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As the weather starts getting blustery and chill, parents everywhere are scrambling to find outdoor winter activities for their kids. Everyone can think of the obvious ones like sledding, ice skating, and building a snowman. Yet somehow, even before Christmas, your kids are going to be complaining that they’ve “already done that.”
I still say the best outdoor winter activities are the ones your kids come up with themselves. Their little brains and bodies subconsciously know EXACTLY what kind of stimulation they need for their development, and a little boredom and regular outdoor time is sure to help them get in touch with that.
If you’d like something a little more educational, however, or if you’d like to really wow them, I’ve got a few outdoor winter activities you can try. In some cases, I bet you’ve never seen activities like this before, since I or someone I know made them up!
Watch out though- you might decide you want to try these even more than your kids do!
Create a track for a marble races
Have your kids found the “marble run” video trend on YouTube yet? (Here’s an example for the uninitiated.) They’re honestly so fun and wholesome, and super easy to replicate. Send your kids outside with a bag of marbles and let their imaginations run wild. Just be prepared for them to ask to borrow your phone so they too can go viral!
Maple candy (my absolute favorite of all outdoor winter activities!)
It’s possible this is just thanks to my French-Canadian roots, but there’s nothing I loved more than a child than making maple candy. Also known as maple taffy or ‘sugar on snow,’ this is a staple of sugar shacks all around New England and Quebec.
Simply grab a pan or trough and fill it with fresh, hard-packed snow. Then, boil some pure maple syrup (not the high-fructose corn syrup pancake stuff). Finally, pour the super hot syrup in lines or swirls onto the snow and use a popsicle stick to wrap it up into a ball. Enjoy!
Winter play kitchen
Grab some spare kitchen tools (or get a few disposable bowls if you don’t want Johnny messing with your prized Tupperware) and let your kids have fun mixing snow, mud, ice, berries, evergreen needles- whatever they can find! Pretend to enjoy “eating” their concoctions when they inevitably offer you some.
Do you remember the movie Cheaper by the Dozen? I always loved the scene where they played “apple shmere,” or baseball minus the bat and ball and substituting an apple and tennis racket.
Send your kids out into the yard with some snow goggles, tennis rackets, and snowballs and wait for the delighted squeals!
Either use hand packed walls or use an igloo mold like this for individual “bricks.” To take this activity to the next level, you could include some conversation or reading about how igloos are an actual Inuit survival skill, or conduct an igloo decorating contest!
Take your kids on a nature hike (or send them out into the backyard) after a fresh snowfall. Then, have them find animal tracks. If you want to make this more educational, you can have them look up the tracks in a special reference guide like this to learn what made them
Decorate an Edible Christmas Tree for Animals
Grab some cut up fruit, peanut butter, and birdseed, and make ornaments. You can also gather some berries (like cranberries) and popped, unflavored popcorn and make garlands. If you have any concerns, kids can do research about healthy wild animal food. Even birds and squirrels deserve a happy holiday!
Create a bobsled/luge course
Even though it would be cool, you don’t need an actual bobsled or luge. A normal kid’s sled (or even the amazon cardboard box it arrives in) will do. Build up snow into giant piles if you don’t have naturally occurring hills, and let your kids run wild making twists, turns, and dips all over the yard.
Build an outdoor fridge/freezer
This can be a lot of fun for learning about temperature and even food safety. You can either have them use an existing box and pack snow around the outside, or fully create one with a snow structure, shelves and all. Throw a thermometer in there to keep track of the inner temperature and voila! Now you have some extra space to store a frozen pizza or two (as long as you keep a close eye on that temperature).
Build a solar oven
There are some great guides online (I like this one from education.com). Grab all necessary materials and have fun cooking even when it’s cold out!
(Mom’s favorite outdoor winter activity) Shovel the driveway!
This one might be hard to convince your kids of at first, but maybe sweeten the deal (literally) with a bribe of cocoa at the end. You also could nudge them over to your elderly neighbor’s house. They’ll either learn the value of helping others, or they might get a butterscotch candy as thanks.
