Ask any parent. Bundling up a baby or toddler for outdoor play in winter is an adventure in itself. But don’t let the layers and the battle with mittens deter you. The change in season provides new opportunities for even the littlest to be active and continue their journey towards physical literacy.
While children under 3 may not be lacing up skates or strapping on skis, there are still many ways for them to join the winter fun. Here are six ideas to engage and guide babies and toddlers in the great outdoors all season long.
1. Go sledding (and climb back up!)
It’s usually all smiles when soaring down a hill, but less so on the return to the top. Encourage kids of all ages — even the crawlers or those new to walking — to head back up on their own. Join them on the ascent by getting down on your hands and knees either beside or behind them to encourage and help them if they slip. Make it fun by pretending you are bears climbing back up to your den or mountain climbers trying to reach the world’s highest peak.
Required: Nearest snow pile or local tobogganing hill. Sled optional!
Skill developed: This activity helps develop balance and physical coordination and builds strength in the limbs.
2. Play at the park
Your local park isn’t just a summertime destination. Exploring the playground in all seasons helps toddlers build confidence on multiple terrains. Be careful and cognizant of more slippery surfaces this time of year. Stay close to your toddler and be prepared to catch them or lift them down if there is a potential risk or injury or if they lose their balance, footing, or grip, especially those between ages 1 to 2 years.
Tip: whatever the season, choose encouraging words in lieu of comments that may communicate fear.
Skills developed: Park play helps with agility, balance, and coordination.
3. Catch snowflakes
It doesn’t have to be snowing to chase the white stuff. For babies, simply sit beside them and gently toss snow in the air, making sure to take turns at “making it snow”. If you’re playing with older toddlers, clear the area of any obstacles in case they walk or run after snowflakes.
Required: Any open area with snow.
Skills developed: This activity helps develop motor control in the hands, as well as the ability to track movement and objects with the eyes. It also helps build spatial awareness.
4. Build a snow fort
Break away pieces of snow, carry the “blocks”, and stack them into place. For babies, let them hold onto the chunks of snow, pass it back and forth, and pat it into place. Discuss each piece — is it big or small? Soft or hard? For babies, big mittens or a wall of snow makes for great games of peek-a-boo.
Tip: Change it up by bringing out the summer sand toys like shovels, pails, diggers, and dump trucks.
Required: Nothing. Shovels optional.
Skills developed: This activity helps your babies develop motor control in their hands as well as hand-eye coordination. Toddlers also work on lifting, lowering, and balancing.
5. Create snow art
Flatten and smooth out a large area in the snow by asking babies or toddlers to pat their hands or stomp their feet. Use your mitten or find a stick to draw shapes in the snow. For little movers, go on a nature scavenger hunt to find branches or stones to decorate your masterpiece. Plan ahead and freeze some ice cubes or water balloons with coloured water and use these to add to your snow art.
Required: Nothing other than some creativity and snow.
Skills developed: This activity helps babies and toddlers further develop fine motor skills.
6. No snow? No problem
Playing outside even in colder temperatures can be a lot of fun. When you’re out for a walk (or on your way to activity #2), encourage toddlers to climb objects you encounter such as park benches, logs, and small rocks. Check to ensure they are not icy. Bring a ball to throw and catch with toddlers or roll back and forth with babies.
For toddlers, a simple game of tag or follow the leader (with new movements like walking backward or hopping on one foot) is a great way to get moving and practice new skills.
Required: Open space. Ball option.
Skill developed: Playing catch or rolling balls helps develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Agility is gained through multiple movements like running, crawling, hopping, and jumping.
Find more indoor and outdoor activities for babies (0-1 years old) and toddlers (1-3 years old).