Let children play outside even when it's cold

As November begins and the weather starts to turn a little chillier, it’s interesting for us at Little Forest Folk to observe the change in questions from would-be parents on our site visits.

Do children get sick a lot?
Don’t they catch colds from being outside in the winter?
Don’t they get cold and wet and freezing?

This is such an easy question for us to answer as children in our forest nursery get sick far far less than in a conventional nursery.

Instead of breathing recycled stale air...
They are running around gulping great big lungfuls of fresh air.

Instead of touching plastic toys that have had lots of other sticky fingers over them...
They are embracing nature play, collecting sticks, leaves and other natures bounty.

Instead of sitting down all day, not really raising their heart rate...
Our children are climbing, digging, rolling, jumping and swinging, a mixture of bone strengthening, muscle building and cardiovascular exercise.

Their physical development and physical health is sustained at a high level. Exercise also improves our children's emotional health, allowing for relaxation and calmness and a heightened sense of well being.

We also build our immunity playing with dirt, mud and other natural materials, thereby bypassing all the concerns raised in the hygiene hypothesis. Wintering outdoors brings incredible health benefits to children. 

At a time of year when children in the UK generally begin to ease towards a more indoor, sedentary lifestyle our children are actively bounding around in the forest. The plague of coughs, colds, tummy bugs and other childhood diseases that can run rampant in a traditional nursery during winter months don’t really affect us. Of course, we have runny noses all winter, but these are not the green, snotty bacteria runny noses of colds and flu. These are the results of the colder weather and the warmth we feel inside from our exertions coming out in a lovely dribble of constant runny noses!

Tummy bugs in addition to diseases like chickenpox, hand, foot and mouth which spread like wildfire in groups of small children don’t really get passed around in the forest. Not only are our forest adventurers less susceptible to bugs but when they do pick them up, they are kind enough to not share them with their friends in the forest. 

The immediate health benefits of playing outdoors throughout winter are obvious. Just as important, however, are the long term benefits to children who play outdoors through the colder months. Renewed activity guidelines for the early years by the British Heart Foundation state that 2-5 year olds should be taking at least 3 hours exercise every day to benefit their current health but also to install future health habits and benefits.

Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day.
— BHF National Centre

It can be difficult to factor in these minimum exercise requirements in a day that is mostly indoor based, but take children outside and their natural inclination is to move. Our children are on the move at least 6 hours a day. They are having fun, they aren’t being cajoled to move, they are simply playing. But that playing is reducing their chances of being a part of the terrifyingly large 31.2% of British children who are obese (Public Health England’s Health Survey for England 2014). 

31.2% of children aged 2 to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese
— Public Health England’s Health Survey for England 2014

And do the kids get cold? Not if they are dressed correctly! Remember, for each adult step, a child requires 2 or 3, so they are already more active than we realise. Indeed, we more often hear complaints about the cold from our teachers instead of the children! Just make sure they are rugged up as our kit list suggests and your little one will be able to run around outdoors all day long.

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.
— Alfred Wainwright


The World Health Organisation regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges of the 21st century. Obese children are more likely to develop childhood diabetes along with various other health problems. This along with the news that doctors have started prescribing vitamin D tablets to children following an upsurge in the number of children developing rickets is astonishing, when there is a simple and easy way to significantly reduce the chances of experiencing these health problems.

This is in addition to behavioural issues, such as ADHD which evidence indicates can be alleviated by spending more time moving outdoors. Kids can still learn while playing, and indeed what we are showing at Little Forest Folk is that play is indeed the best way that 2 to 5 year olds do develop a curiosity about the world and spark a passion for learning.

Furthermore, scientists have found that instances of myopia (short-sightedness) are less prevalent in children who spend more time outdoors and are more used to focusing on items in the mid to long range instead of close-up.

There are so many benefit to physical and emotional well-being if you just make one simple change in life. Let children play outside. Regularly, with joy, all year around. Don’t think that because the days are drawing in that you need to cower indoors.

Our 2-5 year olds will still be giggling, running, engaging, climbing and smiling for 6 hours every day throughout winter. Their health will be significantly stronger as a consequence.