Use your footprints
Make a snow maze or write something in the snow. This can be an especially good outdoor winter activity if you have 2+ children and a multiple story house. Have someone in an upper window looking over the back yard calling out with a walkie talkie where the groundling child should march next.
Have your child grab some peri-, squirt-, or spray bottles and fill them with water & food coloring. I personally am not a fan of how washed out and messy these paintings look a few days after the fact however. I suggest waiting for a day just before a predicted fresh snowfall or an upcoming heat wave to melt the art away.
Ice sun catchers
In a pie plate, have your kids place colorful berries, leaves, sticks, or pine boughs in whatever arrangement pleases them. Take a piece of string and lay it half in and half outside the pie plate. Then, gently fill the dish with water and let it sit outside overnight. Come morning, you’ll have a frozen sun catcher to hang!
Include hula hoops, things to crawl under, logs or other balance beam things, sled pulls, downhill elements, etc. Give someone a stop watch and let them run themselves ragged trying to beat each other’s times all afternoon.
Follow the leader
Let one child at a time create a path with his or her foot and hand prints, then encourage the rest to match those prints exactly. Have the leader vary their stride, how far left or right they step, or even walk like another animal and use hand or crawl prints!
Bocce ball with snowballs
Can you get an easier game? Using a rock or pine cone as the marker, have kids create a set of 6 bocce snowballs and see who can roll theirs closest to the marker.
Have your kids begged you for a slackline yet? It seemed like one of the hot new toys in my neck of the woods last holiday season, but I know plenty of mothers who could only see upcoming emergency room trips and broken bones.
Here’s a quick newsflash for all you worry-worts (like me) out there: falling on snowbanks is much softer than normal ground! Winter is the perfect time to break out a slackline (or you can get a slackline that comes with a kid’s training line such as this one).
Hide and “snow” seek
Have someone hide something in the snow. Then, the rest of the kids run around playing ‘hot and cold’ til someone digs and finds it.
Snow angels 2.0.
See if your kids can use the imprints of their bodies to make a snow snake, a snow spider, or a snow circle.
Create different kinds of bird feeders.
You can use different foods like fruits, peanut butter, even bacon grease in addition to bird seed. See what kind of birds show up over the next week! (Pro tip: place your feeders near thick, brushy area or around a tree to make birds feel safe. Also, if possible, shovel the area underneath the feeders so birds can see the grass below.)
All you need for this outdoor winter activity is a cold day, a bowl or dish full of soapy water, and a straw. (Important! Don’t use the metal ones!) Let your kids blow bubbles in the cold weather and see if you can get any to freeze in place.
If you have a deck, porch, or treehouse in addition to a large pile of snow, you’re in luck! Your kids can easily fill an entire morning showing off their leaps and flips into a nice, cushy pile of snow. I will note that among the outdoor winter activities, this one really is best after a fresh snowfall. No one wants to jump off the porch and land in a hard, crusty, or icy heap.
Build a snow village, snow castle, or snow zoo!
Was there recently a monster storm in your neighborhood, and now you have feet of snow your kids don’t know what to do with? Have your kids make the most ridiculous snow sculptures they can think of! Depending on whether your kids lean towards quantity of buildings or one giant snow castle, you might think of keeping a card table on hand to help with structural integrity.
Am I the only one that secretly still loves doing this? Of course, you should teach your kids to use their judgement and learn all appropriate snow-eating rules first. (I.e., don’t eat yellow snow, only freshly fallen snow, no snow from straight off the street, whatever.)
Have your kids pretend to be on Top Chef, become snow food critics, or shape the snow into other foods before chowing down. Enjoy!
If you were looking for something a little more indoorsy (or straight up educational) to do during the winter, be sure to check out the Homeschool Resource Room’s shop! We’ve got a new unit study on The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats that’s sure to please all the little snowy adventurers in your life.
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.