Cold weather often puts a damper on outdoor activities, especially for those of us who'd prefer to stay where it's warm and dry. But being active all year round is important, especially for kids who need a daily dose of exercise to stay healthy and grow stronger ... and want to have some fun. The Centers for Disease Control recommends an hour a day of exercise for children (and moms and dads, too), so here are a few winter sports options for parents whose budgets are limited. (For some other suggestions, check out 4 Expensive Winter Sports For Kids.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
One of the most popular winter activities for kids is sledding. It requires little skill and only requires a sled and a snow-covered hill. Sleds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including toboggans, tubes, saucers and sleighs.
Traditional sleds - like the wooden sleds we grew up with - are made with metal runners, which offer control and glide. Foam or plastic sleds are lightweight, which can give more speed, and are fairly inexpensive, but they don't offer the control of the heavier wooden type, which can also offer a good workout trudging up the hills. But the ride down will be worth it!
Toboggans are available with runners and/or steering wheels, suitable for kids of all ages and physical capabilities. Plastic saucers or discs are the choice for the more daring, older child who enjoys a fast, uncontrolled crazy ride down the hill.
Not everyone who dons a pair of skates will grow up to be the next Dorothy Hamill or Wayne Gretzky. But kids can have a lot of fun and get a good workout anyway. And it needn't put a hole in their parents' pockets with expensive ice time, lessons and equipment.
Many cities have public skating rinks or skating ponds, which charge nominal fees for rentals of skates and use of the ice. For instance, New York City's famed Rockefeller Center Ice Rink charges between $7.50-$12.50 admission per child (depending on the day and time), with $8 skate rental. Less expensive is Central Park's Wollman Rink, which costs $5 for children for full-day access ($5.75 on weekends). Local rinks, which are often part of a municipal recreation department, usually charge lesser fees to cover the costs of maintenance and supervision. (To help you save in other areas, read 5 Reasons Why You Can't Stick To Your Budget.)
A good walk along a trail is great exercise any time of year. Hiking during winter months is no different – your child simply needs to be dressed appropriately, including apparel that is probably in the closet: hiking boots or weather-proof shoes with traction, thermal-lined gloves or mittens, a hat, and a parka or layers of cotton clothing. Bundle up your child, and head to your favorite park. Or for a change of pace, and a real workout, buy a pair of snowshoes and hit the trails.
Cross Country Skiing
Skiing is one of those sports that not only requires a great deal of balance and physical skill, but unless you have a snow-covered mountain on your property, it takes a pretty penny to participate. Equipment is expensive, and lift tickets can be quite costly. You also have to figure in the expense of traveling to and from lodging at a ski resort. Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, is a less expensive option because all you need is a pair of skis, boots and poles - and snow-covered ground, of course, like a local park. Retailers, like L.L. Bean, offer ski sets for juniors and toddlers that include all three pieces for about $229.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. That makes the sport ideal for kids of all ages. And because all the equipment you need is, well, snow shoes, it's an affordable and fun hobby, not to mention great exercise. Snowshoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including some kid-friendly styles that sport their favorite super hero or resemble giant bear "claws." Prices average about $45 a pair but can run as inexpensive as $25 for tiny feet.
The Bottom Line
You want your child to stay active, even during the winter months. But if a vacation in Aspen, Colo., isn't in your budget, there are lots of less-expensive alternatives that can help keep your child healthy and happy. (For related reading, see 5 Ways To Teach Your Kids The Value Of A Dollar.)