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Staying Active Outside in the Winter… with Kids

Between the release of Frozen II, everyone talking about “hygge,” a glut of glogg recipes all over the web for the holidays, all the cool kids parents bragging about their new commuter bikes and, well, winter, it seems like all things Scandinavian are having a moment RN.

Scandinavians have a saying: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

This philosophy is actually really important to the Scandinavian culture of parenting. Children there play outside all year round — rain, snow, or shine — and babies even nap outdoors (gasp!) in the cold.

Photo cred: Middlebury College) ^^ babies napping outside in the Nordic

If you want to learn more about the ideology behind these conventions, check out Linda Akeson McGurk’s cool book There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather. It’s like Bringing Up Bebe (LOVE), except in Scandinavia. With nature.

OK — actually, we’re not going to sit here and deny the existence of bad weather. But there’s a simple, appealing beauty in this Swedish sentiment, and we love the concept. But it can be really, really hard to adopt this kind of fearless mindset toward the outdoors — or any kind of activity, really — during the winter months… especially when you have little kiddos in tow. 

Take it from us, though — and we’re right there with you freezing our a$$es off in Minneapolis, Brooklyn, San Fran (well, not really haha), and Maine — keeping active through the wintertime is SO worth it. 

The notion that being outside in the cold makes us sick is a misnomer (yes, grandma was WRONG!), — it’s actually the indoor air (heated, recirculated, germy) throughout the winter that’s more likely to dry out your skin or transmit your kid’s friend’s runny nose. As the Pennsylvania Department of Health says: “the more time you spend inside, the more you are exposed.”

Getting outside, even — especially — in the dead of winter, has tons of health benefits: it can boost your mood, lower stress levels, improve cognitive functioning like memory, attention, and focus, strengthen your immune system, expand your creativity levels, and, last but not least — vitamin D, people! You need it! Get some outside!

Whether you’re warm- or cold-blooded, live in Alaska or Orlando, or have however many kids along for the ride, here are some of our favorite ways to live by the adage that there’s never bad weather, only bad clothing. (And at the end of everything, there’s always wine when you come back inside… 😉)

First, though — get the right clothing! For you and your kids. Good winter gear makes all the difference, friends. If you need help, check out our winter series for some recommendations. Also consider checking on Craigslist or scouring your local Goodwill for essentials — sometimes you can find some really high-quality hand-me-downs, especially if you live in a place where winter is real (i.e., Boston, not Phoenix).

Getting Outside: Our Favorite Activities

Cross Country Skiing (Brit) 

Cross country skiing is the sh*t, friends. It’s literally my favorite thing to do in the world. Before I had kids, I went ALL the time. Our apartment was right near a perfect 5-mile loop around a cove overlooking Portland, Maine and since I work from home, I’d grab my gear and head out anytime I felt like it from December through April (yes, April — after that everything turns to mush and mud for two months… ick). Not to mention, all the amazing actual trails across the New England winter wonderland my husband and I trekked to every weekend we could.

Then we had two kids exactly two years apart, and I didn’t ski for like… four years. This past year, though, we got back out there, and it was AWESOME. I’m looking forward to getting both my kids their first set of X-country skis, but for now they’re cozied up in our Thule Chariot Lite, hooked up with the Cross Country Ski adapter kit, and they totally love it. We throw them in there with some hot chocolate and tell them it’s a sleigh ride!

If you’re somewhere where X-country skiing is available to you, this is such an incredible, refreshing way to get outside (plus it’s great exercise) with your kids.

The buy-in for the likes of a ski chariot is a big one, I know (sigh)… but if you’re interested, the Thule Chariot Lite (single or doubles version) is a fantastic stroller in its own right, and it also comes with a bike attachment (summer activity! whoo!), if that makes you feel any better. Anyways, if you either want to start or get back into XC skiing, I think it’s worth every penny.

Snowshoeing (Brit)

I didn’t really know anything about snowshoeing before I moved to Maine, but everybody and their mom does it here (seriously, Mainers are obsessed), so my husband and I picked it up. (Why not?)

Here’s the big secret: it’s just walking, but in the snow. I was a little intimidated by the idea of snowshoeing at first, but it’s super fun and super easy. Really: a three-year-old can do it. James just got his first pair of snowshoes and has been romping all over the place in them — so cute.

