Winter has not officially begun, yet temperatures across much of the U.S. have plummeted, sending folks indoors to hide until spring. But don't let the chilly temps keep you and your kids locked up all winter. With the right gear, it is possible keep your family warm and playing outdoors — and it's probably stuff you already have in your closet. Here's what you need to keep kids warm and playing outdoors all winter long.

Hat: Your mother was right when she told you to wear a hat in the winter. Most of a person's body heat is lost through the head, so whether it's a hand-knit tobaggon from Aunt Sadie or a micro-fleece ski hat from REI, make sure heads are covered before kids run out the door.

Scarf: These little strips of cloth go a long way toward protecting kids from harsh winter temperatures. A scarf not only gives extra warmth to your child's core upper body, it can also be used to cover her face and mouth and prevent the sting of breathing icy cold air — especially important if your child has asthma.

Clothes and coat: While it may be tempting to stuff your child into a huge coat and snowsuit and roll him outdoors looking like the StayPuff Marshmallow Man, it won't be much fun for him, and it's likely to cut his outdoor time than if he we wearing more efficient clothes. Think layers. Several light, comfortably fitted layers will keep him warmer, and more agile, than a single heavy layer. Just make sure the outermost layer has sleeves that are snug at the wrist to keep the winter chill from blowing in.

Mittens: Hands down, mittens are warmer than gloves. They also make it more difficult to maneuver, so it is a trade-off for winter play. If you have them both, let your child wear one and stash the other pair in her pocket if she's going to be out for a while. That way, she can wear the gloves while she's building snowmen and sledding, and switch out to mittens when she's just walking around or hiding in her snow fort.

Boots: If there is one place to splurge when it comes to winter clothing, it's the footwear. Wet, cold feet make for miserable, home-bound kids. It's hard to keep feet warm and toasty, especially in the snow, but insulated boots till do a much better job than sneakers or rain boots.  

Food: Last, but not least, it's important to remember that all of these layers will do a good job of holding your child's heat in. But it's the food in his belly that will really help warm him from the inside out. A healthy, warm meal will go a long way towards keeping your kids warm and happy when they playing outdoors.

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