When it’s dark outside by the time you get home from work and temperatures begin to drop, our natural inclination is to go into hibernation mode. Camping out on the couch can quickly become a bad habit for the whole family during the winter months. But don’t miss this opportunity to encourage your kids to get out and play despite the chill in the air, because playing outside in winter is important for our children’s health and development.

Playing Outside Boosts Kids’ Immune Systems

With cold and flu season here, you may be tempted to keep your child in a bubble until the threat of infection passes, but that’s really not a reasonable solution. The close quarters of winter living tends to breed these illnesses, making your child more likely to come down with a bug.

Plus, when children play outside, they are often exposed to minor irritants like dirt and bacteria that challenge their immune system in a way that actually strengthens it. Think of it as doing lots of light barbell lifting to strengthen your muscles instead of one clean and jerk session with the heavy weights.

As children experience these immune challenges in a natural way on a regular basis, they develop a natural tolerance to allergies and can bounce back faster from cold and flu.

Playing Outside Boosts Vitamin D

If you think your child is getting enough vitamin D by just drinking milk, you’re probably wrong. Nearly 75% of the U.S. teens and adults are considered deficient in vitamin D. And dietary vitamin D just isn’t enough. The best way to increase your body’s vitamin D levels is through sun exposure.

Children who are deficient in vitamin D can experience rickets, a bone-softening disease. This is because vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium, the building block of strong bones. In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled the amount of vitamin D that it recommends for babies and children to 400 International Units a day.

Playing Outside is Great Exercise

With one in six American toddlers ranked as obese, providing your children with opportunities to exercise is a must. Riding bikes, climbing on their Rainbow Play System, jumping on their Springfree Trampoline…these are all great ways for your children to get their daily dose of exercise. And the extra chilly weather means that kids will want to keep moving longer.

Playing Outside Develops Social Skills

We’ve talked about the benefits of imaginative play for helping children test out different social scenarios and develop an appropriate response. Outside play takes away many of the crutches that prevent children from using their imaginations, like video games and television programs. Instead children can enter the world of make believe and explore the social challenges they face during their day.

Playing outside is an important part of healthy child development all year round. Don’t let the cooler weather stop your children from the essential activity of outdoor play.