Getting everybody up and outside for winter activity can
take extra leverage - especially if your kids, like mine, are the
sort that would rather sit inside and have packed on extra pounds
as a result.
But even the most sedentary child has an ignitable spark
of derring-do. And what better way to light that up than a family
trip to an awesomely towering snow-tubing hill or a weekend
dog-sledding adventure in Minnesota or Wisconsin. (Yes, there are
places that specialize in family dog-sledding trips!) Or, create
your own backyard-or-bust version of Rudolph's Reindeer
Truly adventurous outdoor play really does provide extra
thrills with the chills of winter. So here are some helpful tips to
get you up, out and over the threshold.
Fears about fat
When a child is chubby, parents may silently fear that
truly active outdoor play will be setting their child up for
failure, ridicule or worse, physical danger. "There are no greater
dangers involved in getting an overweight child out there playing
hard, than getting a fit child out there," says Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a
former world-class figure skater and author of Disease-proof Your
Child and Eat for Health. "And there are a lot of benefits," says
Start small, build bigger
Go tubing. But start with the small hill, not the mountain.
Build up to that. Be watchful without hovering. If a child is
winded or flagging, slow things down and rest a bit. Back them up
with encouragement during the walk back up that tubing hill. And
walk up the hill with them.
Balance really vigorous activity with easier to
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are much more
difficult than sledding down a hill or building a snowman. Do some
of both. Set the time-minimum (20 minutes) but beyond that, Fuhrman
suggests letting the child control the intensity and duration.
"They'll naturally self-monitor, go fast for a while and then rest
for a bit. The key is to get them out there-daily if possible." He
suggests a game of tag in the snow as an excellent option. "It's
natural interval training and running in the snow is quite
Do something crazy
Go dog-sledding: Ride on a dog-sled across the nearby
frozen north behind a gorgeous team of Huskies or learn to "mush"
and drive yourself. At Arleigh Jorgenson's Sled Dog Adventures in
Grand Marais, Minn., you can take a two-hour dogsled ride with 10
to 12 Alaskan Huskies pulling you and your family through the
Superior National Forest or learn to drive a team of dogs yourself
(kids are allowed to learn this too)-with instruction and
supervision on the trail. The same is true at Wolfsong Adventures
in Mushing near Bayfield, Wis. There you can do a 2 ½-hour or
four-hour (with lunch) day trip where you tuck in for a ride behind
a Siberian Husky team or learn to drive the team.
Create your own backyard
In colder Midwest climes, small towns are big into
creating kooky, cold-weather games for their Winterfests. Why not
do a mini version in your own backyard? Get some neighborhood
friends in on the act: Build two huge snow forts and decorate with
Christmas lights. Make a two-team snowball fight from behind these
two edifices the climax of your event. But before that, do a frozen
pancake toss, frozen fish toss or frozen weenie toss (egg-toss
style). Do a human "dog-sled" race (each team of five people-four
pulling and one on the sled-has to see who can pull fastest to the
finish line). Do snow golfing-smooth an area, build bumps and
slopes out of snow around each hole, put a flag to mark them, dig
the holes into the snow and paint them with watercolor paint to
make them stand out.
Keep up the momentum
Plan your next outdoor activity while the memory of the
fun you just had is still fresh. And in between, gently ramp up the
amount of outside time you're spending with your kids by adding
extra moments of more-mellow winter excursions: walking the
ice-crusted beach shorelines in winter, visiting snowy woods and
bird sanctuaries or sitting on a frozen lake ice
Do it together
One of the success builders in all of this is family
participation. "The number one most important thing in getting your
kids healthy is to get fit yourself and involve them in the
process," says Fuhrman. "Even if you have not yet been the best
role model for your kids with what you eat thus far, changing that
and telling your kids why you're changing that, is powerful."
Overcoming your own fears of the bunny hill or ski lifts, or what
people will say if they see you looking like the Michelin tire man
in down-filled coveralls, will help your children face these
"That way, the focus isn't so much 'fixing the child,'
which will make the child feel attacked, it's more, 'we're all in
Monica Kass Rogers
See more of Monica's stories here.
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