Reach Outdoors: Ideas to get the Kids Outdoors this Winter

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by Shaun McKeaon, MUCC Education Director
As you probably know, snow has already arrived for most of the state. How do you fight cabin fever when winter is just beginning?  Here are a few tips from the National Wildlife Federation on how to get kids outdoors during the colder months. Remember, it is important to keep getting kids outside year round. Even in winter there are plenty of activities they can do to stay active, be healthy and continue to learn about the environment.
Make sure you bundle the kids up in the proper snow attire, with hats, gloves, and boots and get them outdoors!
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Scenario #1: It’s a chilly, gray day without a snowflake in sight.
  • Go for the gold: Invite friends and family to your own Wacky Winter Olympics, held in your yard or neighborhood park.
    • Dog Sled Race: Competitors pull snow sleds loaded with toys, sticks, or rocks across the grass.
    • Winter swim relay race: Give each child a tote bag of swim goggles, towel, an old adult swimsuit or oversized flippers. See how fast they can pull on the swim gear over their outdoor clothes, throw the towel around their neck, take a pretend “swim,” and run to a marker and back.  Then take the swim gear off and pass it to the next person in line.  See which kid is the fastest.
  • Award each participant with an “outdoorsy” Olympic medal—tie a pine cone to a string!
  • Make ice sculptures: Fill a clear plastic container with a few inches of water. Add food coloring and stones and sticks for decoration. Set outside for several hours or overnight to freeze. Add another layer of water and nature “stuff” dyed a different color and allow to freeze. Repeat to create multiple layers.
  • Take the earth’s temperature: You’ll need to make sure the ground isn’t frozen for this one. Buy a soil thermometer at a garden supply store and take it with you on a walk around the yard or park. Have your kids stick it in the ground in various locations to compare ground temperatures. Is the ground warmer or cooler than the air? Does the temperature change in different locations?
Scenario #2: It snowed, but not enough for sledding or building.
  • Look for tracks. A light snowfall can reveal what animals are around looking for food.
  • Go to the playground. You probably haven’t been there in a while, and kids may enjoy seeing their summer play place sprinkled with snow. Take pictures, so you can compare when spring arrives. Bring along a thermos of cider or hot chocolate.
  • Zoom in on nature. Bring a magnifying glass outside to take a close-up look at the frozen foliage. Or, if you have a microscope, take some items inside (quickly, before they melt!) to investigate further.
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Scenario #3: The snow has been around for weeks and the kids are tired of sledding.
  • Build a miniature luge track. Have the kids use metal spoons to carve parallel tracks in the snow. (Snow that has been piled up and frozen hard is best.) They can race the spoons, rubber balls, acorns, or anything else handy. Kids will have fun trying to create the fastest course!
  • Make mini-snowmen out of snowballs. Younger children find making these little people easier than building the standard life-sized snowman. And older kids can spend more time on the details instead of building huge snow creatures. Get the neighborhood involved and create a whole city of mini-snowpeople!
  • Think beyond snowmen. Expand snow-building to include such things as cars, animals, or favorite sports team logos. Use water with food coloring to “paint” creations.
Go snowshoeing. Snowshoeing doesn’t require fancy gear when you make your own out of cardboard cutouts, shoe boxes, folded newspapers, or tree branches. Attach to boots with string, rubber bands, or bungee cords and try a trek around your favorite green space.

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