12 family-friendly activities for winter

Consumer Reports News: January 15, 2010 06:08 PM

I’ve always wanted to be a bear. The idea of eating as much as I can for months, then sleeping through the entire winter curled in a fur coat has a lot of attraction. Unfortunately, I’m not a bear, except for some rare coffee-less mornings. I can’t eat everything in sight, and I certainly can’t sleep through the winter. So if you’re like me, I’m trying to find ways to stay healthy and beat the winter bulge during these long months when playgrounds and beaches are a distant memory.

So my kids and I sat down and made a list of our favorites. We tried to come up with activities that would work for multiple age ranges, that didn’t cost much (or better yet were free), and that didn’t need special, expensive equipment. Oh, and they had to be fun:

1. If you’ve got snow, use it. Whether it’s sledding, building a snow man, rolling down a snow-covered hill, building a snow fort, having a snowball fight (be careful of ice chunks), or any of the other traditional kid delights of snow, you’ve got multiple options for calorie burners. So bundle up and head out to enjoy it while it’s here.

2. Set up a tug-of-war contest. Invite some neighbors and their kids. Find cousins, aunts, uncles, whoever wants to join. Or it can just be your family—adults vs. kids, boys vs. girls, however you want to split it. With little kids, you can cover the living room floor with pillows and blankets to tug over. For older kids, head outside. Just make sure everyone wears some gloves to help prevent pinched fingers and friction.

3. The zoo is open! And this time of year it’s also nearly empty. Strap on your pedometer, wear something warm, and watch the shaggier winter-loving animals frolic.

4. Go skating. Whether on blades or wheels, many skating rinks offer fairly cheap public skating times.

5. Find an empty parking lot for a game of kickball, t-ball, flag football, or broom hockey. Just be careful that it’s free of ice. Most schools and office parks have deserted parking lots on weekends and holidays, perfect for a pickup game.

6. Play a game of tag with your kids. The hardest aerobic class I have ever taken was nothing compared to playing tag with my kids for half an hour. They don’t understand “cool down period”.

If the weather isn’t cooperating, or you just don’t like the cold, here are some indoor options:

7. Have a dance party. Turn up your favorite tunes and bounce to the beat. If you put up some streamers and invite a couple of their friends, you’d be amazed how long the toes keep tapping.

8. Take the kids for a stroll through a museum. If it’s a big enough one, make a day of it. You’ll be amazed how many steps you log on your pedometer.

9. Go swimming. Many YMCAs and indoor pools offer a “family swim” time on weekends for a small day-pass fee.

10. Have a hula hoop contest. See how long (and how many) you can keep moving.

11. Play a game of Twister. You’ll burn calories, work on your flexibility, and exercise your laugh muscles.

12. When all else fails and cabin fever sets in, clear the decks of breakables and have a pillow fight. Just don’t use your good pillows.

Erin Gudeux, senior project leader, Sensory

We'd like to hear from you: What are you and your family's favorite winter fun-and-fit activities? For more ideas on keeping fit and losing weight this winter, check out our guide to getting fit in 2010.

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