top of page
  • goodnatureohio

The Surprising Benefits of Outdoor Play For Kids In Ohio

Updated: Dec 6, 2022




As a pediatric occupational therapist offering year-round outdoor therapy in Ohio, a lot of people give me a quizzical look when it comes to sessions in the winter. I wouldn't blame you if you're wondering... “How can you continue to take kids outside for OT in the snowy and cold conditions of the Ohio snow belt?


To begin, while Ohio does dish us quite a bit of snow and cold, it’s not an unsafe version of frigid the entire winter.


Most of all, outdoor play in Ohio’s beautiful nature is good for our kids year-round. All the seasons have their own benefit, life doesn’t end because the cold and snow show up. In fact, winter packs its own kind of childhood adventure and fun. From the excitement of that first snowfall to the thrill of building a snowman or the exhilaration of stomping ice or whizzing down a sledding hill.


That’s right, the outdoors of winter have a special magic that shouldn’t be skipped. And occupational therapy sessions continue to offer us so many cool benefits, even through the winter months.


Keep reading to see why I’m so passionate about winter outdoors sessions. In this blog, we go over:


  • The factors that keep kids inside during winter.

  • The surprising benefits of outdoor play during the winter.

  • And, setting your child up for success for their winter adventures.


Let's dive right in.


Main Roadblocks to Outdoor Time for Kids in the Winter


If you and your family spend more time indoors during the winter, you’re not alone.


In most places around the globe, cold weather = more time inside.1, 2 It can feel like it’s just how things are.


And yet, even in the coldest, snow-covered countries... parents and teachers encourage children to spend as much time outside as they can. Why? Because they believe that the benefits of outside play is essential for their overall wellness.3


This suggests to us that outside play in the winter is more about values and perception than a global fact.4 Specifically, it's the beliefs of parents (like you), teachers, and occupational therapists (like me) who are the gatekeepers to heading outdoors in the winter.".4


So let’s unpack some of the beliefs that get in the way of kids benefiting from outdoor play in the winter.

Fear of Sickness Due to the Cold


You’ve probably heard something like this before, “Don’t go outside in the cold or you’ll get sick.”


This is one of those sticky beliefs that’s been around for a long-time. However, simply going outside in the winter isn’t directly related to getting a sickness like a cold or the flu.


Yes, there are more cases of cold and flu in the winter. However, this increase is not because of feeling cold. Rather, as people spend more time indoors, they are more likely to share and encourage the spread of germs.


Inconvenience Of Snow Gear


We’re not going to pretend otherwise, it is less convenient to go outside in the winter. Between all the snow gear and layers, it takes more time, effort, and planning to go outside.


It might feel like a waste of time to spend 10 minutes putting everything on, and head outside for 20 minutes. Only to head back inside to take everything off, put it all away, and clean up the mud and the water on the floor.


Sure sounds like a lot of frustration and work, doesn’t it? I feel the same way when it comes to getting to the stress of getting dressed for the outside.

Here’s my answer... While it might be inconvenient, it is more than worth it to prioritize the benefits of outdoor play.


More on these surprising benefits later.


Cold Is Less Comfortable


Most people don’t like being cold, wet, or uncomfortable. So, it’s natural to not be as motivated to go outside during the chilly months.


As humans, I’m sure you can agree we tend to be creatures of comfort. While you can’t change the cold of winter, you can always dress up for it. Choosing to enjoy the magic of snow and the beauty of Ohio winter stillness is what it’s all about.


Plus, there’s a nice perk for parents with kids in outdoor occupational therapy. There will be warm blankets for you or you can stay in your toasty car until post-session debrief. We’ll work together to keep you involved even if you’re not keen to tromp through the woods for every session.



Benefits of Winter Outdoor Play


Getting outside in the winter is part of creating year-round well-being. This includes physical and emotional health as well as key life skills — like resiliency. 2,5


Let's go over all of the surprising benefits of outdoor play during the winter.


Physical — Bodies are made to move. And this need doesn’t go away in the winter, especially for active, energetic children. In fact, winter activities like sledding, building with snow, or shoveling all are excellent ways to build strength, endurance, and coordination.


Emotional — Getting outdoors is important for the emotional health of children, as well.5 The sunshine and fresh air help to lift their mood. This means when your child gets outside, they become more calm, joyful, and focused when they return indoors


Behavioral — Tired of playing referee to bickering siblings or toys being broken rather than played with? Or, maybe you’ve noticed your child is responding with anger instead of letting things roll off their back. Yup, you guessed it, moving around and sunshine helps your child with these things too.


In fact, current research relates decreased movement and time outdoors to increased problematic behaviors in kids during the winter.1 So when disruptive behaviors make you wonder what to do next, consider if more time outdoors through the winter could be an easy solution.


Sleep — With the work of moving around through the heavy snow, kids get tired faster and sleep better. Even the contrast of the cold outdoors with the cozy indoors helps make for a better night's sleep. Amazing, right?


All summed up, there are big benefits to heading outside in the winter!


Next, let’s get even more specific and look at how Ohio winter offers us some unique opportunities for the occupational therapy sessions we offer.


Some of the Skills We’re Addressing With Outdoor Sessions


We admit, how and what we work on changes some in the winter.


For instance, if we see a child working on fine motor skills — we have to change how we approach addressing this skill. Because often warm clothing like mittens change how our children use their hands.


Have no fear parents, we’re still able to help your child work towards their goals. Just in a different way.


