It’s winter, and it’s cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you and your children have to stay cooped up inside! Nor does it mean that you have to have a season pass to a ski resort or own ice skates, snow mobiles, or snowboards to have fun. Just take these activity ideas from Lowell science teacher and outdoor educator, Lucas Kelly, and go outside to explore the sights and sounds of the winter landscape.
To ensure a good experience for all, be sure to dress appropriately. No one wants to be outside for long if they are wet or cold! Dress in layers for maximum flexibility and make sure everyone has boots, hats, and gloves or mittens. Waterproof pants and gloves are a plus for active kids.
Ways to Appreciate Nature in Winter
1. Take an ice hike. Children are fascinated by the formation of ice outside. Part of the reason is because it only happens under special circumstances. Going out to a creek, river, or stream can give a child an opportunity to get close to ice by walking along the bank, without actually walking on the ice. (Be sure to give children very specific boundaries, as the temptation to walk on ice can be great. Explain to children what can happen if they were to fall in through the ice so they understand the reason why they shouldn’t walk on it.)
Use the ice as a way to prompt scientific questions like Why did the water freeze? Why is some water frozen and some water not frozen? You will be amazed at how much thought and detail might go into an answer to one of these questions. Bring along a magnifying glass to get an up-close look at a chunk of ice.
2. Go on a micro hike. Pull out a few magnifying glasses and go on a walk in the woods, around the neighborhood, or at a nearby park. Focus on objects and areas that are usually passed over such as logs, grass, pine cones, pine needles, bugs, ice, and snow. Challenge your child to record and describe 10 things that were once small and unnoticed but have been discovered with the power of a magnifying glass.
3. Go birding. Large populations of song birds stay put all winter long. Cardinals and blue jays are just a few of the permanent locals that tough it out through the long winter. Set out some bird seed and observe what types of birds come by for a much-needed wintertime meal. Find a camera that can be left out and set it up to capture footage of a bird feeding.
Take a look at some of the incredible work Jon Young has done on bird language, showcased in his book, What the Robin Knows. You can familiarize yourself with birdcalls by listening to his recordings of common birds here. Find a spot, sit and listen, and see if you can identify the songs you hear.
4. Have a snow angel fashion show. One of the most natural tendencies when going out into snow is to lay down and spread one’s arms and legs to make the shape of an angel in the fluffy snow. But, as recommended by Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, children can take this fun activity to the next level. Use natural elements such as acorns, leaves, rocks and pebbles to give the snow angel some special features. Or, bring out some food coloring mixed with water to add color to your angels.
5. Look for animal prints in the snow. Closely follow the fresh unbroken snow until you find some animal tracks. Try to figure out what animal or animals made the tracks, where they were going, what they were doing, and how fast they were moving.
Consult these images of common animal tracks in snow to see how well you did. Can’t find any tracks? Go out ahead of time and make a few tracks to stimulate your child’s sense of wonder and imagination.
6. Try making your own snowshoes. Snowshoes are a great tool to explore in heavy snow. Older kids might enjoy trying to make their own snowshoes using household or recycled products such as rope, cardboard, PVC pipe, sticks/twigs, and wood. There are many online sites and videos that you can use for inspiration. You'll be surprised by all you can do with scrap materials and duct tape. When you’re done, you can have a snowshoe race in the backyard or down a trail.