Why is it important for children to keep active and engaged during winter?

Dalal and family at GOSH
Dalal and family at GOSH

Experts from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London have come together to offer families advice for keeping children active and engaged this winter season.

“In the colder weather it is easy to stay indoors and be less active. Children who are less active can have difficulty sleeping and demonstrate behaviour problems as they have unused energy.” Explains Caroline Kermarrec, Senior Paediatric Occupational Therapist at GOSH. “This could have a negative impact on their academic performance. Children need to keep their bodies and minds active during winter to increase their muscle strength, bone density, balance and coordination, increase their mood and learn new skills.”

“It is important for children to keep engaged and active during the winter holidays because they can experience learning loss when they do not engage in developmental activities.” Says Erin Hanna, Play Specialist at GOSH. “Children also thrive on routine, so when school and regular activities have finished, this may be the time children become bored. Children instinctively play, and it is through play that they learn new skills and develop. Play is important for healthy brain development and it is through play that children engage and interact in the world around them.”

“You are never too young to start exercise and reap its benefits.” Explains Caroline. “The Department of Health in the UK advise physical activity should be started with babies through floor-based play and water-based play to enable them to enhance bone and muscle development, improve cognitive development and learn social skills. Activities can include reaching for and grasping toys, time spent supervised on their tummies and baby swim sessions.”

Top tips for families this winter

  • Encourage family activities outside: build a snowman, fly a kite on a windy day, indoor swimming, bowling alley, trampolining, gymnastics class, bike riding, ball games or going for a family walk are all great activities as the days get shorter.
  • Timetabling / being prepared is key: Plan how you will spend your days prior to the holidays starting. Compiling a timetable is a great way to be organised. If your child is able to then get them involved in helping you design the timetable and to suggest activities. To carry out some of your activities you may need to change your home environment for example, putting your sofa pillows on the floor for a soft play activity or placing blankets between dining table chairs to create a tent. You may also need new games.
  • Consider ways your child has to “earn” screen time. As a family agree a daily limit of screen time. Face to face play is recommended for children.
  • Engage your child in appropriate physical activity, this could mean positioning your child into their standing frame to play a game, encouraging your child to play whilst they are on their tummy, playing a physical game in the house such as hide and seek or throwing and catching games. Encourage your child to be more active through activities like children’s yoga.
  • Engage your child in appropriate cognitive and craft-based activities such as reading stories, “I spy” games, pairing games like “Snap”, colouring, drawing, cutting, sticking, playing board games.
  • Encourage communication development through word learning activities and listening and following instructions such as looking at pictures in a book and talking about what is happening in the picture.

Top tips for families who have children who are unable to leave the house or are in hospital:

  • Find out if there are other local parents of children who also cannot leave the house. Meet up with these parents to talk to them about how they manage.
  • Find out what services are available during your stay in hospital (or if you’re at home, check your local children’s centre). Walking and swimming can often be a great form of activity and some swimming pools have access for children with disabilities.
  • If you can’t leave the home or are in hospital, encourage communication and socialisation by arranging for guests to come and visit (based on ward staff advice on visiting hours and numbers of guests allowed). If children need to be isolated, arrange for friends / family to chat virtually through Skype, Facetime etc.     
  • Ensure there are a variety of activities to help stimulate each area of development.
  • For children who are being seen by an Occupational Therapist make sure to follow your Occupational Therapy developmental programme. Contact your Occupational Therapist if your child achieves some of their developmental goals for a review session at home.

Download our festive colouring sheets here!

Caroline Kermarrec

Senior Paediatric Occupational Therapist

Caroline Kermarrec qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 2009. Upon qualification, she specialised in Paediatrics working with babies, children and young people in the community, educational and acute hospital settings. She has worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital since 2013 and is currently the Lead Occupational Therapist for babies, children and young people on the International and Private Patients wards.

Caroline works with babies, children and young people with a wide range of disabilities and is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of both the child and their parents / carers.

Erin Hanna

Play Specialist on Hedgehog Ward

Erin is part of our friendly and highly-skilled Play Team who provide specialised therapeutic play to help patients cope with their diagnosis, condition, treatments and procedures. For example, the team use distraction techniques to engage and distract children before and during blood tests, so that they have a more comfortable experience.

The Play Team also provide general play activities, to help normalise patients’ experience at hospital. As part of this, on every ward there is a play facility staffed by team members, and stocked with books, toys and games.
Browse A-Z