preventing bone deformities such as rickets, so it is important we get them as much sun exposure as possible. With sunlight and vitamin D having a large impact on daily mood, outdoor play in the Winter will help keep those little ones smiling!
With all these benefits that outdoor play provides in Winter, hopefully, now you won’t be afraid to get your children outside and active. Just remember to dress up warm and stay safe! As the Scandinavian’s say – “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!”
NCBI – Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play