8 outdoor fun ideas for kids in winter

children playing in the snow

There’s nothing quite like that first morning when you wake to find a winter wonderland outside your window.

Some may cheer with anticipation of an unexpected day-off, while others may bemoan their lengthened commute. But if you’re a kid, it almost always means playtime! And since spending time outdoors is so important for our children’s wellbeing, as well as for the future of our wild lands, we can’t let cold weather stand in the way of it. Whether it’s in your backyard or backcountry, these activities are sure to keep your kids (and yourself) from getting cabin fever:

  1. Icy suncatchers. Here’s an awesome idea from Ohio Parent Information Network. Fill a pie pan with water, and inside put leaves, pinecones, acorns or other lightweight natural items as well as a thin wire for hanging. Leave it outside in freezing temperatures and once frozen, release the design from the tin and hang it from a tree to enjoy while the cold lasts.
  2. Snow tracking. This activity has several potential avenues for exploration. You could create a windy path with your footsteps and have your kids follow it later to find a small treasure at the end (they could even pretend to be detectives out to solve a “cold case” mystery). My favorite variant is to have them search for animal tracks that they can identify and draw/record in a journal. You can also learn how to make a cast of a cool track here.
  3. Make your own maple icicles. Pour syrup over rows of snow in a cake pan and eat after freezing. The best popsicle imaginable and apparently a favorite in the far northeast.
  4. Snow bubbles. If you’ve never tried this science experiment before, your kids are in for a real treat. It is the one perk of below zero degree temperatures! Use normal bubble solution to create icy spheres, or boil some water and throw it into the air to see it instantly crystallize into snow. Click here to learn why boiling water works.
  5. Winter sports. You may already be making plans for skiing and/or snowshoeing trips, but even if you aren’t, I’m pretty sure you will make time to do some sledding. You can always spice up this simple pleasure with some unique twists. Help your children formulate their own family “Olympic” winter games with awards for fastest speed, farthest distance, number of trips backwards, etc. Prizes could be simple certificates placed on the fridge for repeat viewing.
  6. Snow cream or cones. If you’re fortunate enough to experience some deep snow sometime this winter, you can delight your children with a special delicacy. I’d recommend avoiding this if you live in a very urban area in case of pollutants, and also gathering snow between the surface and a few inches above ground. You can find an easy recipe here. Or add fruit juice instead of milk and sugar to get flavored ice.
  7. Snow silhouettes. Snow angels can provide a brief reprieve from exhausting construction projects. There is some measure of peace in lying down in soft snow, but why stop there? Use your creativity to figure out how to make shapes of your kids’ favorite wild animals using different body parts (arm for elephant trunk, hands for feathers or wings, etc.). They can add details by drawing toes with sticks or adding small stones for eyes.
  8. When all else fails, build! Of course, the first instinct many of us have when encountering snow is to build a creature complete with hat and carrot nose. My favorite fictional kid takes it up a notch though, constructing complete dioramas of snowpersons in dramatic action. Forts are another option, and can be made less time consuming through the use of sand buckets, bread pans, tin cans, or other large molds.


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