With the right toddler outerwear and a good baby carrier, it’s also manageable to bring a baby along with you. I took both my kids in the carrier zipped under my maternity coat (actually, it was just my dad’s old coat, hah!) when they were babes, and threw them on my back in a hiking carrier as they got older. You can also get a cover for your baby carrier.

You can snowshoe anywhere there’s snow, BTW. 

Thus, the awesome thing about snowshoeing is that once you buy a pair of snowshoes (I’m partial to the LL Bean ones), you don’t need to schedule anything, hunt for specific/groomed trails, pay for any kind of lessons or ski lift ticket or insanely-expensive ski chariot, buy a rink membership, or what have you.

You (and your kids) can snowshoe wherever you want, whenever. You can go out for 10 minutes or 2 hours, up your street or in the mountains. It’s for everyone. To my mind, this is one of the simplest ways to get outside for some fun without having to make a huge commitment — financial or otherwise.

Ice Skating (Marissa)

Being that I live in the frozen tundra, otherwise known as Minnesota, where winter typically lasts from sometime in October to sometime in April (or even May!), we have NO CHOICE but to bundle ourselves up, embrace all the activities winter has to offer, and get our a**es out there in the frigid cold. My personal favorite is ice skating.

If you’re from Minnesota, it’s pretty much a rule that you know how to skate. Either you play hockey, take figure skating lessons, or just skate recreationally (or all three!). The point being, most of us are taught to skate YOUNG — before we’ve even fully mastered the art of walking. 

This pic is grainy ‘cuz it’s old! Marissa skating around age 4 (1983)

I skated my entire childhood. I loved it. I spent hours at the rink, practicing my turns, sit-spins and lutz jumps. I even performed in skating shows.  

Marissa, skating show, age 8

Skating as an adult is equally as fun (minus getting to wear those cutesy costumes — HA!), and not to mention, a really great workout — you use muscles you didn’t know you had and can really get your heart rate up as you zoom fast around the rink. 

Bonus: you don’t need a ton of equipment (just a pair of skates, which you can buy on Amazon, or even just rent from your local rink), and when the weather is cold, there are tons of places to skate: your neighborhood park, a frozen pond or lake, an indoor rink, or, if you’re me, your next door neighbor’s ice rink (every winter the family next door builds a state-of-the-art skating rink in the side lot between our houses… seriously!).

Now that my kiddos are getting older, it’s time to pass on the torch and teach them the great (mandatory) Minnesota art of ice skating (see my oldest, below, during her first time on ice skates).

I’m really excited for the day when my entire family of 5 can tear up the ice together — such a fun, wintertime fitness activity that’s good for the body and soul!

Downhill Skiing (Meg)

As a girl who grew up in the South, I was always dying to go snow skiing. My first time was at age 13 in Gatlinburg, TN, (don’t laugh – we thought it was heaven!) and I was forever in love with the sport.

Now that I live in the SF bay area, getting up to the snow is easy. To me, there’s nothing better than exhausting ourselves on the slopes with the kids, then coming in to snuggle by the fire with a hot chocolate: it is awesome. It’s truly a great way to stay active with the whole family in the winter.

We first got the girls on skis around the age of 4 (any younger and they really don’t have the motor skills or leg strength), hoping to one day ski together as a big happy family. Though it hasn’t been without great expense (and many frustrations!), I’m happy to say we are getting very close to this ideal. After all, what other sport can adults and kids truly share in together this intimately?

Our formula for keeping cost down is to buy annual passes (just suck it up) and buy used gear for the kids, since they age out of it (almost) every year. Parents, if you are skiers, I highly recommend you get your kids out on the slopes. It will set you up for a lifetime of winter family fun.

Exploring the City (Charlene)

The city is a great place to walk. There’s so much to see, different neighborhoods to explore, and a lot of shopping to do. So get out there and get walking. Picking fun destinations to really know the city I live in has been a great motivational tool to keep me moving — a new cafe, the local library, a cute bookshop, whatever. Think like a tourist in your own neighborhood, and commit to checking out one spot at a time.

