Getting Kids Outdoors in the Winter

outdoors1My husband and I both enjoy a variety of outdoor activities: camping, hiking, biking, walking to the park and going to the beach. What do these activities have in common? We can’t do much of them during the cold winter months! Especially with our 3-year-old son. Yet it’s important to get kids outside year-round.

When you think of the words: children, outside, winter- you probably picture fun things like sledding, ice skating, snowmen and snowball fights! But honestly, how many times a year do kids get to enjoy those things? Once? Twice? Winter in Iowa can be longer than three months, so it’s important to make that extra effort to get kids outside, even on the cold, snow-less days.

My son’s daycare has a policy that the kids don’t go outside unless it’s over 20 degrees and they are wearing snow pants, boots, winter coats, hats, mittens, scarves… so it’s up to us, the parents, to make sure our son is getting outside as much as he should. And even though we’re outdoor enthusiasts, it can be a challenge for us to get outside sometimes too. So why do it?

Our children are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder. Have you ever heard grandpa brag/complain about “walking to school in knee-deep snow, uphill both ways”? There was a bit of truth to that story- our grandparents spent a lot more time outdoors than we do. Our society has changed in many ways- home computers, video games, cable television, smart phones (all of which are now being called “screen time”). This has brought us, and especially our children, indoors. And because we are all active participants in our own society, it takes an extra effort to get kids outdoors. Because the best way to get kids outdoors is to go with them.

I’m the secretary of the local non-profit organization Take A Kid Outdoors (TAKO). This group holds monthly events both to get kids (and adults) outside, and to give parents and guardians ideas of ways to get kids outdoors more. In November, we held a hiking event at Ryerson’s Woods in Iowa City. After a couple weeks of early cold temperatures, it warmed up to 50 degrees for the event! But the warm temperatures came with constant drizzle, so our hike was wet and turnout was low. Afterwards, I spoke with some of the parents of the children who intended to come hiking with us, and I was told that the reason for the kids not coming was because the parents didn’t want to get too wet. What I was hearing from other parents was: my kid has snow pants, rain boots, a thick rain coat, hat, gloves and umbrellas… but I don’t! If the parents went for a hike in the rain, they would end up with wet jeans and sneakers, so therefore they (and their kids) never went outside in the rain!

Would my 3-year-old rather take a walk on a perfectly sunny day or in the pouring rain? The answer is easy. In the rain, he can feel the water hit his hands and face. He can splash in puddles. He can watch water dropping off leaves. He can slide in mud. It’s so much FUN!

Most parents just want their kids to be happy. Getting them outside is about the easiest (and cheapest) way to do just that. All it takes is a few items for the parent or guardian to purchase (assuming the child already has proper winter gear):

  1. A good pair of water-proof boots (good for both walking in the snow and rain, and hiking) 2. A pair of rain pants (thinner than snow pants- they keep your pants dry and double as a wind-breaker for your legs. Also good for biking) 3. A rain jacket (something that will not soak through if it’s pouring rain- wear over a thick sweater if it’s cold outside) 4. A big umbrella 5. Yak Trax (if you walk on slippery surfaces like sidewalks and driveways)

Spending the money on these items is easier when you remember that all of the items should last you several years. My last pair of hiking boots lasted a decade, and my rain pants have been used for over a decade now- and are still going strong! I wear them while biking in cold weather, hiking in the rain and sledding- and they keep my pants nice & dry.

So, remember during these cold, “bad weather” days, us adults have the ability to help our kids stay active, have fun and create memories- and avoid succumbing to Nature Deficit Disorder! And it’s a bonus for the adults too. The best stress-reliever I know? Fresh air. And laughter.


Special thanks to Risa Eicke for guest blogging for us today!  Risa blogs about her own family over at


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