Since moving to Alaska it’s become clear that finding winter activities for kids is a must. Not only is it snowy and cold for around 7 months out of the year here, but it’s also dark for as much as 21 hours a day. Cabin Fever takes on a whole new meaning! Since my son started preschool I’ve learned that the school district continues recess down to -20 degrees fahrenheit! It sounds almost cruel, but there’s a good reason- if they didn’t, kids just wouldn’t get recess for most of the school year. Our first year here it was in the -20 in September and held steady through February. March “warmed up” into the zero range and by April it was pratically sweltering hanging in the teens. It would be cruel to NOT let your kids play outside here.
First thing you need to do is invest in good cold weather gear if you haven’t already. Start with a good first layer- thermals are awesome and I highly recommend spending a little more and getting silk if you live somewhere really cold. For kids, two pairs of socks keeps those little toes toasty. The second layer can either be your normal clothes or specialized winter clothes; we have fleece lined jeans and sweaters from Old Navy and LL Bean. The third layer is your waterproof layer- snowpants, thick jacket, mittens or gloves and a hat to cover your ears. If you’re living somewhere frigid like us, add a scarf (or a neck gaiter) to cover the neck and lower face and some glove liners. Also, make sure your shoes or boots are rated for the correct temperature. Mine are good to -60.
Now that you’re dressed and ready to brave the cold, check the thermometer. This is where I’ll tell you to use you’re own discretion. I’m not about to take my newborn out in anything under 0 and even then it’s only for a few minutes at a time. My older kids can handle it a little better, we’ve played in the snow down to -22. That being said, you need to be extremely careful and make sure they take a break every 15-30 minutes, depending on how cold it is and watch for signs of frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia. Things to watch out for: white, blue or bright red skin, waxy looking skin, excessive shivering in older kids and difficulty breathing. Anyone out in the snow is going to get a little blush, but you know your kids best. This last December it was in the -40s and I ran my son from the car to a building. He almost immediately started saying his hands hurt and in that short amount of time he got frostnip. He’s not a big complainer, so I knew something was wrong. My daughter went out to play in the snow yesterday for about 30 minutes and was laughing and screeching with delight the whole time- a sure sign that she’s okay, since she’ll complain at the slightest discomfort.
So now you’re all dressed and ready to go and it’s not too cold for your family to play. What are you going to do? There’s always the go-to snowman building, snowball fights and snowforts. But have you ever tried snowshoeing? Ice skating? Dog sledding? Before you roll your eyes, Alaska is NOT the only state with dog sledding, so do a Google search for your area! Can’t find anything? Grab your own dog and a pair of skis or a sled and make your own mush team (again, use your own discretion- if you have a chihuahua this might not be the best idea). A fun idea for smaller kids is to fill a few squirt bottles with water and food coloring and go out and paint the snow. Yellow not recommended.