Backyard Screen Breaks: 5 Winter Activities for Kids
From the simple pleasure of walking through freshly fallen snow to the exhilaration of braving a storm, there are lots of reasons for kids to get outside during the winter months. Like young Peter in the classic children’s book, The Snowy Day, there’s plenty to discover and explore when snow changes the landscape.
But enjoying winter doesn’t have to be an all-day affair with a long drive and pulling gear together the night before (although those are fun, too!). It's all right outside the door. And any time spent outside that gives kids a break from the increased screen time that winter brings is time well spent.
Check out these ideas for quick winter screen breaks, no matter the weather.
Feed the Birds
Winter is the ideal time to reach out to our feathered friends. The cold months offer an easy opportunity to discover and observe your local bird population. Natural seed sources are low during the winter months and birds need extra energy to stay healthy through temperature extremes. Bird feeding can be as simple as scattering seed on the snow surface, or you can turn it into a project to build a dedicated feeder (here are some tips from our friends at Trackers Earth). Either way, choose a location kids can view from a window and refresh the seed on a regular basis, so the birds become regular visitors. Start a bird list to track the varieties that come to visit your feeding station. Once the birds start visiting regularly, you might even be able to feed them right from your hand!
The winter months offer an opportunity to see more and go places that you can’t in the summer. Trees and bushes lose their leaves to reveal hidden areas and natural treasures. Take the opportunity to send kids on a quest to explore or collect. Create a timed scavenger hunt challenge that takes advantage of what nature sheds and what winter reveals—cones, leaves, animal tracks, and nests. Or a challenge to create snow angels, stomp out the alphabet in the snow, or make a maze. Set kids loose with a specific list of must-finds or must-dos and a limited amount of time to do it. Ready. Set. Go!
Make a Rain/Snow Study Plot
If you get regular snowfall (or rain, like we do here in Portland), set up a weather study plot. The plot can be as simple as a stick in the ground with a graduated scale to measure rain, snowfall, and snow melt. Head outside to take daily measurements and track storm totals. Add a thermometer to your study kit and track the temperature as the season progresses. Try looking at the snow, sleet, or hail under a magnifier and see if you can spot crystals!
All-Natural Art Projects
Some of the best art supplies can be found under neighborhood trees. Hunting for acorns, pine cones, leaves, and pine boughs is part of the fun, and you can even collect different colors and sizes, and organize them in reusable containers. Make a nature mosaic, or break out the paint, glue, and twine to see what creations you can come up with! Maybe a heart-shaped wreath for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, or to spread some love to your postal carrier?
Build a Fort
Whether winter brings snow or rain to your neighborhood, it’s a good time to build a fort or a make-believe world with what Mother Nature offers. With snow, kids can use an empty five-gallon bucket (or any size bucket) to form snow blocks that stack to make walls and chairs. If there’s no snow, branches, sticks, and storm-shed boughs make great building materials. Try collecting materials and leaning them against a tree or bush to create a hidden space. If space or materials are limited, have kids think small and create a make-believe world with pine cones as creatures and moss as beds. Winter offers several months to build and expand upon whatever fort or world kids create. Every storm brings more building materials!
Kids don’t really need a reason to go outside and play in the winter, and less can be more. Good old-fashioned running, sliding, sledding, icicle breaking, snowflake catching, or puddle stomping can be all it takes for hours of fun! Just remember that warm kids are happy kids, so layer up, and top it all off with weather-resistant gear from head to toe. Whether you’re talking 20 minutes or 2 hours, warm socks and waterproof boots go a looong way to keeping kids cozy, dry, and engaged outside.