Of course, if you just gave birth, your new bundle will have to tag along. Your first instinct may be to keep baby inside, but don’t shy away from a little stroll in freezing temps. It can actually be invigorating. All you need to do is arm yourself and baby with all the winter necessities. We’re talking carrier covers, stroller footmuffs, and hand muffs. Check out our entire winter series to find out what you need. 

One way I got out there was to join a mommy and me group in my neighborhood and meet with them weekly. Not only did I make long-lasting friends, I also avoided complete #couchpotatostatus. Win win! 

Fitbit for Winter (Charlene)

I miss my California days — when I could hike on a random Tuesday in the middle of January without having to bundle up in a giant puffer coat and the other gazillion winter accessories I now am forced to wear as a New Yorker. Don’t get me wrong — I LOVE living in Brooklyn. But since I’m not a huge workout buff and don’t own a gym membership, staying active during the cold season can get super challenging! So what’s an urban mama to do?

Get yourself a Fitbit and a few gal pals who also need a little nudge to get moving. Yes, Fitbit tracks your every move — from steps to workouts to sleep patterns — but there’s a lot more to this fitness device than meets the eye. The Fitbit app features challenges that gamify your whole exercise routine by having you compete with your friends in daily or weekly leaderboards. Whoever takes the most steps or reaches their daily challenges first wins!

This has been so, so fun and exciting… and very motivating. On slow days, I’ve found myself taking long walks or getting out a subway or bus stop early to get some extra steps in — something I definitely wouldn’t do if I didn’t have this device wrapped around my wrist. 

^Fitbit Adventures

If you’d like to get competitive with yourself, you can do that too! You can either take those challenges alone or use Fitbit Adventures, which allows you to virtually explore real-life locations around the world, using 3-D maps. I “walked” through different parts of Yosemite and Vernal Falls. The app then notified me when I hit scenic landmarks and gave me the opportunity to look at 360 panoramic photos. Exploring nature while actually being in a concrete jungle? Such a fun, interactive way to get my steps in.

ClassPass-ing (Charlene)

Ok… So this isn’t really “getting outside,” but it’s such a great way for mamas to explore new, exciting ways to be active that we couldn’t not mention it (and you have to at least go outside to get to and from a class… count it!). A friend of mine recommended I join ClassPass. You see, I don’t really work out, work out. I walk (the city is my gym… it’s a Parisian thing, too). I do yoga. But that’s about it. And guess what? I kind of feel like I’m in a rut (surprise… not!). Plus, I really have been meaning to be more active and get out of my comfort zone. My Fitbit was the first step (haha!) to this endeavor. But hey, that’s not enough. So what next? 

I followed my friend’s advice and recently joined ClassPass, and I really love it so far.

For a monthly fee, the app lets you choose from a variety of classes in your area.

I went to a couple of yoga sessions at a studio that I already frequented; and it turns out to be cheaper to sign up with ClassPass’ credits than with the studio’s own class plans and memberships. 

Plus, I get to try out new things. Next on my list is Pilates, and I’ve been wanting to try some sort of dance workout class. You can also coordinate with friends who are also on ClassPass, which is a great way to hold yourself accountable. From beginner to advanced — from yoga to kickboxing to barre and aqua cycling — there’s something for literally everyone. Bonus: you can even book massages and facials (a workout for your face… we say, that counts! Especially if you walk to your appointment).


At the end of the day — just getting a little time outside with the sun is well worth all the effort to bundle up; we promise you won’t regret it! If you’re a brand new mom, set your sights SMALL, and don’t beat yourself up. Both my kids were born in December, and our pediatrician reminded me that just walking a couple laps around my yard would be good for me. I did, and it felt great! Baby steps. 

What are your favorite ways to get outside during winter? We’d love to hear — let us know in the comments section below!

Comments

    1. Brit

      Hi, Julia — thanks for reading! It can definitely be tough the first couple years… My daughter also just turned two and I find that she really enjoys getting outside in the hiking backpack for snowshoeing, XC skiing, or even a simple walk. The biggest limiting factor with her is simply time — I’d love to stay out for a few hours, but she generally can only handle about 1-2 hours, depending. When my son was 2, we also loved pulling him around the neighborhood in a little sled with a high back seat, like this one. Let us know how it goes, and good luck!

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