In the face of colder weather and fewer activities, make your Family Plan for spending winter outdoors and enjoy new opportunities and adventure.
Building your family’s Winter Outdoors Plan can help you feel more positive about the colder weather and limited activities, all while helping you connect more with nature… and each other!
The arrival of winter often comes with reticence about the cold, dark days to come. This is certainly an unusual year where normal routines have needed to adapt in an effort to curb the effects of the pandemic. As a result, we’re all experiencing a need for greater patience, creativity and flexibility when it comes to family activities.
Parents are facing a winter where — in some locations — many kids’ activities may either be cancelled or curtailed. Many indoor activities and facilities are restricted and even outdoor sports and activities are facing limitations. And the thought of spending prolonged time outdoors in the winter seems too hard for some.
However, it’s still important to keep your kids active outside in the winter! For many, this concept can seem daunting, beyond sending kids outside to play in the snow or enjoy a few runs on the slopes. But there is so much more to do in the winter, and being stuck indoors isn’t an ideal option.
What if we looked at this season as an opportunity instead? An opportunity to try new activities, have more family time, and spend more time outside. Many of us have already experienced these “silver linings” during the pandemic, and there’s no reason for them to stop now. It may just require a bit more thought in the winter, where spontaneity still requires preparation (thanks to weather factors). To feel more confident about your family’s winter “survival”, consider some advance planning.
“Planning” doesn’t necessarily mean filling your calendar and setting a rigid schedule. At the very least, you can work on a list of possible activities and adventures that you can refer to on a regular basis: your Winter Outdoors Plan. Think about places to visit, projects to do, and activities to try.
BUILDING YOUR FAMILY’S WINTER OUTDOORS PLAN
PLACES to VISIT:
When building your list of places to visit, consider old favorites as well as new discoveries. Ask your children where their favorite places are to go in the summer, then ask yourself if they might be experienced in a whole new way in the winter. For example: Beaches in the winter are no less exciting than beaches in the summer, as long as you approach the experience differently.
state or national parks:
State parks are often a great place to start when planning a family walk. Well-established trails with available maps and dedicated parking. National parks offer the same resources and more! To find your next adventure, check out https://findyourpark.com/.
Playgrounds are an obvious choice on a sunny day, but tend to be overlooked in colder weather. But with proper clothing, playgrounds can still offer the same thrills and challenges! Be aware of ice and other challenges.
Many of us aren’t aware of the full extend of conservation land around us, and our access to it. Contact your town and ask if they have a map of local trails. Research conservation and nature organizations nearby. Look into your state’s Department of Conservation and see what public lands are available for use.
Research the nature preserves near you. The Nature Conservancy, Audubon properties, statewide conservation organizations (such as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation or Indiana Department of Natural Resources) and land trusts are a great starting-point.
Botanic/botanical gardens are a great place to visit with kids. They can learn about local flora while exploring the property. Find one nearby that offers trails and outdoor exploration.
Look into local historic sites nearby and see if the properties allow for exploration. WWII bunkers? Revolutionary War sites? Historic homes? Old mills?
skate parks or pump tracks:
When there is no snow on the ground, skate parks and pump tracks remain great options for getting kids outside in the winter. Whether on skateboards, scooters or bikes (bmx or otherwise), kids — and their parents — can zoom around and have a great time!
PROJECTS to DO
Projects are another great way to bring your family together with a communal feeling of accomplishment and pride. From small nature crafts to backyard construction projects, there are options for all skill level and time commitments.
make a birdfeeder:
Making a birdfeeder doesn’t have to require a hammer and nails. Birdfeeders come in all shapes and sizes, using recycled materials to construct or cookie cutters to form.
make an insect hotel:
Even if you don’t see many insects out and about, you can still keep them in your thought! Make an insect hotel to help insects over-winter. It may be too late in the season for the insects, but you’ll be ready for them come springtime! Be aware that there really is a proper way to build and maintain your insect hotel — read more about it here.
write your own scavenger hunt:
Sit down as a family and talk about things you might see on a nature walk. Think about things that are relatively easy (a smooth rock) and things that might take more patience (a feather). Your items can either be specific (a tree with few leaves) or abstract (something that makes you smile). Write down your list and then head out on a walk to see how many you can cross off. Another options is to use our build-your-own scavenger hunt, having your kids choose the things they might see outside today.
write and deliver kindness notes to neighbors:
Write kindness notes or draw pictures for your neighbors, then go for a walk or hop on a scooter/bike to deliver them to their mailboxes.
