Health & Science

Movement jars, cleaning games, and more: Getting your kids the exercise they need when the cold keeps you in

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The days are getting shorter and the air is getting colder—but the need for kids to get 60 minutes of exercise every day doesn’t hibernate in the winter!⁠⠀

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that kids ages 6 through 17 get one hour of vigorous exercise per day, and any parent would certainly attest to how important daily movement is, even for kids as young toddlers or preschoolers. But how in the world does that work for families in cold winter months when the sun starts to set at 4:00 pm?

Ready for a parenting hack that tires out the kiddos and gets the house cleaned up, too? Read on for that and other ideas for keeping kids of all ages busy during the coldest months of the year.

Make a movement jar

Come up with a bunch of challenges that involve physical activity—for young kids, that might include things such as “stomp like a dinosaur,” “balance on one foot,” “hop like a bunny,” or “walk like a robot.” For older kids, the challenges could include things like TikTok dances or jumping rope. Write each one on a slip of paper, and put the papers in a jar or bowl. Have your child pull one out when they need to get wiggles out, or at certain times of the day (doing this before breakfast can be a fun, energizing way to start the day). Remember, kids do need 60 minutes of exercise each day, but it doesn’t have to be all at once!

You can also use your movement jar in a game—for example, each person has to pull out three strips of paper and make up a dance that incorporates all three moves.

Obstacle course

Use whatever you have around the house to create an obstacle course. Pillows to jump on, blankets to roll in, a couch to run around — anything fairly break-proof is fair game. Depending on the size of your space, you can run time trials so that kids get in enough laps to make it a workout. Here are some ideas to get you started on set-up:

  • Pillows or cushions to climb over
  • Plastic cups set up in a zig-zag pattern for a crawling zone
  • Rolled up socks + laundry bin for a basket toss station
  • Use painters tape to put a hopscotch grid on the floor
  • Tape an X where your kiddo has to stop to do 5 jumping jacks
  • String cross-crossed across the hallway for kids to step over and wiggle under

If your kids are too little to get the hang of an obstacle course, you can simplify. Set up blocks or smaller stuffed animals on one side of the room and put a basket some distance away. Then, have your kids run a relay race from the pile to the basket and back again. Bonus points if this gets your place cleaned up a bit, too!

Outdoor fun

Shoveling snow burns a ton of calories and is a great exercise for kids at any age. Sledding is also a good way to keep moving, and getting back up the hill takes much more work than going down. Some other ideas for chilly fun in the great outdoors:

  • Build snow forts, mazes, go sledding, or throw snowballs on snowy days
  • Chase bubbles (if it’s cold enough, they’ll freeze!)
  • Shovel snow (even little ones can warm up their muscles by scooping snow with a big spoon or plastic bowl)
  • Get crafty and make some DIY snowshoes for a wintery walk
  • Visit a local playground—even your old favorite will seem like a completely different world in the winter

Dance party

It’s almost always a good time for a dance party, except maybe during naptime. When the energy in the house is going down, turn on some music and get everyone moving. Find fun ways to keep everyone going: conga lines, line dances, square dancing, whatever you can think of will work!

Little ones especially love movement and rhythm. And, if your kiddo is too young to dance, claim them as your dance partner for an arm workout for yourself!

Workout videos

Give everyone a chance to find a workout on YouTube for the family to try. Make sure you’ve got parental controls set on YouTube or switch to You Tube Kids and let your kids look for a fitness routine to lead with the family. They’ll get plenty of exercise figuring out what they like best. From classic workouts geared towards kids to Frozen-themed yoga to sports conditioning for young athletes, challenge your kids to find something they want to teach the rest of the family. 

There are also plenty of fitness videos geared at little ones, but you might want to try some of these sweet ones for both of you: Mommy and Me dance cardio class or this sweet Mommy and Me yoga

Cleaning games

Chores around the house are always a great way to keep everyone moving — the challenge is motivating your kids to jump in. To get kids involved though, all you have to do is make it a game!

  • Create a challenge: Who can pick up the most blocks? Can you finish dusting before the end of this song?
  • Give them a goal: Kids love having a target to aim for, so tape a square on the floor to sweep all the crumbs into, or set up a basket for “laundry toss.”
  • Have a race: Sprint to see who can make their bed or clean a window the fastest.
  • Roll the dice: Make a numbered list of chores, and roll the dice to decide what to do first.
  • Play pretend: Tell young kids they’re a delivery person and have them shuttle clean towels or dirty dishes to the right places.

Picking up or pushing laundry baskets full of clothes, making beds, going up and down the stairs to put things away, washing floors or walls — there are lots of ways to incorporate movement while getting the house clean. An hour of active cleaning on a Saturday morning can count for exercise and result in a clean house.

No matter what you decide to do, incorporating movement and fitness in your family’s lifestyle brings huge benefits for you and your kids. Getting active and staying active during the cold months is the perfect cure for the winter blues.

And be sure to check us out on Instagram for even more ideas!

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.