5 Keys to Keeping Your Kids’ Feet Warm While Building a Snowman
by Rachel Rader, DPM
Surprisingly, scientists have weighed in on the best way to build a snowman! Among the important factors, as this Quartz article notes, is the right snow temperature. Engineering professor Roy Pruett, whose class published a snowman construction plan 10 years ago, is quoted as saying, “The snow has to be somewhere right around 30 degrees F (-1 degree C), where there’s just a little moisture in it. It can’t be too cold or not cold enough.”
While just below freezing might be good for snow texture, it may not be great for outdoor play. And the outdoor temperature should be your first consideration, says IPFH Scientific Advisory Board member Rachel Rader, DPM. “Preventing cold weather injuries, whether to the feet, the hands or other exposed areas of the body, is important - they can ruin the fun of building a snowman.”
Of course, the feet won’t be warm unless the whole body is warm, so be sure your kids layer up with a base layer, shirt, sweater and outer layers as necessary (preferably water resistant jackets and pants that also offer protection from wind). There's no specific amount of time kids should be allowed to stay out in the cold, but when being cold becomes uncomfortable or unpleasant, it's time to go inside. Parents and caregivers should be aware of any weather advisories (especially wind chill), and know the symptoms of cold exposure. Cold-weather injuries can occur quickly, and it is easy for kids playing outdoors not to notice minor discomfort and symptoms of those injuries. If a child is shivering, it’s time to go inside. Older children can be encouraged to use the "buddy system" to look for early signs of frostbite in each other (early frostbite signs include burning, numbness, tingling, itching or cold sensations in affected areas, which may appear white, grayish yellow, or more pale than usual). Also be on the alert for symptoms of hypothermia: Shivering (until it becomes severe, and then the shivering stops), memory loss and confusion, tiredness, slurred speech, unsteadiness, skin that is pale or turns blue in the hands and feet, and rapid or labored breathing. A good guideline is to take a break from outdoor play at least once about every 30 minutes to go inside to warm up.
It’s especially important to take steps to protect kids’ feet while they are outside in cold weather. Here are five tips for keeping their feet warm and toasty:
- Get the right boots – Warmth and dryness are important. Look for boots with waterproof or water resistant uppers, outsoles that provide good traction in ice and snow, and a well-insulated interior. The height of the boots should reach above the ankle, and the shaft (upper) should fit well, or should have a closure to keep snow from getting down into the boots. The best protection is provided by collared or pull-on boots with sturdy closures, (vs. boots with tongues and laces that can come untied): Unsecured tongues can allow water and snow into the boot, and untied laces are a hazard that can make slippery ground even more dangerous.
- Get the right socks – Padded socks with good insulating and wicking capabilities help keep the feet warm and dry. Avoid cotton socks altogether, and look for padded socks with engineered synthetic insulating fibers, and/or blends of wool and synthetic wicking fibers. Wool by itself is an excellent insulating fiber, but it tends to absorb moisture (even in cold weather, feet can perspire during vigorous activities). Moisture held next to the feet increases the risk of coldness and blistering, and generally speaking, in the winter a dry foot is a warm foot.
- Ensure the right fit – IPFH recommends using the integrated approach to selection and fitting of padded socks and footwear. Because children’s feet are constantly in a growth state, it is important to get their feet measured each time you purchase shoes or boots for them.
- Maintain the right temperature – One study has shown an average foot surface temperature range during waking hours in healthy adults of 82 to 92 degrees F. As would be expected, this is heavily influenced by ambient temperature. Insulation in socks and boots as noted above can help maintain a healthy temperature. Any time children’s feet feel cold or they express or show signs of discomfort, it’s time to go inside and take a break from the cold.
- Take the right steps to rewarm the feet if they get too cold. Click on this link for proper techniques for warming kids’ feet after winter play.
Once you have ensured your kids are protected on cold and snowy days, you can focus on the fun and “proper techniques” for building a snowman. For more on how to do this, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman? Physics Can Help.”
Although winter days are colder and shorter, healthy outdoor activities can boost your spirits and your energy, and the experience is enhanced when you protect yourself and your children from the potential hazards of cold weather. Now you're ready to build a snowman that will be the envy of the neighborhood!