Fewer and fewer kids are getting outside to explore nature regardless of the season, and, therefore, our children are dragging fewer of us outside. Outdoor winter activities are even more challenging, especially as the days get shorter. But regardless of weather and daylight, getting outdoors to explore is an excellent way to burn energy, learn something new, and participate in the natural world.
Most of the following activities come from a book I was given to help me keep my children interested in being outside. Written by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up is an excellent resource.
- Beginning this winter the arboretum will have seasonal scavenger hunts to be done on your own time. Flyers with instructions will provide the things for children to look and listen for. Since each season will bring a new scavenger hunt, this is not a winter-only activity.
- Make snow ice cream. The basic recipe is to mix approximately 10 cups of clean snow with ½ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla, and 1 cup of milk. Encourage kids to experiment with flavors—maybe use chocolate milk, or peppermint extract, or forego the milk and sugar and make a maple snow cone using real maple syrup.
- Go animal tracking. While getting out to Phillip’s Farm, Idler’s Rest, or Kamiak Butte are excellent choices for animal tracking, you can search for tracks in your own “backyard.” Maybe you spot the tracks of the neighborhood cat, or the quail and pheasants that live under that big tree next door, or maybe you’ll get lucky and see raccoon prints. Regardless of where you see tracks and what tracks you see, try to imagine what the animal was doing: searching for food? Running from a predator? If you spot bird tracks, try to find wing prints from the birds’ takeoff.
- Deciduous trees have lost their leaves already, but conifers keep northern Idaho green during the winter. There are hundreds of different kinds of conifers, so going on a conifer search is more exciting than it seems. Check out the different needle shapes and sizes, and the differing heights of the trees. See if you can spot more than 5 kinds. And don’t forget to take a sniff and enjoy their aroma.
- The holiday season is coming upon us quickly; now is a good time to start planning on seasonal decorations. I think one of the most fun—and most fragrant—decorations is an evergreen wreath. And it’s not too difficult to make your own. All you need is a wire hanger, evergreen branches, twine, winter berries, and a bow or ribbon. Other possible activities: build a roost house, make a winter bird feast (for the birds, not for you), go snowshoeing, or go on a night walk in the snow.