remember back when I was a kid and we played outside in the wintertime until our legs were pink and numb. I kept warm by wearing cotton long johns under jeans and dry by slipping old bread bags over my feet. Kids with real winter clothes wore “snowmobile suits”. Then we grabbed a metal disk or a wooden toboggan and headed off to the local golf course where we went sledding until dark with the rest of the neighborhood kids.
Unfortunately, we can’t be as carefree as our parents were when it comes to letting our kids play outside, supervised or unsupervised. This makes it even easier during the cold winter months to have them play Wii inside or computer games or watch movies. The next thing you know, it’s been six weeks and the kids haven’t been outside, had any fresh air, or been exposed to some vitamin D generating sunshine since school started.
January is a perfect time to break that indoor cycle. Remember those New Year resolutions? Begin an exercise program, eat healthy, stop smoking, and be more active. Start right now by doing your resolutions with your family and kids. Get everyone off the couch, dressed up warm, and head outside where a winter wonderland awaits with fun things to do for kids of all ages!
Bundle Up In order to make your outdoor winter experience pleasant, the most important thing is to dress properly. If the weather forecast includes severe wind chills and blizzard conditions, it might be best to stay indoors. But for a typical winter day, dress right and you can stay comfortable for some time. There are three basic elements to protect against when dressing for the outdoors in a western NY/PA winter: cold, wet and wind. The key to being warm is to dress in layers. Layers of breathable clothing create layers of air between the layers of clothing that heats up and helps to keep our bodies warm. An example of dressing in layers for the cold is wearing long underwear under a pair of pants or flancontinued on page 8 ‰‰‰ BUNDLE UP AND GO OUTSIDE from page 7 nels under fleece covered by a waterproof pant. Being wet in the cold weather is a great way to invite hypothermia, so wearing a good pair of waterproof, insulated boots is important as well as wearing a waterproof shell over the chest and legs. Once the wind gets blowing, the outside temperature can plummet, causing frostbite and even windburn. A windshell and head and hand protection (hat, mittens, and scarf) are the best protection against the wind. A pair of sunglasses protects the eyes against blowing objects as well as sun glare from the snow and ice. If it’s too windy, stand near a proper shelter against the wind (garage, house, and barn) or stay indoors. So bundle up and get outside for some great winter fun!
Go Sledding or Tubing You don’t need fancy equipment to go sledding in the winter, just snow, a slight incline, and something slippery to slide down on. A plastic sled is what people normally use, but you can use big pieces of cardboard, empty dog food bags (the waxed bags are great for little kids!), and large inner tubes. Old-fashioned toboggans, aluminum discs or runner sleds are excellent choices as well. If you don’t have a big hill nearby, just grab a friend and take turns pushing each other on a little hill. Be sure to stay away from trees and any other obstacles, particularly water and parked cars. To go snow tubing on a groomed hill, visit the Colden Tubing Company in Colden, NY at www.kbski.com/content/pages/tubing (1-716-592-4961) or AvalancheXpress in Meadville, PA at www.golfwhisperingpines.com/Snow-Tubing/home.htm (1-814-333-2827).
Go Skiing or Snowshoeing Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are two winter activities that don’t require driving to a mountain. All you need is the equipment and you can shoe or ski around your neighborhood park, in the backyard, or along a designated trail. When just starting out, buy used equipment through the classified ads, friends and family or eBay to see if you or the kids like the sport. If you do, you can always upgrade as the kids grow and improve. Buy new gear at a sporting goods store, specialty shop or on the internet.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding are another story. It requires spending money and going to a ski resort, but we should also consider ourselves lucky that we live in a place where you can have a downhill ski area. Once again, used equipment is the way to go when starting out, but renting is an excellent option as well. Rental places are located at the ski hills and they are good at outfitting you with just what you need. If you live in New York, visit nearby ski resorts like Kissing Bridge (www.kbski.com ) in Colden, Cockaigne in Cherry Creek (www.cockaigne.com ), Holiday Valley in Ellicottville (www.holidayvalley.com ) or Peek’n Peak in Clymer (www.pknpk.com ). For Pennsylvania readers, Mount Pleasant in Edinboro (www.skimountpleasant.com ) is the only place available in the northwestern area unless you head east to the Poconos or south to West Virginia.
Go Ice Fishing Kids love to fish, and even more exciting than catching a fish is pulling one through a hole in the ice! Ice fishing is a snowy activity enjoyed by the real winter diehards, who find that long hours in the cold wind, standing on ice, staring into a hole waiting for the big one to bite is a fun time. But when the fish are biting, it really is a good time, so it’s best to go ice fishing with someone who knows what they’re doing. When taking kids ice fishing, prepare to do little fishing of your own and take along an extra change of clothes, as well as boots. Always ice-fish on ice that you know is safe and at least several inches thick. Stay away from inlets and spring fed ponds where ice is questionable. Lake Erie, the Allegheny Reservoir, and Lake Chautauqua are all large lakes in our area known for their ice-fishing spots. Check the local bait shop for current ice-fishing conditions and to buy any needed equipment like tip-ups and jigging poles. Sporting goods stores and some superstores sell ice-fishing gear as well.
Go Skating When I was a kid, our local park had a designated area that was flooded and frozen every year to make an outdoor skating park for all the kids in the neighborhood. They had a bonfire area inside, hot drinks and snacks for sale, music blaring through the outdoor speakers and even public restrooms. Down the street, you could buy used skates from an old woman that sold them out of her house. Unfortunately, not many towns have such places available anymore.
To go skating now, whether figure or hockey, on a regular basis, an indoor arena may be necessary. Like ice fishing, if ice-skating on a pond or other body of water, only go on water that is known to be safe and avoid unsafe or unknown ice conditions. And never skate alone. Drive to Buffalo to enjoy any one of the public arenas like the Buffalo State College Arena (www.buffalostateathletics.com ), the Dann Memorial Rink (www.nicholsschool.org ), or the Burvid and North Buffalo Ice Rinks. The Steele Hall Ice Arena at SUNY Fredonia is open to the public and there is one located in Jamestown (716-484-2624).
Go Outside No matter what winter activity you choose, the important thing is to dress right and get outside during these short, cold days and long months. Build a snow fort, make snowballs and have an old-fashioned snowball fight – Mom and Dad against the kids! Make some chili or beef stew and go on a winter picnic at the local park. Build a small bonfire in the back yard and roast hotdogs and marshmallows. Take the whole family out on an excursion to a winter festival. Then, once you’re done, warm up with a big mug of hot cocoa by the fire, rub your rosy cheeks and feel good about spending some wintertime fun outside.
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes childrens and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at email@example.com.