Winter 2015 Health Link Online

HealthLink Online

Uniting Children, Parents, Caregivers, and Health Professionals

Children need outdoor physical activity even when it is cold outside. Teach children about different climate conditions by going outside in varying conditions throughout the year. Infants may go outside in a stroller or carriage, but should be put on a tarp or similar ground cover to crawl or have tummy time outdoors too.

The national standards for the range of safe temperatures for outdoor play is very broad. Standard in Caring for Our Children Standards Online Database says: “Weather that poses a significant health risk includes wind chill factor below minus 15°F and heat index at or above 90°F, as identified by the National Weather Service (NWS).” State regulations may differ and must be followed.

Children should wear warm, water resistant winter clothing. Putting on this clothing to go outside offers many instructional opportunities. For example, use the dressing and undressing time to teach about how to put on and remove the clothing, learn about the clothing’s fasteners, count and name the articles of clothing the children are wearing. 

Choose the right amount and type of clothing for the conditions. Overheating and getting wet by sweating or getting wet through clothing can cause rapid heat loss from the body. Ask parents to supply extras and donate outgrown clothing that the facility can use when needed. Wear layers for warmth, and wet-resistant outer garments. Wear boots to play in puddles or snow. Avoid clothing that could get caught and choke the child during play or block the child’s ability to see. Use hats or closely fitting hoods. Avoid long scarves, loose hoods and any dangling cords.

Use a scavenger hunt to foster physical activity while teaching science, math and language in outdoor or indoor play spaces. It is a good activity when the outdoor equipment is too wet or too cold to use safely. Adapt the tasks for the setting and for the age of the children. For example, give toddlers one thing at a time to find on the other side of the play space. Give preschool age children magazine photos of the type of object you want them to find.

Pennsylvania regulations already require that children receive vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. All children over 6 months of age should receive flu vaccine. New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut are requiring that teachers/caregivers have influenza vaccinations too. Flu vaccine reduces the risk of severe flu for them, the children in their care and family members. Contact in child care is a well-known factor in the spread of influenza in the community. While the current flu vaccine is not perfect, it will reduce the risk. The flu season peaks in January-March. It’s not too late to get some protection from flu vaccine.

Poison control centers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their staff respond to poisoning emergencies and information calls from the public and from healthcare providers. They educate parents and caregivers of children about prevention. The risk of poisoning is highest among children less than 2 years of age.  Most poisonings happen when adults are busy and not paying close attention to an exploring child. Children like to taste even things that smell bad.

Many indoor and outdoor activities help children’s brains and bodies grow.  They can provide large and small muscle physical activity children need.  Activities can help children make friends, be creative and control their actions. Also, activities can enable children to use information they’ve learned before to learn new things, focus and think through ideas before acting on them. These processes are called the “executive functions" of the brain. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University  compares executive functions to air traffic control at a busy airport. The link to the Center on the Developing Child  is