10 Ways to Get Your Kids Outdoors When It’s Cold 231

kids outdoors in the snow

Living in California, we have pretty mild and beautiful weather year-round. Sure, it’s a bit wetter in winter, and drier and hotter in summer. Really, though, our temperatures don’t fluctuate more than 25 degrees between seasons.

This is why I’m always amazed at how much my kids LOVE to play outside anytime we travel somewhere cold. They truly embrace it, and the chill never stops them from enjoying an activity. After observing how they make the most of cold weather, and throwing in a few mom tips, I came up with some terrific ideas to get your kids outdoors when it’s cold. I’ve put a number of these ideas to the test because honestly–I need them more than my kids do, as I’m a huge wimp in the cold!

I promise these ideas will help your family better enjoy any chilly weather, whether you’re winter camping or exploring a national park for the day.

Gear

I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” There’s nothing like poor clothing to absolutely kill any fun in cold weather. But with the right gear, we have fun for hours!

A good wool base layer is my favorite underlayer. A warm, puffy coat is a necessity. Perhaps the two most important things are good waterproof gloves and boots. Warm fingers and toes mean that the rest of the body is toasty and ready to play, too! The right winter apparel is everything.

Here’s my winter packing list for kids that have some of my favorite winter items!

Start Small

There’s really no need to start out with a 10-mile hike, or multi-hour snowshoeing adventure. Start small! Try going out to play in the cold for just 10 minutes from your front door. Go on a walk in your neighborhood, go pet the neighbor’s dog, or help take out the trash. It’s amazing how our bodies can acclimate, and starting with short signals to our bodies that we’re going to be okay, and helps us mentally commit to longer adventures. And really, I find that once my kids are outside for even 5 minutes, they almost always want to stay longer.

kids outdoors in the cold
Make short trips out of adventuring outdoors in the cold.

Make It Part of the Routine

I tend to really thrive on routine, as do my kids. There are some things in our days that my kids don’t think are the most fun things in the world but we do them because we know they’re good for our health and they’re built into our routine. This includes things like brushing our teeth and taking baths. While my kids would sometimes rather avoid them in favor of reading a book or playing with toys, we know they’re important to do.

To me, outdoor play, even in the cold, is similar. It’s so good for our bodies to get fresh air and be active outside, so we build it into our routine to have that every day. For me, it’s easier if we do it every day (even if it’s just every day on vacation) rather than making it optional sometimes. When we all know it’s expected, we’re much more likely to do it, even if it’s just for a short while.

Find Activities They Love

Does your kid hate long hikes? Well, it’s probably not going to be any better in the freezing cold. When the weather is a deterrent, I try to choose activities my kids already love in order to motivate them to still get outside. For us, this includes things like hikes with rock scrambling, sledding, hot springs, and more. Or maybe it will mean a neighborhood scavenger hunt or geocaching. The possibilities are endless!

kids outdoors in the cold
Invest in the right clothing and the weather will feel much more tolerable.

Have Warm Extras

Sometimes, even having great gear isn’t quite enough. That’s when I like to bring out the extra special warm extras. We love having hand warmers available for really freezing times, and a cup of hot chocolate is always welcomed when it’s cold outside. It’s amazing what my kids are willing to tolerate when there are these little extra perks to warm them up!

Connect With Friends

Everything is more fun with friends, including being outside in the cold! In general, I find my kids are willing to hike longer and try harder things outdoors when we’re with friends, and that’s especially true in the cold. Something about chatting and playing is a great distraction from chilly fingers and toes and keeps us having fun the whole time. This is true for me as an adult, too!

Stay Fed and Hydrated

It’s easy to get dehydrated in the cold when we don’t notice thirst as much but are expending a lot of energy to keep warm. It’s extra important to make sure little ones are fed and have enough fluids in them when playing outside in cold weather. And bonus, keeping them fed and watered will mean that they have extra energy and stamina to go out and play!

Give Them Responsibilities

I find that my kids often do really well when given responsibilities and they need to rise to the challenge. This may mean carrying something for Dad or helping keep Mom’s hand warm. Or perhaps they can help motivate and guide a sibling or carry the compass. Whatever it is, when kids feel like they’re an important part of the team, they’re more likely to stay and stick with it.

kids outdoors in the cold
Kids given responsibility tend to stay focused and eager to complete a task.

Embrace Seasonal Activities

You’d never go jump in a lake in the winter, right? In my mind, that’s such a quintessential part of summer fun. But there are so many wonderful activities that can only take place in the winter, too!

We love bundling up to go choose a Christmas tree, going sledding and ice skating, and even dipping in hot springs during cold temperatures. When we have something to look forward to that is super special about the cold that can’t take place otherwise, it makes us much more inclined to enjoy that activity for what it is.

Recognize That Sometimes Everyone Needs A Break

There are days that I just don’t feel like going out in the cold, no matter how good my gear is or how fun the activity. And that’s okay. Some days are just drink-hot-chocolate-inside kind of days, and that’s wonderful, too! While I believe deeply in the wonderful benefits of exploring the outdoors, including in the cold, I don’t think it’s helpful to force anyone into a love of nature. I’d much rather my kids develop that love organically, bit by bit. And if that means that some days we just don’t get out at all? Well, that’s okay, too. There’s always tomorrow.


What about you? Are you a cold-weather fan? I’d love to hear ways you stay active outside even during cold weather!

Preethi Harbuck
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Preethi loves exploring the world at home and abroad with her husband and 5 little kids. She loves fostering curiosity and connection, as well as sharing tips for family travel with a social justice lens, especially while RVing through America’s outdoor gems. She’s currently visited 63 countries (43 with kids), 49 US states, and 43 national parks.
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