Studies show outdoor play in winter time is vital to a child’s health and well-being. Thanks to these 30 sweet and simple ideas, your kiddos will be begging to bundle up and frolic in the fresh air. Just scroll down for our ultimate list of ways to #win with winter weather.
1. Go Sledding. If you’re lucky enough to live near snowfall and hills, great! If not, pile your leaves up on a hill and pull your plastic boogie boards or sleds out of the garage, because you can pick up some serious speed with nothing but dry leaves, a slope, and some determination.
2. Blow bubbles. This doesn’t have to just be a summer activity, because bubbles get crazy cool when the temperature drops. In freezing temperatures, bubbles will crystalize, and if you have a blacktop outside, they’ll roll around on the ground instead of popping. Keep in mind that this works better if the bubble solution is cold before you head outside, and only on days where the temp drops below freezing.
3. Make nature soup. Grab a bucket or bowl, let your kids gather their “ingredients,” and then hand them the hose. They’ll be dishing up the goods for hours.
4. Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Wondering what to look for? We’ve got printables right here!
5. Build forts. Building a snow fort is as simple as grabbing a loaf pan, filling it up, and putting it all on repeat. Even without snow on the ground, you kidlet can test her building prowess: Encourage her to scavenge fallen branches and pine tree boughs to build a teepee, or try one of these incredible (and totally doable) forts that you can build together.
6. Make a mud pie. Or 20. Decorate them with leaves, acorns, and rocks. Then sell them to someone’s little brother.
7. Play Star Wars with sticks. We know. Sticks. But are they really that different than the $60 light saber they’re begging for their birthdays? Nah.
8. Use snowballs for target practice. Have hula hoop? Will play. Set out three in the yard, on the ground or hang them from trees. Then have your crew gather an arsenal of snowballs (or use tennis or baseballs if you’re in a no-snow-zone) to throw in this target practice session. Take aim and toss! Score points for each ball that makes it through the hoop. Fire away!
photo: Shelley Massey
9. Play pickup sticks with sticks from the yard. Whether you go all out and paint the sticks you collect different colors or just leave them be, this old-school game gets new legs with a larger-than-life game board—your yard!
10. Hit an outdoor winter festival. These epic winter festivals will make you wonder why everyone thinks summer’s so fun.
11. Play red light, green light. Did that last five minutes? Check out these classic yard games to keep the party going.
12. Go geocaching. When the wiggles hit, load up the kids for a real-life treasure hunt in the great outdoors. Follow high-tech clues left by geocachers when you download the app that tracks treasures hidden all over the world. Not sure where to begin? Try this step-by-step guide.
13. Create a hideout under the low-hanging branches of a tree. Decorate the limbs from underneath with pinecone ornaments, leaf garlands, and particularly intriguing rocks. Need inspo? Check out these awesome forts that you can build yourself, and let the kids be critters for the day.
Photo: V. Manninen via Flickr
14. Set up a hot chocolate stand. They’ll hardly notice how cold it is outside when they’re manning a hot chocolate booth! Not sure you’re down with coco? Check out some other ideas here.
15. Play leapfrog. Because it may actually be faster than getting them to walk quickly.
16. Start a snowball fight. There’s nothing better than a simple snowball fight to get families outside and moving. Grab a handful, mold it tight and then let ‘er fly, taking aim at sibs, parents or friends. Not snowbound quite yet? Nerf wars are pretty fun, too.
17. Set up an outdoor treasure hunt. Set your kids free in the backyard to seek out hidden treasures. They’ll have a blast busting through the snow or grass trying to find little trinkets you’ve hidden beforehand. If the snow’s your backdrop, make it a rainbow hunt. If not, go with a camo scavenger hunt, digging up wintery earth tone items to hide that’ll give kids a challenge.
Photo: Loren Kerns via Flickr
18. Set out on a hike. Whether winter at your place involves snow or not, taking your kids for a walk in the woods gets the blood flowing. Find a clear trail or lace up those furry winter boots to bust through the snowpack in a state or city park, forest preserve or nearby open space that gives them plenty of room to roam. These incredible hikes are our favorites across the nation.
19. Make ice … outside. You’ll be amazed at how something as simple as watching water freeze will keep kids busy. Toss a few favorite toys into the old-school ice cube tray, fill ’em up, then set them outside. Waiting for them to freeze will remind you of waiting for Christmas morning.
20. Try tracking. Exploring the untrampled edges of local parks and yards after a snowfall to look for animal tracks, and try to guess who went there!
21. Stargaze. The winter sky is the perfect spot to check out these 21 new constellations. Just bundle up before you go!
Photo: USFWS Mountain Prairie via Flicker
22. Break out the binoculars. Make a pine cone birdfeeder with peanut butter and birdseed, then find a nearby spot to spy on what comes to eat with binoculars.
23. Make ice sculptures. Stack ice (use cubes or get creative and freeze some irregular shapes beforehand by using bundt pans, bottles, and other trays) into unique forms, then fuse them together by dribbling water over them. They’ll re-freeze into a solid form, and will stick around until temperatures rise about freezing.
24. Set up a science lab in your driveway or on the sidewalk. Need inspiration? Plenty of these awesome activities are perfect for cooler weather, too!
25. Make snow angels and snowmen. If you get a great snowfall, bundle them up and show them the art of waving their arms and legs in the snow to create a snow angel. Or, build snow men and women, and leave the heads off your creations for a perfect picture opportunity—have your kids stand behind their creations so their faces become the snowman or woman’s.
Photo: Bureau of Land Management via Flickr
26. Make s’mores. These camping classics aren’t just for summer! Build a fire in a safe spot and roast marshmallows or sip hot chocolate outside. Foodies in the family? Check out these delish s’mores recipes.
27. Write messages in the snow. Mix water and food coloring in squeeze bottles and paint messages and pictures in the snow in the yard.
28. Create stained glass. Fill water balloons with water and a drop of food coloring, then freeze them outside overnight (or in the freezer, if your winter isn’t too cold). Then, peel the balloon off the ice and take it outside to create patterns and decorate the garden. Just don’t throw them at each other—it will feel like getting hit by a rock!
29. Play tag! It doesn’t get any easier than tag when your kids need to keep warm and burn some energy outside. Name someone as “it” and leave the rest up to them. All they need is an open space and some warm clothes to get this game going.
Photo: Ramsey County
30. Head to an unstructured play space. Kids will happily bundle up if they’re headed out to discover something new. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of these amazing unstructured outdoor play spaces, you can consider your winter complete.
—Shelley Massey & Gabby Cullen