When is it too cold to play outside?

When is it too cold to play outside?

Playing outside is a great activity for kids of all ages. But when the weather outside is frightful, how long is it safe for them to play outdoors? And what should they wear?

Alix McNulty, manager of community outreach and population health at Advocate Children’s Hospital, offers the following tips to make this winter safer and more enjoyable for you and your littles.

  • At 30 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, playing outside is safe as long as children layer clothing, drink water frequently, watch for signs they’re getting cold and take breaks.
  • When the temperature is between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit, follow the same directions as above, but practice extra precaution. It’s much easier to become very cold in these temperatures.
  • 20 degrees Fahrenheit or under? Stay inside!
  • When dressing your child to play in the snow, choose layers from top to bottom, including undershirts, turtlenecks, sweaters and winter coats. Wearing thermal or woolen clothing will help lock in body heat. Waterproof pants and gloves are the best option (jeans and khakis will not keep them warm!) Double up on socks, and choose waterproof boats to help keep toes warm. And of course, don’t forget hats, scarves, face masks and ear muffs.
  • Playing in the cold and snow can be fun, but if a child’s body temperature drops by 4-5 degrees, it can make them not feel well. Encourage them to watch for signs that it’s time to come inside and warm up such as chattering teeth, shivering, dizziness, weakness and color change in skin (pink, red, blue or purple).
  • Once inside, remove outer clothing and anything that is wet. Sit by a heat source and use a blanket. Drink a warm beverage like hot chocolate or tea.
  • Finally, hydration is key. When you’re outside in the cold and breathing hard, a good portion of the body’s hydration status is lost just by breathing. The best way to stay hydrated is to drink water.

Now is the perfect time to make an appointment with a primary care physician. Whether you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, it’s easy to find a doctor near you. 

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  1. I read this article and both laughed and shook my head. We lament over the lack of exercise in school aged children and yet we make them stay inside at 20 degrees? Perhaps a better solution is to teach parents how to properly dress their children for outdoors and then let them play for short periods. The children in North Pole Alaska have recess daily until -20 degrees. Even those military children who recently moved in from the lower 40! How about we teach children to love the outdoors in all it’s stages and learn to respect the weather?

  2. I don’t know about you, but wearing waterproof boats would be very heavy for me to walk around in to keep my toes warm. I prefer waterproof boots. 🙂

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.