Cold weather outside means that the kids are coming inside. Gone are the lazy days of summer when hours at the swimming pool and games of kickball in the backyard kept children active and entertained. It's now officially the time of year when parents must work a little harder to ensure that children get the exercise and physical activity that is so important for their growing bodies.

What can we do to keep our kids active when the temperature drops? Consider the following ideas:

1. Build an indoor obstacle course.

Okay, probably not the best idea if you have a house full of fine china (but if you're anything like me everything breakable got packed away years ago). If you have a room or a basement with some open space, though, an obstacle course can be a fun cold weather activity.

Use pillows to set up hurdles, and chairs draped with blankets to make tunnels. Include stations for activities like jump rope, ring toss, or hula hooping. You can even make a fun pathway by cutting shapes out of colored construction paper and taping them to the floor, and then trying to hop across on only one foot. Let your kids help with the planning and building, and everyone is sure to have a good time.

2. Play freeze dance.

Turn on the radio or a favorite CD and get everybody dancing. Then, stop the music, and everyone has to stop dancing too. Catch somebody still moving? They're out of the game. Last one still dancing wins!

3. Toss balloons.

Blow up a bunch of balloons, and then see how long your kids can keep them in their air. For younger children, just one balloon can be a challenge, but older children may need to juggle three to four balloons to get them really moving. Sure, this game might sound easy, but give it a try before you decide. Your arms will get quite a workout. For more fun, make it a competition and see who can keep their balloons in the air the longest!

4. Join the local YMCA.

The YMCA or your local community center can be a great resource during winter months. Most offer a variety of classes, as well as access to indoor pools and athletic facilities. Your family can participate in activities like swimming, gymnastics, dance, or basketball. And, as an added bonus, you just might find a few minutes to get on that treadmill while the rest of the family is busy with their own activities.

5. Go ice skating or roller skating.

When it's cold outside, a few hours in a chilly ice rink will keep you in that winter spirit. Or, if you prefer to stay warmer, visit the roller skating rink. Either way, you and your kids will have so much fun that you won't even realize that you're burning lots of calories doing it.

6. Find an indoor playground.

Many malls have play areas for children, and while some are geared more towards babies and toddlers, others offer full-blown play structures that are complete with slides, bridges, and plenty of opportunities to run and climb.

Companies that operate indoor playgrounds are also becoming more popular. Most of these businesses charge a small entrance fee, but if you're willing to pay, they almost always offer the necessary tunnels, balls, and trampolines that will make your visit worthwhile.

7. Sign up for classes or sports teams.

If your child doesn't already participate in any extra-curricular activities, winter might be a good time to get started. For younger children, consider a mommy-and-me class at a local gymnastics facility. Older children might enjoy a dance or karate class, or if you don't mind spending a lot of time at games and practices, consider signing your child up to play on a basketball or hockey team.

8. Play video games.

Sure, parents are not supposed to encourage too much screen time, but there can be benefits to playing the occasional video game. New games for popular systems like the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 actually require players to get up and get moving.

Kids can play games like tennis, baseball, and bowling, but they can no longer just sit on the couch and move their fingers. In order to win, they have to actually swing their virtual rackets and roll their virtual bowling balls. They'll get the physical activity their bodies need, and as an added bonus, they never have to leave the living room.

9. Utilize exercise videos/DVDs.

There are lots of exercise videos that are geared toward younger audiences. You can find videos that include aerobics, dance, yoga, and even martial arts. Visit Fitness Beginnings to shop for a wide variety online; there's also a large selection at Amazon.

YogaKids is a favorite at my house because you get to pretend to be different types of animals. We also love Sesame Street - Zoe's Dance Moves with Paula Abdul. Both my 6-year-old and my 2-year-old love to dance along with Zoe and Paula (and, yes, I will admit that occasionally I do too).

10. Bundle up and go outside anyway.

Yes, it's cold, but that doesn't mean that your children have to spend all of their time indoors. Unless it's truly freezing, dress everyone in coats and mittens and head outdoors for an invigorating walk or a game of tag or touch football. Breathe in the fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, and then head back indoors to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate or spiced cider.

How do you stay active indoors at your house? What are your family's favorite winter activities?

 

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