Was it indoor recess today? is a common after-school question at my house. I live in Thunder Bay, Ont., where schools and daycares keep the kids inside if its colder than -25C with the wind chill (and its not rare that its colder than that). Otherwise, the kids are outside at recess and many families, including mine, will head out after school and on weekends too, to ski, sled, skate, ice fish, snowshoe or just play in the snow.
I dont think were hardcore either. Simmering inside in the germ pit of mid-winter, without fresh air and sunlight, makes everyone a little bonkers. While I like to tell my daughter that we are tough northern girls, its true that were all tough Canadians. Winter is long and cold for most of us, and kids are heartier than we think. Its OK to take your kids outside when its freaking cold! (Use common sense, of coursefrostbite is no joke, so dressing right, having warm-up breaks, taking extra care with babies, making sure small bits like toes, fingers and ears are protected and throwing a dance party inside when it dips below -25C are all the way to go.)
Here are some winter-tested ideas to help get your kidsand youout of the house.
1. Get the right gear
12 of Canadas best winter festivalsYouve probably heard that Norwegian saying: There is no bad weather, just bad clothes, and there is a lot of truth to that.
Base layer and middle layers
Long underwear is your base layer, worn next to the skin to wick away sweat that leaves you chilled. Soft microfibre or merino wool is ideal. Skip the cotton, because it gets damp and then you get cold. Top that off with your middle layer, a fleece hoodie or merino wool sweater, and its ok if its a little big. (Merino used to be hard to find, but its more widely available now. Look for small adult sizes at reduced prices at lots of retailers now, even Winners, Old Navy and the Gap. I promise its not scratchy.) A vest or undershirt helps keep your core warm, which in turn means warmer hands and feet.
Snowsuits are important, obvs., but I wouldnt get too hung up on brands because I think the other gear in this list actually has a bigger impact. You can usually find one-piece snowsuits in sizes up to 6, and theyre awesome because theyre so warm and kids can do up the zippers on their own, even while wearing mitts. When kids move into two-piece snowsuits, keep them in the bib-style pants that go up over the chest and back as long as you can (I lost this particular battle this year).
Neck tubes and hats
Also called a neck gaiter, neck tubes are long stretchy neckwarmers made of soft merino wool or microfibre. They keep you surprisingly warm just worn around the neck, but can also be pulled up over the ears, head and lower half of the face for extra coziness. I find that fleece hats are the warmest and fortunately they are inexpensive too.
Gloves generally dont keep small hands warm enough. Gauntlet-style mitts that go part-way up the arm, made with a fleece liner, nylon exterior and elastic wrist, are toasty and keep the snow and wind out. For extra warmth, have your kiddo put them on before they put their coat on (drawback: they might need help zipping up their coat).
Boots and socks
Boots with felt liners tend to be the warmest, and I roll the dice and buy the expensive ones on sale at the end of the season, even if I dont know what my daughters shoe size will be in six months (so far Ive been lucky). A good way to beef up so-so boots is with merino wool socks. I keep a couple pairs with the winter gear rather than risk them disappearing into the sock drawer vortex. Ive never had luck with doubling up socksusually it makes the boot a little tight and the circulation to your feet isnt great. Again, dont choose cotton socks for frosty outings.
2. but dont go broke
Cold-weather gear can be expensive, especially if youre outfitting multiple kids. Because I have one child and shes pretty easy on her stuff, I tend to buy new and then partially recoup the costs by selling it at a local gear sale the following fall. Check your neighbourhood for gear swaps and sales. MEC has a page that lists gear-swap events in different parts of Canada, and has an online buy and sell page for used items too. On a local Facebook page where members can buy and sell kids active clothes, I recently snapped up two sets of lightly used youth long underwear tops and bottoms, a merino sweater and two pairs of hiking pants all for $80, which would have set me back $250 or so if they were new.
New winter gear tends to go on sale in late January and early February. For older kids, check the adult department toomy 10-year-old is currently on her second winter with good gauntlet mitts in womens extra-small, 70 percent off. I also have a friend who swears by a Canadian outlet site called The Last Hunt, which offers deep discounts on brand names. Its a bit of a gamble because the items arent returnable, but she has three kids and figures stuff will fit one of them at some point. Connect with other active families toothis same friend has daughters a year older and a year younger than mine, so we will sometimes trade stuff back and forth.
3. Consider small things with big impact
Food helps keep you warm, so pass out snacks like nuts, granola bars and dried fruit. Just keep them in an inside pocket so they dont freeze! Its also easy to stash a thermos of hot chocolate, or mint or berry tea, in a backpack.
I love handwarmers and buy the inexpensive charcoal kind in bulk at Canadian Tire. You just open the package, expose the handwarmer to the air and tuck it into your mitts for toasty hands. Because theyre activated by oxygen, if you only use them for a short while you can reseal them in a small ziptop bag and use them later that day or the next day.
Sometimes its not so much the cold as the effects of the cold that make a kid cranky about being outside. Have extra tissues or a hanky to clean up that snotty nose, or hand your big kid a pack to keep in their pocket. Applying sunscreen and lip balm before you head out protects and soothes the skin. It really makes a difference if you can find a spot out of the wind, like a wooded trail or in the valley of a hilly area.
By the way, grownups need good gear too. Wearing a thin pair of wool gloves under your mitts is a lifesaver when youre buckling kids into car seats or helping them with their snowshoes or ski bindings. And not to brag or anything, but I have had the same sets of microfibre long underwear and tank tops for decades. (Elita Warm Wearthey are so old I got them at Eatons!) Hang them to dry instead of putting them in the dryer and they will last for a long time. Sheepskin mitts and hats are a pretty big investment for kids but hey, the grownups deserve them, and again, I have had mine for 20 years in the north and theyre still going strong.
4. Attitude counts
Lots of snow definitely offers lots of playtime, but if you have cold without the white stuff, there are still fun things to do outside. Our driveway is the meeting spot for three families to get on the school bus, and while were waiting, we go old-school and play Mother May I, Simon Says, dig into our repertoire of camp songs with actions, pretend to explore a tropical islandpretty much anything to keep us warm and distract us from the fact that its pitch dark and dang cold at 8 a.m. (kids do tend to echo you when youre moaning and groaning about something, right?).
Listen, maybe you love winter and maybe you dont, but theres no point in being coldor housebound. After all, were tough Canadian girls (and guys) and our kids should be too.
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