Independent Dressing


Putting on snow gear independently is an important life skill. It’s also a way to work on skills like fine motor, sequencing, and emotional regulation.


Sensory Processing


Wintertime offers sensory experiences to match every need. If your child needs lots of sensory input, we can sled, use the whole body to carry heavy snow, or safely leap into soft snow piles. On the other hand, other kids enjoy the calm of the winter woods or the sounds of crisp snow.


Strengthening


While pushing a snowball for a snowman, shoveling or walking through snow… Your body gets a great strengthening workout.


Body Control


With slippery ice or snow in the mix, your child gets to build body control and resilience.


Fine Motor


Yes, we may not be picking up small items with mittens on but there are still a ton of options. Especially understanding that addressing foundational skills is the path to improving handwriting.


For example, snowball making becomes hand strengthening for a better grasp of a pencil. Or, writing with a stick in the snow is a fun way to work on shoulder strength. This also helps your child understand shapes better for letter formation.





Recommended Strategies From Our Winter Outdoor Sessions


Preparing for a winter OT session? Just want to have more outdoor fun with your child? Here are some of our favorite winter play tips so your child can have more successful outdoor adventures throughout Ohio winter.


Appropriate Dress

Feeling wet or cold can totally cut short the magic of winter outdoor adventures. If your child’s hands or feet are cold, they won’t have the best experience. Not to mention, you don’t want to risk frostbite.


Winter clothing is the number one step you can take to ensure your child is safe and has a good time outdoors.


Winter Dressing Basics


  • Layers: It’s not just about having many layers but making sure you’re using the right items. Pick a moisture-wicking layer closest to the skin. Then add thermal layers and a waterproof outer layer.


  • Essential Winter Accessories: On top of a coat and snow pants, you want to also consider dressing your child with the following:

  1. Thermal socks

  2. Insulated boots

  3. A warm hat

  4. Good gloves

  • Backup Items: Sometimes kids get winter gear soaked when having a good time. Keep backups of items like mittens and socks so damp clothing doesn’t sideline their adventure.


Adjust Time Outdoors to Accommodate Weather


It’s true, some winter days are better to be outside than others. The wind or cold might mean you need to shorten the amount of time you spend outdoors. When temps are in the 40’s or 30’s, and the right clothing, your child can likely spend several hours outdoors.


On a super cold day, you might only stay outside for 10-15 minutes. That’s still a solid break from being inside all the time.


In the cold, we also look for easy ways to warm up. This includes time in our warm-up room when needed at the beginning, end, or middle of sessions. We also use warm beverages like hot chocolate as a fun, warming treat.


And sometimes, it’s just too cold. For our therapy sessions, we follow the same advice as the Solon School District closing and Iowa's Department of Public Health helpful Childcare Weather Watch chart. Using the WKYC's weather app, we gauge the safety of the outdoor experience based on the combination of temperature and wind chill. This is termed ‘Real Feel.’ When the 'Real Feel' temperature gets below the yellow zone on the Childcare Weather Watch chart we will cancel outdoor sessions.


Keep Moving

This one isn’t a shocker but it’s worth mentioning. The more you move, the warmer you stay.


So when temperatures begin to drop, we’re extra diligent about creating sessions that keep us moving physically. This works so body heat does its job to keep everyone comfortable and warm.


A “Yes” to Winter Outdoor Play is Saying “Yes to Experiences Kids Need”


One of our core beliefs at Good Nature Therapy is nature is an essential ingredient of childhood.


That truth remains true no matter the season.


Winter or not, kids not only enjoy being outside. It’s good for them too! Combine the magical fun of winter with all skills your child works on, and you’ve got a recipe for a powerful therapy experience. And, of course, parents love when their child comes home feeling tired, calm, and joyful.


If you’re saying, “yes, the benefits of outdoor play sounds amazing” and your child needs pediatric therapy in the greater Cleveland Area, check out our services and sign up for a free clarity call.


*Many thanks to Jenny Gill at Jenny Gill Copywriting for her help writing this blog!*


References


1. Ciucci, E., Calussi, P., Menesini, E. et al. Weather daily variation in winter and its effect on behavior and affective states in day-care children. Int J Biometeorol 55, 327–337 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-010-0340-2


2. Ergler, C. R., Kearns, R. A., & Witten, K. (2013). Seasonal and locational variations in children's play: Implications for wellbeing. Social Science & Medicine, 91, 178-185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.11.034


3. Tandberg C, Kaarby KME. The belief in outdoor play and learning. Journal of the European Teacher Education Network (JETEN). 2017;12:25-36 https://oda.oslomet.no/oda-xmlui/bitstream/handle/10642/5496/127-604-1-PB%25281%2529.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y


4. Hughes, A., Zak, K., Ernst, J. & Meyer, R. (2017). Exploring the intersection of beliefs toward outdoor play and cold weather among Northeast Minnesota’s formal education and non-formal EE communities. International Journal of Early Childhood Education, 5(1), 20-38. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1158463.pdf


5. Bento, Gabriela, Dias, Gisela. The importance of outdoor play for young children's healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal: September 2017 - Volume 2 - Issue 5 - p 157-160 doi: https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-021-01097-9





Comments


Hi, I'm Rebecca

Occupational Therapist, Owner, Founder

Good Nature Therapy Services works closely with children and families to design individualized treatment plans that integrate evidence-based practices with the natural world. It's our mission to make outdoor experiences accessible to ALL families and help children reach their full potential and thrive.

Rebecca Waud circle headshot
bottom of page