Friluftsliv! Get Kids Outside This Winter.
Friluftsliv! Get Kids Outside This Winter.

Friluftsliv! Get Kids Outside This Winter.

According to the 2021 World Happiness Report, Scandinavian countries are among the happiest in the world. (Shout out to Finland at number one!) The concept of friluftsliv (pronounced FREE-loofts-leev), which is widely embraced in Nordic societies, is surely one of the reasons why.

What is friluftsliv, you ask? Coined in the 1850s by the Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, the expression literally translates to “open air living.” Unlike the American POV, which tends to associate outside time with scaling a peak or clocking a personal best, Scandinavians embrace a gentler approach. A walk in the woods or a picnic in the countryside with friends and family is what friluftsliv is all about. To find out more about how Scandinavians benefit both mentally and physically from spending time outside in any season, and how you can too, check out: 6 Reasons to Get Outside in the Cold.

It’s relatively easy to get the kids outside when the sun is shining and the days are warm. With rain and snow ahead, motivation may be more difficult to find. We tend to think that having warm, comfy feet can help (and a mug of hot cocoa). Plus, outside is the best place to avoid winter germies!

How Friluftsliv Benefits Kids

We all intuitively understand that outdoor time is crucial for kids. It’s why “go outside and play” has been a parent’s go-to command for generations. But why is friluftsliv so important for kids? For one thing, being outdoors builds confidence. Learning to climb trees, navigate boulders or thick underbrush, jump puddles, or chart a course around muddy areas gives kids a sense of accomplishment. It also improves problem solving, as anyone who has ever had to build a fire or shelter in the woods can attest. Increased concentration, a boosted immune system, and improved sleep are just a few other reasons to get kids outside this winter.

How do I make friluftsliv part of our family tradition? Here are some ideas to get you started:

Keep it Simple

You don’t have to take a 57-day hike through the mountains to get the benefits of friluftsliv (although this dad-daughter duo did, and it looks amazing!). A trip to the arboretum to collect maple leaves works too. Even a nap on the beach is a great way to spend time outside. Here are a few quick and easy ideas:

1. Neighborhood scavenger hunt
Make a list of 20 things you might find in your neighborhood or on the trail. Need some help? Download and print out a ready-made KEEN scavenger hunt here. Once you’ve got your list together, set them loose to see how many items they can find. Set a time limit if you want to spice things up. If they’re collecting items, make sure everyone has a backpack or bag to store their finds!

2. Night walk
Everything looks and sounds different at night. Outfit everyone in the group with headlamps, and take a trip down the block or into the woods. Be sure to read up on nocturnal animals and birds before you go so you are better able to identify what you see and hear.

3. Forage for art supplies
Foraging is a great way to see your neighborhood from an entirely different perspective. Go outside with the intention of gathering things to make art with, from small rocks for mosaic to fallen leaves to make crayon rubbings. You can start in your own backyard, with things that are abundant, like sticks or pinecones. Gather greenery to make wreaths and table decorations with, or pine needles to make baskets. The only limit is what kids can carry and their imaginations. Just be sure to ask your neighbors before picking flowers or plants from their yard!

Pro tip: If kids find something beautiful that’s too big to carry or can’t be collected, take a picture. You can use the photos in an art project later.

RELATED: Backyard Screen Breaks: 5 Winter Activities for Kids

a child playing outside in winter

Get Creative

If you have more space or more time, the only limit is your imagination. These ideas might take a bit more work:

1. Build a junk playground
Developed by the Danish landscape architect Carl Theodor Sorensen, adventure playgrounds help foster independence and creativity. If you have some outdoor space, creating a play space can be as simple as giving kids a bunch of tarps and blankets to make a fort or having piles of sticks and rocks that they can build with (under supervision!).

2. Geocaching
Geocaching is a global treasure hunt that involves downloading GPS coordinates to find hidden caches. With more than three million active geocaches located around the world, there are plenty of opportunities to join in. Keep in mind that geocaching is best done in areas without snow, because the snow buries the caches. Log in to geocaching.com to get started.

3. Host an outdoor party for families
Don’t let your backyard get lonely in the winter. It may be too cold to grill, but there aren’t any mosquitoes left, either! To host a winter party for adults and kids, hang some twinkle lights, fire up the fire pit, and bring out lots of warm snuggly blankets. Kids can help create table decorations from evergreens, pinecones, and holly before the party, or you can make it a party activity. Bring out the hot chocolate and hot cider, and let the festivities begin!

a child drinking hot cocoa outside

Make it a Group Effort

Let kids help plan your activity, from where to go to what to wear. They’re much more likely to be excited to go outside and to stick with the plan if they helped to design it. Give each kid a turn at picking an activity. The youngest may not be able to plan a whole trip, but they can help decide what snacks to bring or when to take a rest break.

Pro tip: Create a “dream board” with adventure ideas that you keep where everyone can see it. That way, if arguments break out over where to go and what to do, the idea that doesn’t get chosen can be saved for next time. You’ll also have a bunch of ideas in reserve for days when everyone is cranky or low in imagination.

Wear the Right Shoes

There’s a Swedish saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” We might add: and bad shoes! When kids have warm, dry feet, they’re more likely to lose track of time while examining snails or making a fort from evergreen branches. You may even have to give them a nudge or two to get them to go home! KEEN has a wide selection of waterproof boots and shoes for kids to make their outside time as comfy as their inside time.

Fleece-lined and snuggly, the Howser is a great choice for s’mores around the campfire or hot chocolate and a sing-along next to the fire pit. They’re available in a waterproof chukka, an easy slip-on, and a wrap with a hook-and-loop strap for maxed-out comfort on chilly days and frosty evenings.

After a long day of work, the thought of suiting up the family for a few hours outside in the rain may not seem like your idea of fun. Kids can pick up on that energy and may resist tearing themselves away from their video game or favorite cartoon. But if you project enthusiasm, kids will get excited too. And trust us, once you spend a few minutes outdoors, whether it’s close to home or deep in the woods, you’ll feel much better!

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