Winter can be a wonderful time for outdoor play. Participating in winter sports will help keep the whole family healthy, but injuries can spoil the fun. Here's how to keep kids safe during winter play.
Safe weather for outdoor play
Children should play indoors if the temperature or the wind chill falls below -25 C (-13 F). This is the temperature at which exposed skin freezes in a few minutes.
Clothing for outdoor play
All winter activities require warm, dry clothing. To prevent frostbite, children should be dressed in warm clothes, including:
- A hat and clothing made of tightly woven fibers, such as wool, which trap warm air against your body. A few lighter layers protect better than one heavy garment
- Loose layers (an absorbent synthetic fabric next to skin, a warmer middle layer, and a water resistant/repellent outer layer)
- Vulnerable areas such as fingers, toes, ears and nose, should be protected
- A single pair of socks, either wool or a wool blend (with silk or polypropylene) is better than cotton which offers no insulation when wet. Avoid extra thick socks as they can cause cold feet by restricting blood flow and air circulation around the toes
- Be sure boots are dry and not too tight
Children should get out of wet clothes and shoes as quickly as possible as they are the biggest factors in frostbite.
Always make sure children:
- drink plenty of warm fluids to help the body maintain its temperature. If hot drinks are not available, drink plenty of plain water
- take frequent breaks from the cold to let their body warm up
- use sunscreen, even on cloudy days
Jackets should be zipped up. To avoid strangulation during play, use tube-shaped neck warmers instead of scarves. If scarves must be used, tuck them into jackets. Drawstrings on hoods and jackets are also a safety hazard, so remove them or buy clothes without drawstrings.
Keep children away from the banks of ponds, lakes, streams and rivers during the spring thaw. Beware of quick thaws which can weaken the ice surface. Many factors affect ice thickness including: type of water, location, the time of year and other environmental factors such as:
- water depth and size of body of water
- currents, tides and other moving water
- chemicals including salt
- fluctuations in water levels
- logs, rocks and docks absorbing heat from the sun
- changing air temperature
- shock waves from vehicles travelling on the ice
The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength:
- clear blue ice is strongest
- white opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice
- grey ice is unsafe as it indicates the presence of water
Ice thickness should be
- 15 cm (6 inches) for walking or skating alone
- 20 cm (8 inches) for skating parties or games
- 25 cm (10 inches) for snowmobiles
Sledding and tobogganing
- Ensure the hill is free of hazards – trees, rocks, bumps, fences and bare spots. Avoid ice-covered areas.
- Ensure the hill is away from roads, rivers or railroads and that there is plenty of room to stop at the bottom of the hill.
- Look for a hill which is not too steep (less than 30 degrees is recommended for children) and has a long, clear runoff area.
- Inspect the toboggan to ensure it is in good condition.
- Use only proper sliding equipment with good brakes and steering. Inner tubes and plastic discs are not recommended because they are difficult to control.
- Many tobogganing injuries are cold-related, such as frostbite and hypothermia. Heat loss is particularly significant in children under age three because their heads account for a larger proportion of their overall body size. Children should be dressed warmly in layers.
- After tobogganing, children should get out of wet clothes and boots quickly to prevent frostbite.
- Young children should always be supervised by an adult. They should never toboggan alone.
- The safest position to be in while tobogganing is kneeling. Sliding on your stomach, headfirst, offers the least protection from a head injury. Laying flat on the back increases the risk of injuring the spine or spinal cord.
- Look out for the other guy – move quickly to the side and walk up and away from the sliding path after finishing a run.
- Children should not toboggan at night.
- Head injuries while sledding can be serious. A ski helmet is recommended, because they are designed for use in cold weather and for similar falls and speeds.
Some ride them for fun during winter weekends at the cottage. Others ride them to run errands for the family and get around town. The reasons for riding are different, but the risks are the same. Snowmobiling is fun, but it can also be dangerous, especially for children. Many children are seriously injured each year, sometimes fatally, by operating or riding on a snowmobile.
Each year in North America, snowmobiles cause 200 deaths and 14,000 injuries, with children making up around 40 per cent of these cases. Statistics from the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program show that the main causes of child snowmobile-related injuries are losing control of the machine, being thrown off or colliding with an immobile object, such as a tree or another snowmobile. Children have also been seriously injured as passengers or while being towed behind a snowmobile in a tube or sled.
To keep your kids safe, Parachute recommends the following:
- Every rider should use a snowmobile helmet on every trip.
- Children under the age of 16 should not drive a snowmobile.
- Children under age six should not ride as passengers on snowmobiles.
- Avoid 'kid-sized' snowmobiles, despite their smaller size. They are still not safe for children's use.
- Snowmobile drivers should receive instruction in the safe operation of their machine by an instructor. Contact your provincial or territorial snowmobile association.
- Ride on trails that enforce rules and promote safe driving.
- Never tow a person behind a snowmobile – this is a high-risk activity.
Snowmobiles are powerful and heavy machines, weighing up to 600 pounds and reaching speeds of more than 100 kilometres per hour. The size and power of snowmobiles make them inappropriate for a child's smaller body size. Manufacturers now make 'kid-sized' snowmobiles but pediatric injury experts warn against using these machines. Regardless of the size of a child, their motor skills, perception, field of vision, and judgment capabilities are not equal to those of an adult. These differences in development are the reason why we have a legal driving age for motor vehicles on a public road.
Contact your provincial or territorial snowmobile association, Ministry of Transportation, or The Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations at (506) 387-8960 for more information.