While some prefer to hibernate during winter, Five Counties Children’s Centre is urging families to be active and enjoy safe play every day of the year.
Research shows that being active is good for a child’s overall wellbeing, helping build flexibility, agility, and strong bones and muscles. “Being active helps kids develop fundamental movement skills like jumping, throwing, and catching that are key for their physical development,” says Nicole Captain, an Occupational Therapist with Five Counties. “Winter may pose extra challenges to staying active, but it’s still worth the effort whatever the weather.”
Being active also help kids be more confident, co-operative, social, resilient, and accepting of others. “Kids learn through play, so it’s vital that they all be given the opportunity to take part in recreation opportunities,” adds Colleen Ristok, the Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator at Five Counties. “If we ignore or put up barriers to participation, the power of play and its benefits are lost for good.”
Both Captain and Ristok encourage families to embrace the season in the following ways:
Dress for Success
Dress warmly and in layers is best for enjoying outdoor winter activities, according to Parachute Canada:
Wearing a few lighter layers of clothes offers better protection than one heavier garment. It also allows individuals to remove a layer or two if they get too warm.
Try loose layers such an absorbent synthetic fabric next to skin, a warmer middle layer and a water resistant/repellent outer layer.
Wearing hats of tightly woven fibres are better for extreme cold. Putting on a toque or hat is especially important for kids under age three, who can experience significant heat loss given their
heads account for a larger proportion of their overall body size.
Some children with mobility issues or other conditions may be more temperature sensitive and face greater risk of frost bite or hypothermia. Extra caution should be taken with them.
If weather conditions are poor, or the temperature/wind chill falls below -25 °C (-13 °F), children should stay inside to play.
Clear the Way
Just like plows keep roadways safe for cars, clearing snow from sidewalks and driveways can do wonders for people using wheelchairs, strollers and other modes of transportation.
Pushing or using a wheelchair in snow has extra challenges. Always take your time and be careful. Know your limit and don’t overexert yourself.
Service or therapy animals can also suffer from the cold. If going out with a four-legged friend, consider a coat and boots/shoes for their feet.
Use Your Head
Use a proper-fitting helmet when skating, skiing, playing hockey, and even tobogganing. Follow the manufacturer’s fitting instructions or refer to Parachute Canada for more tips on proper helmet use.
Check that your sled or toboggan is in good condition before using. Find a hill free of hazards like ice, trees, rocks and fences. Look out for others sliding down as you head back up the hill.
Kids should avoid tunnels or snow forts with roofs that could cave in and pose a suffocation risk.
Hitting the trails can be a great way to experience a winter wonderland. The Ontario Trails website lists more than 250 accessible trails, but it’s best to check first if a particular trail is maintained over winter.
Five Counties, in partnership with Pathways to Stewardship & Kinship, offers the Hippocampe chair that’s available for no-charge loan to families and schools. The Hippocampe chair is a specialized all-terrain wheelchair that includes multiple attachments (including skis) that make it ideal to use on trails in all seasons. Learn more by contacting Five Counties at 1-888-779-9916, ext. 249 or 250.
Accessible Playgrounds Ontario is a website providing information, photos and searchable locations for 300+ accessible playgrounds across the province.
Access for All
While many people enjoy and play winter activities, there are also adaptive snow sports like sledge hockey and wheelchair curling that let kids of all ages and abilities get in the game.
Five Counties has a variety of listings available on its Community Recreation Resources web page.
If the Weather Outside is Frightful
Bad weather or extreme cold may force families to say inside on some days, but that doesn’t have to take away the chance to play. A room or basement with some open space can be a perfect place to get active.
Get kids to help create a fun indoor obstacle course, like the one suggested by Grandview Kids. This involves using cushions, hula hoops, and empty laundry baskets to keep kids moving.
“Winter is no time to curl up and hibernate,” notes Nicole Captain, of Five Counties. “With some planning and creativity, families can warm up to being active and having fun even during the coldest months of the year.”