Stepping Out

A Dozen Winter Activities That Will Have Your Kids Begging for Time Outside

In the 1970s and 1980s, kids spent twice as much time outside as they do today, when video games and iPads glue them to the couch. In the winter, that outdoor time is cut by another 25%. Of course, it is a natural reaction to keep kids indoors when the temperature drops, but spending time outside when it’s cold has great benefits for your children’s physical and mental health. Stepping outside their comfort zone builds confidence. Braving the cold makes them resilient. And research suggests outdoor play may reduce the symptoms of many of the biggest health challenges facing children today. Additionally, creating a healthy lifestyle for your children by getting them outdoors when their young means there is a better chance they’ll continue it when they get older.

Because cold can be dangerous, it is essential to have the right gear. Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing! Layers are key, and it’s good to err on the side of too many rather than too few; you can always take off a layer if they get too warm. Hats, gloves and appropriate footwear – insulated and with good tread – are also crucial. So, bundle up and try one of these many fun outdoor winter activities.

Host an Outdoor Play Date

During the ongoing pandemic, having kids meet outside to play is the safest way for them to see their friends and socialize, following your state’s regulations and recommendations of course. Plus, confirming a time, place and activity with others means you’ll be less likely to bail. While they’re out with their pals, kids are much less likely to complain about the cold – or even notice it.

Go on a Nature Walk

Take the kids to a local park or hiking trail and help them to identify the different types of conifers, deciduous trees, mosses and lichens in your area. Printable guides that detail the shape of needles and leaves and other identifying characteristics of your regional flora are readily available on the internet.

Bird Watch

Your local bird population is actually much easier to spot against winter’s grey skies than it is against the bright colors of summer. Consider putting a bird feeder out in the yard and helping your kids identify the birds who come to visit. January is prime time to see bald eagles hunting along rivers and reservoirs, and owls are also very active in winter. You can also check out local nature preserves or wildlife refuges where birds who shy away from humans congregate in winter. Many of these offer organized bird walks as well.

Nighttime Holiday Light, Star or Full Moon Walks

Fill a few thermoses with hot chocolate, arm each of your kids with their own flashlight or headlamp and head to a neighborhood with pretty holiday lights or a low-light area where the stars or full moon will be more visible. The kids can turn their lights on and off to get a better look at the lights, moon and stars. Printable star charts are available online, and there are also cellphone apps to help identify constellations. Canis Major and Minor (big and little dog), Gemini (the twins), Taurus (the bull), and Orion (the hunter) are all very visible in the winter months.

Go Sledding

Sleigh riding is fun for kids and adults alike and doesn’t require fancy equipment. Plastic saucer sleds area available at most big-box and hardware stores for less than $20 and their super-slick bottoms don’t require a ton of snow to get moving. Or, the internet is full of advice about how to turn household items – everything from laundry baskets and air mattresses to cookie sheets and garbage can lids – into makeshift sleds. Try different items to see what works best!

Try a New Winter Sport

If you’re in an area with consistently cold weather, take the kids ice skating at an outdoor rink or frozen lake or pond. Most rinks have rental skates for children as young as two, along with buckets, chairs or plastic penguins for them to hold onto as they skate. It’s also a good idea to wear a bike helmet and mittens to protect heads and fingers. Or, plan a day to try skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or ice fishing.

Go Winter Camping

One perk of winter camping is you’re guaranteed the best spot in the campground! While having an RV is great, you can also car-camp with cold-weather sleeping bags and tents. If you’re feeling slightly less adventurous but still want to try, pitch your tent in the backyard and leave the back door unlocked for an easy escape into the warmth of your living room.

Send Holiday Messages in Sidewalk Chalk

In the days leading up to Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day, bring the kids outside your house or to your favorite park and let them leave holiday messages and pictures for passers-by in sidewalk chalk. Even when there is no holiday on the horizon, a colorful and uplifting message is sure to brighten anyone’s day!

Start a Winter Solstice Tradition

The winter solstice - on December 21st this year - is the shortest day of the year; it has the shortest period of light and the longest night of the year. Teach your children that on this day, the North Pole is tilted its farthest away from the sun. Because of the angle of the sun, this day also delivers the longest noon-time shadow of the year. Go outside at lunch time, and show your kids how long and skinny their shadow’s legs are. Start a tradition like an outdoor picnic under that noon-time sun, or a candlelight dinner once the sun sets.

Light a Fire

Warming up beside a campfire is the perfect way to cap off any outdoor winter activity. If you don’t have a firepit, you can DIY one with rocks or cinderblocks set up in a ring on a bed of gravel or sand. Your kids will love toasting hot dogs and marshmallows and making s’mores over the open flames. When you’re done eating, play cards or board games, watch shadows from the firelight dance amongst the trees or take turns telling spooky campfire stories.