It’s no secret that today’s kids are staying indoors more as the allure of television and digital devices outshines outdoor play. The winter months can be an especially challenging time to entice kids to go outside. Studies show, however, that outdoor time helps children grow lean and strong, enhances imaginations and attention spans, decreases aggression and boosts classroom performance.
I encourage you to get your kids outside to experience winter, from playing in the snow to seeing unique winter landscapes and wildlife habits in your own community.
Created with a little help from my friend, wildlife ambassador Ranger Rick raccoon, below are my top outdoor activities for winter fun that will have the entire family heading for the great outdoors:
- Create a Winter Nature Journal: Grab a camera, colored pencils and a notebook and explore nature. Have kids write down observations and draw pictures of plants and animals. Collect twigs, leaves and seed pods and glue them into the journal with notes about where they were found. Take lots of pictures to document the places you explore together.
- Go on a scavenger hunt: Make a list of items – pinecones, rocks, seeds and collect the items on the list. Cross out each item on the list as they are discovered and gathered. Add descriptors to the list as well, for example: Find something smooth, rough, brown.
- Go Hiking: Winter is a great time to hike and to see nature in a new light! All you need are warm clothes and sturdy shoes. Prolong time outdoors on especially cold days with hand and toe warmers easily tucked into mittens and boots. Check your local parks and nature centers for activity schedules and seasonal guidelines.
- Winter Wildlife Watch: From showy birds to furry mammals, winter is a great time to see many wildlife species in their natural habitats. Grab binoculars, a magnifying glass and a notebook and go for a wildlife watch. Have kids draw the animals and creatures they discover. Come back inside and learn more about the local wildlife you found on your watch.
- Make a Bird Lookout: Select a corner of your yard to set up a bird feeder and observation station. Once you’ve found an ideal location for your feeder, look for a spot a short distance away where you can observe the birds without disturbing them; shrubs and low trees provide great cover for quiet observation. A lawn chair or stump for sitting, warm clothes and little patience are all you need to enjoy the show!
- Go Winter Camping: Cold weather shouldn’t stop you from camping! Set up a tent outside (even in the backyard just for a few hours) and play in the snow (if you have it). Pile on the layers and bring extra blankets for cozy vantage points to observe the winter landscape. And don’t forget hot chocolate and S’mores!
- Plan a Pollinator Garden: If you can’t get outdoors due to extreme weather, it’s the perfect time to sketch out a plot in the backyard or plan a container garden for bees, butterflies and other pollinators and get kids excited for the spring! Making a list of seeds, plants and supplies, and setting up a timeline for garden activities can warm up the bleakest winter day.
Find more great ideas at National Wildlife’s website.
— David Mizejewski is a media personality, author, blogger and a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. He is co-host of NatGeo WILD’s new prime time television series “Pet Talk,” and hosted and co-produced “Backyard Habitat,” a television series on Animal Planet. David is a regular guest on Conan, The Wendy Williams Show, Inside Edition, and NBC’s Today Show. He’s appeared on TMZ Live, Access Hollywood Live, Fox and Friends, The Martha Stewart Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, and numerous other shows.