Don’t Put Outdoor Play on Ice: How to Make the Most of Your Playground Equipment in Winter
Cold weather is upon us, and your facility’s playground may be sitting sad, lonely, and covered in snow. At Play Mart, we say “no way!” to avoiding winter play! With the proper maintenance and safety precautions, the children in your care can reap the benefits of playground equipment all year long.
Studies show that today’s kids spend half the amount of time outdoors compared to older generations. This lack of outdoor play is taking a toll on their health, with increasing rates of obesity, asthma, and attention deficit disorder.
In fact, research proves that winter play is crucial for their well-being. Children who brave the cold and engage in outdoor activities are actually healthier and more active. Read on to learn why you should clear off your playground, bundle up the kids, and join Play Mart in some nippy outdoor play!
Benefits of Playground Equipment in Winter
Don’t let chilly temperatures confine your children indoors. There are countless benefits of playing outdoors all year long. Here are just a few of the reasons to make use of your playground equipment in the cold winter months:
Boost Children’s Physical Well-being
Shockingly, only about a quarter of kids aged 5 to 17 meet the recommended level of physical activity. Help your children thrive by getting them moving outside. Not only does outdoor play improve their learning and cognitive functions, motor development, fitness levels, and sleep, but it also enhances their overall health and quality of life. Plus, they’ll soak up essential Vitamin D while having fun, which is even harder to come by in the winter months.
The advantages of physical activity for children don’t stop at the obvious. Outdoor physical activity enhances brain health, cognition, and mental well-being. It even aids in reducing stress levels and symptoms of ADHD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, time playing outdoors is linked with improved motor development, lower obesity, and even lessens the risk of developing myopia (nearsightedness)!
Encourage Limitless Imagination Through Outdoor Play
Use colder temperatures to warm up your children’s creativity! When children have the freedom to engage in imaginative play outside, they can explore, investigate, and fully immerse themselves in the natural world while having a blast.
Playing in the snow, for instance, gives them the chance to let their imaginations run wild and problem-solve. Snow provides the perfect canvas for imaginative play. Encourage your children to create whatever they can dream up, whether making snow angels or building an igloo. Many of our outdoor playsets, like the Caribbean Hideaway, offer great opportunities for your children to imagine themselves in warmer weather!
Outdoor Play Supports Emotional and Mental Health
Did you know that playing outside can contribute to your child’s emotional and mental well-being? Encourage them to participate in fun winter activities to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, while boosting creativity, self-esteem, and self-worth. Additionally, using outdoor playground equipment helps develop their self-confidence and risk-taking skills.
According to Dr. Jason Hunziker from the University of Utah, being outdoors triggers physiological responses that help reduce stress levels. Our connection to nature is deeply rooted in our brain, which can bring about a sense of peace.
More studies reveal that spending as little as 120 minutes per week in nature can greatly improve our overall well-being. It doesn’t matter if your children are swinging to new heights or playing some holiday tunes on their outdoor musical instruments. Being outside is what counts!
Playing Outside Builds Essential Social Skills
During free play at the winter playground, children discover vital lessons that shape their character and social skills.
Children learn the art of fairness, turn-taking, and cooperation through interactive play with their peers. They develop persistence and resilience as they tackle challenges head-on.
Additionally, studies reveal that children naturally use more complex language when playing with others, sharpening their communication skills. Pretend play pushes them to communicate abstract ideas, fostering advanced language proficiency.
Engaging in unstructured group play sets the stage for cooperative thinking, nurturing a selfless mindset. Children acquire the tools they need to thrive socially by immersing themselves in interactive play.
And let’s not forget about the bonus benefits of winter! The changing seasons provide new opportunities for creative winter-themed games and socio-dramatic play.
Learn Outside the Box
Kids learn in ways that textbooks can’t possibly teach. Winter is an excellent time for your child to learn about nature, seasons, wildlife, and more. Outdoor play sparks their interest in science as they explore the world around them. Let them discover biology, different elements, freezing and melting, building structures, and temperature changes through hands-on experiences.
Let your child explore the magic of the season with new and exciting experiences. From ice on a pond to trees shedding their leaves, animals hibernating, and birds migrating, there’s so much to learn about how winter works in the natural world. Just like showing them spring flowers or summer bumblebees, playing outside in winter opens the door to endless opportunities for hands-on discovery. Play Mart believes every moment of play is an opportunity to learn, which is why many of our playsets include STEM components. This means no brain freeze for your little ones!
It’s All About Fun!
