How to Keep Your Kids (and Yourself) Active in Cold Weather

Our partners at The Blake School share the importance of keeping active in the cold weather and provide us with some fun ways to get the whole family moving through a Minnesota winter! Article written by: Alanna Wahl, Blake’s interim Lower School Assistant Director

Few mantras of parenthood have withstood the test of time better than this: get your children outside to play. We know it instinctively—running around is good for kids! And there is vast research that confirms physical activity improves brain function, enhances social-emotional well-being, and reduces incidents of depression and anxiety in children. 

As we slowly emerge from a period when children were more isolated than ever, the joy, excitement and emotional benefits of outdoor play are obvious and necessary.  

It’s generally easier for parents to get their children outdoors when the weather is warm, but more challenging in Minnesota’s late fall and winter. Here are a few tips on how to organize and motivate children (and parents!) to get outside, regardless of the season. 

Kindergarten children observing a stream
Blake pre-k students on a field trip to Minnehaha Falls

Think beyond organized sports

Signing your children up for a ski team or ice hockey is great, but the notion that being physically active is limited to traditional sports is outdated and simply not true. When your children are young, a great approach to outdoor play is to figure out what sparks their curiosity and interests, and then make that a connection to physical movement. 

If your child loves animals, consider initiating an outdoor adventure activity where you explore your yard as various animals would. If your child is fascinated by building and design, try creating outdoor forts, tunnels, building structures or obstacle courses. Make outdoor activities fun. Being playful and joining in the movement as you are able will spur your child’s excitement. And don’t forget to provide opportunities for them to take the lead. As adults, it can be easy for us to want to “create” activities for them to do. Instead, engage them in ways to co-create with you.

Turn chores into an opportunity

Lawn raking has already started and snow shoveling is imminent. Although it may be easier—and slightly more efficient—to do these chores yourself, I encourage parents to invest in child-sized rakes and shovels and have the kiddos join in. Many children love being helpers and part of “grown up” activities. Raking and shoveling are excellent ways to spark children’s environmental curiosity. Changing leaf colors and snowfall lend to fascinating conversations about this planet we call home. 

Don’t forget to make it fun. Kids will come back for more if they get to jump in a pile of leaves they helped create—it’s worth the extra bit of raking, I promise. I also encourage parents to make these activities part of a family routine or special tradition. Maybe it’s reading a book together while sipping hot chocolate after clearing the sidewalk that creates special moments for kids to look forward to. These experiences foster the association of physical activity with moments of joy, fun and family connection.

Walk with a purpose

Walking is one of the best exercises that anyone can do, regardless of age. Walking with children for exercise does not have to be boring, especially if you create a destination. If your child is an avid reader, walk to the local library. If your child is fueled by a love of art, walk to (or though) a nearby museum or gallery. If they love animals, hike a trail after a fresh coat of snow to find paw prints. You can also make a game out of a walk. How many out-of-state license plates can you find? How many dogs will you see? What’s the most common house color on the block?

Old favorites are awesome

Families don’t have to leave their yard to get moving. After a snowfall (with sticky snow!) building a snow person, making a snow fort, or creating a snow obstacle course are all great choices for exercise and fun. Snow sledding offers excitement and exercise—you and your kids will be huffing and puffing after a few trips back up the hill.

Take a chance and try something new

We are fortunate to have a great infrastructure of outdoor activities available to us in Minnesota. Hiking trails, ski slopes, skating rinks and novice-based cross country ski activities are in abundance. Many local parks districts have options for renting equipment, such as snowshoes and cross country skis. 

When you are ready to buy, used gear is a great option. Parents should browse places like Play it Again Sports (several in the Twin Cities), Instant Replay Sports (Bloomington) or online (Sideline Swap) to look around and see what piques your child’s interest. Giving your child some ownership of these low-cost decisions can lead to a greater commitment to stick with any chosen activity. 

When is it too cold to be outside? 

Every child’s cold tolerance is different, but Blake’s rule of thumb for recess is to head outside if the temperature (including wind chill) is above -10 degrees. Outdoor play in very cold weather requires proper gear (hats, gloves, boots, snow pants and a winter coat) and parents would be wise to shorten the time spent outside when temps get below zero. Try 15-20 minutes instead of an hour. Even short durations of physical activity have significant health benefits.

Kindergarten children having fun in the snow
Blake kindergarteners enjoying a fresh snowfall.
About The Blake School 

The Blake School is a Pre-K through 12 independent school with campus locations in Hopkins, Minneapolis and Wayzata. For information about our early childhood education program see or talk with teachers, parents, students and staff at an upcoming Discover Blake event

Article written by: Alanna Wahl

Alanna Wahl is Blake’s interim Lower School Assistant Director and former PK-8 Physical Education Department Chair. She earned an M.S. in Sports Management from St. Cloud State University, a B.S. in Physical Education from Minnesota State University and is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in organizational leadership from Vanderbilt University.


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