ABNL teacher Traci Steere from Holt has the superlative no one wants: Most Likely to Experience Inclement Weather – and Take It In Stride. Since she began participating in this program in 2010-2011, Traci has experienced rain, snow, sleet, and a cherished few sunny days. Yet here she is, turning lemons into lemonade, chatting with her ponchoed students after turning their faces to the sky to take it all in. Traci’s attitude would make any Viking ancestor proud: “No bad weather,” she says, “just bad clothing choices.”
While I personally am delighted at the dumping of snow we’ve gotten in the past couple days (snow forts! Sledding! Skiing and all the winter sports!), and the snow days that have ensued, here in Michigan we know that the season we know as Winter can include that lovely fluffy snow, but also, dark gray days with ice, slush, “wintery mix”, mud, and a simple, stubborn chill that gets right into your bones. But we also know that getting outside, no matter the weather, holds incredible opportunities for learning and growing for our young people.
Below, I've compiled ten of my favorite activities to do outside with the young people in your life to enjoy the hidden wonder of winter.
1. Go on a track hunt.
When the ground is soft, and especially when there’s snow, animals make their marks. Pretend to be spies or nature hunters and see how many different tracks you can find, follow where they go, and what kind they are. Here’s a simple printable to help kids identify the prints they see.
2. Feed the birds.
Cut out shapes from cardboard or find some pinecones and have your little ones spread some honey on it, and sprinkle bird seed. Tie a loop (ideally with biodegradable string) in a hole through the top and find some choice branches for the birds to have a snack. My little guy was so proud of his, and had a great time watching the seeds disappear. (Here, we used peanut butter but it’s not ideal for wildlife #themoreyouknow)
3. Make a maze.
I love this one in the snow, because it doesn’t involve me bending down, lifting, or pushing/pulling heavy things. On an open patch of snow, use your footprints to create a maze for kids to go through - or, have kids create a maze for each other.
4. Visit Lansing area nature centers.
The nature centers that host our ABNL classes have a ton of stuff happening for the community during these winter months. Check out Harris’s events, including snowshoe rental and lessons, and Bark after Dark (a program helping socialize dogs and their humans). Lincoln Brick Park has a great sledding hill, snowshoe and ski rentals, and when the sun goes down, they host night hikes and invite the public to come out to the observatory and gaze at the night skies or learn about astro photography. Woldumar and Fenner all also have a ton of stuff to make you say, “oh yay, it’s winter!”.
5. Winter scavenger hunt.
Give kids a list or pictures for things to hunt for in the winter. Extensions or modifications could be turning it into a BINGO game, setting a time limit, or having kids take pictures of the things they find. I found a few great printables here, here, and here.
6. Make an obstacle course.
My kids love playing “the floor is lava” in our basement - outside it’s called “the ground is muddy and wet”! (I just made that up, genius right? ;) Outside, there are plenty of things to jump over, step around, hop to, and balance on. All the better when stakes are higher and falling means getting dirty!
7. Build a nest challenge.
Gather twigs, grasses, feathers, and any soft things that you can weave together to build a nest. It’s a great STEM challenge, and amazing to think that birds do all of it without fingers!
8. Take a night hike.
Make use of the early darkness by giving kids a lantern, headlamp, or flashlight around dusk and going for a hike. It’s amazing to witness the sights, sounds, and feelings that are heightened when the sun sets!
9. Do a Discovery Walk.
So many of the activity options in our Discovery Walk lesson plan are perfect for anytime of year. How about searching for heart-shapes around Valentine’s day, or Candy Canes around Christmas? Challenge kids to find colors in nature using color chips, or use one small square or string to identify cool and unexpected things.
10. Make Snow Cream.
You’ve heard of ice cream, but have you heard of snow cream? When mittens are sufficiently wet, cheeks are rosy, and everyone’s ready to come inside, grab a bowl of snow and top with sprinkles, chocolate chips, food coloring, syrup, fruit, or anything their creative little hearts desire.
What are your favorite things to do outside with young people in the winter? Comment below!