make furniture for a fairy or gnome home:
If you’re not yet ready to build your fairy or gnome home (you may decide to wait for the spring), you can still get started on the preparations. Gather supplies (small twigs, acorns, leaves, pinecones) and start planning. What do you want to make? A table? A bed? A sink? A bath? What will your fairy or gnome need? Twig chairs, a swing, an acorn birdhouse (scroll down), a bird’s nest?
make ice ornaments:
using treasures from your yard (berries, leaves, twigs, pine needles, make ice ornaments to hang outside
make a bike feature:
Make your own backyard bike park by building DIY bike features (berm, ramp, jump, skinny, log roll). The cold weather may make digging a challenge, so consider wooden features to build instead.
build a snow lantern:
(traditional Swedish snölykta) A collection of snowballs, patience and some battery-powered lights will yield a beautiful and heart-warming backyard feature.
NEW ACTIVITIES to TRY
This might just be the year to explore that winter activity that you’ve always wanted to try. You know the one I’m talking about! Is it in the list below? Time to add it to your Winter Lockdown Survival Plan!
Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. (https://www.geocaching.com/play)
make your own tracks, or look for groomed trails at ski mountains, parks or golf courses
After fresh snow, take the opportunity to check for animal tracks. Check out this article for tips on tracking wildlife with kids.
Take time to learn more about the night sky and what is visible from your area — either with the naked eye or with a telescope*. On a clear night, dress warmly (don’t discount your snow gear, even if there’s no snow!), take a blanket and/or sleeping bag outside, lie back and gaze at the stars. How many stars do they see? Any constellations or planets? (Research ahead of time to see which ones might be visible.) You can also consider keeping a Sky Journal. There are many apps that can help you identify the stars that you see, including SkyView ($1.99), but make sure they don’t spend all their time looking at a screen.
Snowshoeing is an activity that can be done with kids at any age. Hike it Baby has great tips for getting started.
scootering at a skate park:
If you haven’t had snow in a while and surfaces are dry, check out your local skate park. Bring along your skateboard, scooter or BMX and work on your skills. Scootering skills and tricks to try include the hop, fakie, manual, nose pivot, tail whip, no footer and bar spin.
nature walk scavenger hunt:
Scavenger hunts in nature are just as fun in winter as in summer! Check out our winter scavenger hunt or our I Spy scavenger hunt.
Grab a camera or mobile phone and head out into nature. You can make your photo walk open-ended, taking photos of what inspires you along the way. Or you can make a list ahead of time and turn it into a scavenger hunt of sorts. A photo safari is another great way to keep them engaged, keeping them alert to any animals (birds, insects too!) they encounter along the way. Challenge them to take photos from different perspectives: from far away, from up close, from below, from above. Think of a list of categories or items ahead of time and see how many you can cross off.
With fewer leaves on the trees, birds can be easier to spot in the winter. Using binoculars and an identification book or app, see how many different birds you can name. The Audubon Society is a great resource for tips on birding with kids.
outdoor play after dark:
there are still many options for outdoor play after dark, even in the winter!
carve a banked sledding path:
When your regular sledding run has lost its luster, you’re limited in space, or you need an extra challenge, consider building a banked sledding run. Build up a large berm and see how they do! With more room, time and patience, consider a backyard luge!
Tree identification in the winter is at the same time easier (evergreen vs deciduous is more obvious) and harder (the absence of leaves can be a challenge). But armed with a few more clues (branches, buds and bark), you can improve your tree ID skills. More tips here and here.
Ice fishing with kids may seem like an extreme sport for parents, needing good preparation, the right equipment and a whole lot of patience. One option is to simply observe others who are already ice fishing, requiring a smaller commitment on your part!
This may not be a new concept, but the time for free play is now! With kids’ open schedules, free play is in its heyday.
Building your family’s Winter Outdoors Plan can help you look forward to the opportunities this season affords, instead of feeling hampered by restrictions, limitations and reticence due to weather. Hopefully it will open up new experiences for your family to connect with nature… and each other!
N.B. These above suggestions are made with the hope that you will follow local health and safety guidelines. They are ever-changing and vary from region to region, so please be sure to check with your local authorities.
*If you don’t have the necessary equipment, see if it can be rented or borrowed locally. Some stores (such as REI) are still offering rentals at some locations. And many public libraries now feature a Library of Things, from which you can borrow items such as telescopes and binoculars.
This post is a tweak on “How to Make Your Family’s Winter Lockdown Survival Plan“, adapted to the current situation.