You may care about children’s health and development, but if you survey the kids who visit your playground, all they care about is fun! Winter is an opportunity to create lasting memories. From making a snow maze to watching your breath fog the air, there’s no shortage of fun activities to enjoy with children. Remember your childhood adventures and share the joy with your little ones!
Tips for Winter Playground Maintenance
As the majority of the school year falls during autumn and winter, children rely on playgrounds even more to get outside during recess or at other childcare facilities. It’s their only place to swing, jump, climb, and slide! That’s why it’s crucial to continue caring for your playground throughout the winter to provide a safe and enjoyable space for play.
Winter brings harsh conditions, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, with snow and ice creating unsafe situations. Regular maintenance inspections and repairs are obligatory to prevent accidents and ensure that the playground remains in top shape.
Our Recycled Structural Plastic (RSP) is much lower maintenance than traditional wood or metal equipment, but there are still important steps to take to keep it safe for winter. Neglecting playground maintenance during winter can result in unsafe broken equipment, slips and falls, and potential liability issues for schools and parks. To prevent these hazards, it’s essential to follow safety standards all year long and take specific measures to protect your playground from winter weather.
Here are a few tips to keep your playground equipment kid-ready all year round:
Use Recycled Plastic Playground Equipment
Even though metal and wooden equipment is becoming antiquated, many older playgrounds still utilize metal and wood components. However, be cautious during the wetter months leading up to winter, as wooden structures can deteriorate and become hazardous. A wood preservative may be necessary to maintain the integrity and safety of wooden playground equipment.
If you live in a climate that experiences harsh winter weather, your best bet is to use recycled plastic equipment. Our proprietary Recycled Structural Plastic (RSP) at Play Mart is extremely durable even when exposed to snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.
Inspect Equipment for Wear
Keep your plastic playground in top condition by removing snow from play surfaces and inspecting for any damage or weak points. Carefully examine all components, including joints, connectors, and fasteners, for signs of wear or damage. Though they are rare, look for cracks, chips, or breaks in the plastic and check for any loose or rusted hardware. Pay special attention to areas that may have weakened over time, such as steps or platforms. If you spot any issues, it’s crucial to address them promptly to ensure the safety of children. This may involve repairing or replacing damaged parts or seeking professional assistance.
After the winter season, it’s important to thoroughly check your playground equipment to make sure there is no loose or missing hardware. The contraction and expansion caused by snow melting and refreezing can potentially shift essential hardware, which is necessary for maintaining playground safety. Conduct a post-winter equipment inspection to ensure that everything is securely in place. If you have any doubts about the safety of a particular piece of equipment or notice any broken or damaged parts, don’t hesitate to seek help from a Certified Playground Safety Inspector.
Clear Away Snow
Ice skating is a load of fun, just not on the playground! Ensure the safety of the playground by removing snow and ice. It is important to keep the area around equipment with fall heights free of snow and ice to prevent injuries. Snow affects the safe fall height even if you have playground safety surfacing, so it should be cleared away.
Be mindful of the tools you use to remove snow and ice. Metal shovels or scrapers can damage the rubber mats, so opt for brushes or rubber scrapers instead. Never use machinery like snowblowers on rubber playground tiles.
Avoid chemical de-icers. Chemical de-icing agents should not be used on playground surfaces. These chemicals can damage the plastic and rubber surfacing. Always consult the manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure you are using approved tools and de-icers.
Removing snow and ice can take time, especially for larger playground areas. Clear the snow promptly to prevent it from melting and refreezing into ice. Make sure to relocate the snow away from the playground surface to prevent refreezing.
Safety Surfacing is Crucial in Winter
Having the right playground safety surfacing is crucial during cold winter months, especially when it comes to hidden dangers like slick ice patches. Beware of melted or melting ice and snow. It can make playground surfacing even more slippery, especially for children with mobility devices. Don’t forget to check all concrete and paved areas and shaded spots where ice may linger even after warmer weather. If your playground’s surfacing isn’t composed of poured rubber or rubber mulch, it may be time to consider a replacement.
Protecting Kids on the Playground During the Winter
Many childcare professionals understandably wonder if it’s safe for children to use the playground in winter. While you might prefer to hibernate this time of year, kids are prone to cabin fever and long to be outdoors. With the right winter playground safety, children can have a blast even in colder temperatures.
Start with the Right Clothes
Freezing temperatures call for extra layers. Bundle up your little ones in snow pants, jackets, warm socks, waterproof boots, ski mittens, neck tubes, and hats. Make sure their extremities are well covered to keep them cozy.
