I am not a big fan of winter. I like to watch it snow, I like snowy day activities — snowshoeing, skiing, and sledding are some of my favorite things to do. But daily life in an area that has cold winters is not my favorite. I do well until about January. November and December are enjoyable, because snow and cold seem to signal the holiday season, which I enjoy. But after the holidays, January brings long, cold days, icy roads, and frigid wind. By this time of year, I am sick of winter and tired of being cooped up in the house. The kids want to be outside, but don’t last long when our high is 9 degrees. I tend to become a bit of a hermit, having to force myself out into the cold to give myself fresh air. It is all too easy to just work on indoor chores and activities and wait it out until spring someday arrives again.
Lately, though, I have noticed a definite change in all of our moods after too many days inside. We are all short with each other, tired of the same old activities, and in need of a change. So the last two weeks I have been making an effort to get us outside and get moving. It’s always nice to make our time outdoors educational, because then we are combining school time with fun time and that makes it enjoyable for all of us. We have had fun with a couple simple activities that I thought I’d share with you. You could do a modified version of each of these activities with a wide range of different ages, which makes this a versatile list!
1.) Animal Tracking This is a simple, easy, self-explanatory activity. If you live where it’s snowy, this is especially fun. We go out and find a trail or field that is (mostly) untouched by people and walk along, searching for animal tracks. The kids love this, and they usually make a few snow angels and throw a couple (dozen) snow balls along the way. We love to find a trail of prints, examine them, and guess which animal may have left them. I often snap a few pictures with my iPhone and then when we get home we compare them to either a book of animal prints or we google it until we identify the animal that left the prints. The kids love it, and they are starting to identify animals just by their tracks!
2.) Winter Bird-Watching One day we went to the library and each kid chose a book on local birds. We read a little bit about whichever birds that interested them once we were home, and found out which ones live in our area. Then the next day, we went for a walk and watched for which birds still live in our area during the winter. We discussed how other birds had migrated for the winter, and identified which birds were still here. Then when we got back home, each kid chose one bird that we had seen and drew a picture of it, adding facts about that particular bird species around the edge of the picture. We glued them into our science notebooks, but younger children could just hang up their project to display on the wall or refrigerator.
3.) Neighborhood Mapping Go to your local Chamber of Commerce and ask for a few maps of your town. Give each child a map, and locate your house (if possible) on the map. Circle your house’s location, or draw a star over it (just something to mark it), and then choose a friend or neighbor’s house that is nearby. You could also choose a park or other nearby landmark, just make sure it is within whatever distance you are up for walking to. Mark the second location on the map, and then have your child draw a line, on the road, connecting the two locations. Now bundle up, head outside, and follow the route to your destination. This is a fun way for them to learn basics about following a map, distance, and direction. You can also use a compass (or a compass App on your phone) to further teach this concept.
4.) Identify Trees We went out one day and learned about the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees. Granted, none of the deciduous trees have leaves right now, but that makes them even easier to differentiate from an evergreen! We then collected needle bunches from different types of evergreens and brought them home to identify. We again used a combination of books and the internet to figure out what kinds of trees we have in our area.
I know most of these ideas can be utilized in warm weather as well, which is perfect for those of you that don’t live where it’s bone-chillingly cold in January. But for those of us who do, it’s so nice to have a few ideas to drive you out into that wintry weather. If nothing else, it makes your house feel just that much warmer and cozier when you head back inside!