5 Tips for Safe Outdoor Play in Cold Weather

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5 Tips for Safe Outdoor Play in Cold Weather

December 01, 2020
posted by Justin Triemstra


The colder weather has arrived, and it is time to break out the bin of gloves, hats, mittens and scarves. However, this does not have to mean the end of outdoor play if proper precautions are utilized. Young children are much smaller than adults and therefore, are at higher risk for hypothermia and frostbite so remembering the following tips to help your child stay warm over the coming months will help keep them safe.


1. Layers

The first step is layers. It’s obvious but also one of the most important. For all children, dress them in one layer more than you, as an adult, would wear for the weather conditions. Children are smaller and lose heat more quickly so ensure the gloves or mittens are water repellant and fit properly so that your child can make snowballs, snow angels, and snowman without cold and wet hands.


2. Temperature

The second step is to know the temperature outside. The colder the wind chill, the shorter the play time should be and the more frequent the breaks. If < 15 degrees Fahrenheit, outdoor play should be avoided as frostbite to exposed skin can occur in minutes.


3. Breaks

Third, treat breaks on skin and clothes the same as summer and sunscreen. That means check and break frequently! Replace wet, damp clothes with dry clothes immediatley, or take a break until the clothes are dry.


4. Warning Signs

Fourth, check for warning signs such as a burning sensation, pale, grayish skin (concern for frostbite) or signs of hypothermia (shivering with change in behavior). Both are medical emergencies and if occurring, contacting your health care provider immediately or calling 911 is essential.


5. Safety

Fifth, is safety with winter sports. While sledding, stay away from roads and motor vehicles, immovable obstructions or crowded areas, and always sled feet first. When snowmobiling, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a child under the age of 6 should never ride on a snowmobile and those under 16 should never operate one. If skiing or snowboarding, always wear a helmet! A child should never ski alone, should always ensure proper fitting of equipment, and should even receive lessons if they are a beginner.


Finally, in addition to the tips above, it is important to note that in the time of COVID-19, outdoor play can be safe as long as your child is physically distant from other children and only interact with individuals from their household. These opportunities are important for children and can remove some of the loneliness, stress, and abnormalities of our current times for all.

In closing, winter and cold weather games are a great bonding experience for a family when planned appropriately so have fun!


Justin Triemstra, MD

Spectrum Health, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital

The views in this article are my own and are for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.