Since your children will be wearing oodles of items, make sure to avoid accessories that can pose a strangulation risk. Stay away from loose scarves, items with drawstrings, mitten strings, and hats with strings. These can get caught on playground equipment and cause injury.
Check the Weather
While a little nip in the air is no problem, don’t let kids play outside in extreme temperatures. Stay informed with weather forecasts or use a weather app. Consider installing a thermometer near your door to make informed decisions about outdoor play. Ensure your facility has clear weather regulations, such as the Child Care Weather Watch.
Use an online calculator or consult the National Weather Service for the wind chill index. They issue advisories and warnings that should be taken seriously. Consider both the base temperature and the wind chill factor. Exposure-related problems increase when the temperature falls below 5F, and frostbite can occur in less than 30 minutes with a temperature and wind chill of -16F.
Watch for Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite
Cold weather brings the risk for certain health conditions. Keep an eye out for symptoms of frostbite in children, which include: cold, tingling, and painful skin. The most vulnerable are the toes, fingers, tip of the nose, outer ear, and cheeks.
Frostbite has different stages, so it’s important to catch it early.
- Frostnip (mild frostbite) involves cold, tingling, and painful skin. No skin changes after re-warming.
- 1st Degree frostbite will be white and hard while frozen, and show mild redness and swelling after re-warming.
- 2nd and 3rd Degree will show blisters within 24 hours and may result in permanent damage.
Hypothermia results from a decrease in the body’s core temperature, usually less than 95° F (35° C). Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
If you suspect frostbite or hypothermia in a child, get them indoors and immediately seek medical attention.
Test All Outdoor Surfaces and Equipment
Keep platforms and playground equipment free from ice and snow. Check ladder rungs, handrails, platforms, slides, and landing areas for ice during freezing temperatures. Watch out for ice on sidewalks, blacktops, and gutters. Make sure to have plenty of safe ice melt on hand. Use absorbent mats at entrances for kids to dry their shoes when coming back inside.
Outdoor Winter Playground Activities
The children in your care can experience the wonders of winter in a fun and educational way with captivating playground activities. If you need a little inspiration for keeping children active during the colder months, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Indulge in the Magic of Snow Ice Cream
Make your mud kitchen an ice cream shop! Unleash their inner chef and scientist by making their own pretend snow ice cream concoctions and serving them to friends. This engaging activity will build language and social skills as kids communicate with “coworkers” and “customers”!
Spark a Love of Physics with Sled-less Sledding!
Combine the thrill of slide “sledding” with a lesson in physics for an exhilarating experience. Explore concepts such as gravity, friction, and momentum while racing down the slides. Discover why certain kids go faster based on their size and clothing materials. The double slides on the Ashland, Boston, and Panther playsets are great for side-by-side comparison.
Embark on a Treasure Hunt for Winter Wonders
Embark on a nature-inspired treasure hunt and marvel at the beauty of winter. Lead your children to find the perfect pinecone, a striking feather, or an intriguing seed pod. Appreciate the often-overlooked allure of the colder months while searching for the longest icicle you’ve ever seen hanging from a nearby tree branch.
Turn Snow into a Sandbox Wonderland
Your sandbox doesn’t have to take a winter vacation. Unleash your children’s creativity and imagination by using sand toys to build a snow city. Fill a dump truck, use sand shovels, and create roads, tunnels, and even snow bridges. Alternatively, get creative with kitchen tools like muffin tins, cookie cutters, scoops, and rolling pins.
Uncover the Mysteries of Animal Tracks
Help children search for animal tracks in freshly fallen snow. Even if your playground is located in an urban area, there’s never a shortage of pigeons, squirrels, or mouse prints to discover. Challenge your children to identify tracks from rabbits, deer, or coyotes. They might even be able to track down their friends’ footprints!
Experience the Wonders of Winter Playgrounds with Play Mart!
Experience year-round fun with Play Mart’s top-quality playground equipment! Our equipment is designed to withstand the cold and snowy weather, so the fun never has to stop. Unlike wooden playgrounds that are prone to winter damage or metal equipment that gets dangerously cold, our durable recycled plastic equipment is perfect for year-round use. Our snag-free safety hardware ensures that winter gear won’t get caught, and our Sure-Grip material allows for a secure hold, even with gloves or mittens.
With all of the incredible benefits of outdoor winter play, you wouldn’t want the children in your care to miss out! If your playground equipment isn’t suitable for the winter months, check out our extensive lines of all-weather RSP products made to stimulate your children’s development while being loads of fun. Make sure your children are playing in a winter wonderland with Play Mart!