Playing Outdoors in Winter Can Help Prevent Colds and Flu

Did you know that cold weather is a great time for kids to play outdoors?

Many parents and teachers believe that it’s important to keep children warm and inside, rather than heading with them outside to play in cold weather. This misconception is actually the opposite of what many pediatricians and childcare experts recommend.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Cold weather does not cause colds or flu.  But the viruses that cause colds and flu tend to be more common in the winter, when children are in school and are in closer contact with each other.  Frequent hand washing and teaching your child to sneeze or cough into the bend of her elbow may help reduce the spread of colds and flu.

Catherine Hoffman, Director of Center Relations at Tuckaway Child Development Centers, agrees whole-heartedly. “While many educational centers keep children indoors during cold weather, we do the opposite. It’s important for children to get fresh air and active exercise. Cold weather should not be a deterrent until it is bitter cold — which is typically not the case in Richmond. Of course, using good common sense and following a doctor’s recommendation for children who have health conditions is important too.”

Catherine should know about outdoor play because Tuckaway was awarded the 2011 Best Pre-school Playground in Richmond.

Catherine goes on to explain that getting fresh air can actually combat illnesses and help prevent children from contracting illness from other kids. Most viruses are airborne, and getting kids outside helps to eliminate some of the germs they carry. It also gives the classrooms and facilities an opportunity to welcome fresh air into the building when the doors are opened to let children in and out.

Tuckaway Child Development Centers follow the same guidelines as outlined on the American Academy of Pediatrics website and the Healthy Children website, including:

  • Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Have children come inside periodically to warm up if necessary.
  • Dress infants and children warmly for outdoor activities.  Several thin layers will keep them dry and warm. Don’t forget warm boots, gloves or mittens, and a hat. Dressing for the weather is important.
  • The rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions.
  • Always wear a hat where most of the body’s heat is lost when outdoors. Hats help children keep a warmer body temperature.
  • Watch children to ensure they are not sweating, since sweat gets cold when it touches the skin and starts to evaporate. Sweat can chill them quickly when it gets exposed to the cold air as they remove layers.

When children are dressed appropriately and warmly with suitable clothing to keep them dry, they should be able to play outdoors in most all temperatures. Layers will keep them warm, but also ensure they don’t get overheated as they play.

Children who see adults playing outside, including teachers and parents, also learn healthy habits about activity during winter months. It’s important for children to see that it’s healthy to go outside even when it’s cold.

“Even if a child has a cold or the sniffles, it’s okay for him to play outside provided he is kept warm and dry. And even though it’s cold, it’s still important for children to get plenty of fluids to drink before and after playtime. The good news is that children are less likely to pass germs and illness between each other when they play outside,” explains Catherine.

So don’t obsess about keeping children indoors during colder weather but get them moving and active outside. Play on the jungle gym, take a walk, build a snowman, or ride a bike. It might the one way to help them fight off illness during the winter months.

For more information on outdoor play during winter months, click on the American Academy of Pediatrics audio.

NOTE: Tuckaway Child Development Centers offer a great resource for working parents or stay-at-home parents looking for opportunities to educate and socialize their children as they grow. Be sure to use your Savvy Saver card and the registration fee will be waived.

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