AboutKidsHealth: Staying safe for outdoor winter activities

GUEST BLOG – Jessica Fishbein, AboutKidsHealth

With snow falling just in time for the holidays, it is a great time for kids to enjoy all sorts of winter activities, such as skating, tobogganing, or building a snowman with the family. However, it is important to be conscious of the hazards in freezing temperatures and keep kids safe outdoors.

Planning for cold weather activities

If you’re planning on spending time outside, check the weather forecast before. It is not safe for children to be playing outside if the temperature or wind chill factor is below -25°C (-13°F). In weather this cold, it only takes a few minutes for exposed skin to freeze!

Kids should be dressed in three layers of warm, dry clothing for winter activities.

1. Opt for thin, moisture-wicking clothing directly on top of skin (polyester is a good example)
2. On top of this, wear something made of wool or fleece as an insulating layer
3. Outer layers should be water- and wind-proof (such as nylon or Gore-Tex)

Children who will be participating in sports or strenuous activity should take off the outer layer so they do not overheat. In addition to layers, children should also wear a hat, gloves or mittens, a scarf and warm, waterproof boots.
Outdoor tips

Many people do not realize they are becoming dehydrated in cold weather. It is important to make sure children are drinking lots of warm fluids — plain water is the next best option if you do not have access to hot drinks.

If it’s possible, take breaks from being out in the cold so your child’s body is able to warm up.

Mild morning temperatures do not guarantee a mild afternoon. Mild temperatures also present the possibility of ice melting and breaking easily, creating wet and slippery conditions.

Finally, just because it is cold does not mean sunscreen is no longer necessary! Be sure to apply sunscreen, even when it is cloudy outside.

It is important to be conscious of the hazards in freezing temperatures and keep kids safe outdoors.

Ice thickness


Never go on ice if you do not know how thick it is. Frozen ponds, rivers, canals or lakes should have ice that is at least 15 cm or 6 inches thick for you to walk on.


You can look at the colour of ice to help assess how strong it is. Ice that is clear blue is the strongest, while snow ice — or ice that is an opaque white — will be half as strong as blue ice. Grey ice is unsafe to walk on.

If you’re going on ice in groups, it should be at least 20 cm or 8 inches thick. Be sure to test how thick the ice is in different areas, as it may be thinner in certain parts.

Sledding and tobogganing

Sledding and tobogganing can be especially exciting winter activities for kids. However, it’s critical to ensure kids are sledding or tobogganing in a safe location: hills should not have patches of ice, or trees, rocks, fences, bumps or bare spots. Adults should always supervise children while they are sledding and tobogganing.

It’s also important that the bottom of the hill has enough room to stop safely, and that the hill is not too crowded with other sledders. Always move to the side quickly after you have finished tobogganing down the hill.

Here’s what to look out for in the toboggan or sled your child is using:

• Toboggans and sleds with inner tubes and plastic discs can be difficult to steer and stop.
• Sleds that have runners or “steering wheels” move more quickly, making them harder to control, less stable, and potentially more likely to be associated with injury.

To avoid head injuries while sledding, do not slide on your stomach or headfirst — these positions offer the least protection for your head. Kneeling is the safest way to toboggan down a hill. It is recommended to wear a ski helmet, which is designed to protect you against cold weather and activities where you can fall at a similar speed.

Avoid laying on your back, as this increases the risk of a spinal cord injury.

Remember to dress in warm layers to avoid cold-related injuries, such as frostbite and hypothermia. To prevent frostbite, remove wet clothes and boots as soon as possible after tobogganing.

AboutKidsHealth is SickKids’ patient-education website and features more than 3,500 articles on a range of paediatric health topics. For more information on how to stay safe during winter activities, please visit www.aboutkidshealth.ca.