Monday, 28 August 2017

Back to school and winter - how to play more outside

playing outdoors in UK winter

Play ideas for dark and wet winters

The schools are going back in (or have already gone in Scotland) and summer is mellowing into that particular kind of grey that the UK is so good at. If your little ones are at school, the window for daytime outdoor play gets narrower and, inevitably, rainier. So is it time to move your play from the outdoors to the indoors? Should parks and gardens be shunned for the winter? I say no! This post contains some ideas for getting out and about, even when skies are dark and dreary!

cosy in wintertime

It can be tempting, as a parent, to just keep the little ones in when they get home from school or nursery. After all, it's raining a bit, it's nearly dark outside anyway, who wants to go out in that? Cosy toes up on the sofa seems like a lot better idea than getting soaked and white-fingered out in that.

bleak winter weather can put you off outdoor play

It's not always easy...

I'm not one to talk. Plenty of times I've looked out the window and made that judgement call! Unfortunately, it's really important to keep your kids from hibernating inside, even though it seems safer, the long-term effects on them could be worse than the dangers we perceive! And the benefits of outdoor play far outweigh the inconvenience. I'm going to list out the main reasons to get out and about and what ways we can make this easier for everyone.

umbrellas and wellies are perfect for playing in the rainy weather

Fitness and fatness

Kids miss out on their outdoor play when nights draw in. They can't spend quite as long out in the park, and mums are less likely to walk the streets for fear of something bad happening in the dark. But without the space to run and play, children are in danger of muscle wasting and gaining unhealthy weight.

The NHS recommend 180 minutes activity per day for kids -- even for toddlers. This doesn't mean spending all three hours outside running around, but they do recommend sharing out the time to indoors and outdoors and mixing light activity like standing up or walking with more energetic like skipping, running and so on. ( Go to this page for more detailed guidelines)

How to top up your child's recommended 180 minutes of activity per day:

  • Walking home the long way from school, say adding in a trip to the shops or park on the way.
  • Installing solar charged lights in your garden to create a welcoming environment that is less spooky for little ones! Head torches and glow in the dark paint can also be a good idea to encourage boldness.
  • Games with friends, including playing torch tag (the one who is "it" gets a torch and the others hide until they are tagged with the light") and glow in the dark treasure hunts.
  • Making an adult-friendly area in the garden for you to relax while you supervise the wee ones play, for example, a comfy camp chair with a hot water bottle and a cup of tea!
  • Spending more family time outside, perhaps making dinner on the barbecue (and toasting marshmallows!)
  • Fun and funky umbrellas, wellies, waterproofs, and warm clothes that kids will love to put on.

The secret is the regularity and routine of adding in the exercise. It'll be a benefit to both of you!

playing outdoors at sunset

Even a little sunshine...

Melatonin levels go down for everyone in winter. Kids at least have breaks to go outside when they are at school or nursery, more so than adults, but catching every last drop of sun is important in order to get through that long, dark UK winter. Look out for parks and adventure playgrounds in your area where kids can explore nature.

Drying off, warming up

Having a station for towelling down and removing muddy wellies is vital. Stick a few dehumidifiers around if you can, use (and replace) newspaper that soaks up excess mud and moisture from the bottoms of boot racks. Plastic covers for the carpets reduces the chance of getting mud all through the living room, and means kids feel less guilty about having fun outdoors. Mud was alright for us, so it should be fine for our kids!

Healthy for little ones!

The NHS support outdoor play, even in winter. Here are some of their tips for outdoor play and games in their Change4Life site (PDF opens in new window).

As you can see, the shorter days shouldn't put you off getting your little ones outdoors. I will try to put up some ideas for resources and places to find character wellies and things like that. Just join the email list to get notified when new posts are up (it's a 3rd party automated service, and it doesn't do anything but say when a new post has been published). In the meantime, have a wonderful and safe playtime this winter!

If you have any great ideas for winter / rainy / evening play and games, please share them in the comments below. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts!

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