by Hollie McAfee
While scrolling through my Facebook news feed this morning, I found that the Town of Lincoln, Maine posted a link to a great article by the Appalachian Mountain Club with a list of fun things to do outdoors with kids in the winter. I grew up in Maine and spent nearly as much time outside in the winter as I did in the summer, so many of these activities are not new to me, but some of them are things I’d never thought of on my own. My five year old son loves to be outside in the summer, but not so much in the winter. YouTube and Netflix seem like better alternatives to him, and perhaps would have to me if they were available when I was his age.
As I looked through the list in the article, I made some notes about how I can either improve on some of my favorites or add new favorites to my list of fun to try with my little boy.
- Make snow angels and build snowmen. We haven’t had much luck with snowmen this year, and I’m not really sure why. I’ve seen good snowmen in others’ yards. But whenever we try to build one, the snow is not sticky enough. We have, however, had fun making snow angels. My son put his own spin on it and made a “snow alien” by lifting his arms up and down instead of plowing through the snow.
- Build snow forts. This year, with a milder winter, we haven’t had the snow banks to make forts until this week’s storm. Last year and the year before we made awesome forts, or as my son called them at that time, “porks.”
- Try tracking. I love looking at tracks made by wildlife. We see a lot of rabbit and bird tracks around our yard, along with the tracks of our 3 cats. Well, it’s actually only one cat who likes to go out in the winter, and he has a distinctive print with his double paws. I also see coyote tracks when I am out snowshoeing. They are not as fun to see.
- Break out the binoculars. I got a bird feeder for Christmas and this week a chickadee finally found it and started pecking at it. I think it took this long because of the double-pawed cat mentioned in idea #3.
- Winter horse shoes. I had never heard of this idea, and it sounds fun!! We might have to dig to find some pebbles, but we have a crushed rock driveway with many rocks pushed up into the snowbanks from the plow, so we won’t have to dig too far. Placing a bowl in the snow with the lid level to the top of the snow, then tossing the rocks in, would be a great way to pass some time.
- Establish snowball-throwing or sled-pulling contests. This one usually backfires on me. If I try to encourage my son to throw a snowball at a tree, he will certainly throw it at me instead. I consider it a victory when I can catch the snowball and throw it back at him.
- Create a treasure hunt. When I was a summer camp director I did this several times, and it was great fun. It would take a little more creativity to do one in the winter, but it would be worth the try.
- Make ice art. I got this idea from Pinterest last year. We filled balloons with water and food coloring and froze them in the freezer, then we had colorful balls of ice to decorate our deck. This is what happened to them instead. Little boys like to smash stuff.
- Catalog conifers. I’m embarrassed to admit that, even though I was raised by a woodsman, I can’t identify different types of evergreen trees. That really needs to change, so this idea is one that I will try, so I can teach my child about different types of trees.
- Head to the playground. We haven’t tried this, but we have done some swinging on our backyard swing set this winter. My little guy is in PreK and doesn’t go out for recess during the winter, but I can see that the older kids make good use of the school playground all year round.
- Make s’mores. Winter campfires are fun, if you are dressed warm! We had a friend who dug a clearing around his camp fire and made snow benches to sit on, so we could roast hot dogs after a snowshoe hike.
- Skate, sled, swirl on a saucer, snowboard or ski. We happen to live on an awesome sliding hill. There are even different levels of intensity with a gentle slope for younger kids and an extreme drop off through burdocks for more adventurous types. We’ve had some fun sliding parties with hot chocolate.
I like to skate, but I have never tried skiing. Something very important to me was left off this list: snowshoeing. I love to snowshoe! It’s great exercise and fun to get outside.
BONUS IDEA This is something new I’ve just done for the last couple of years, thanks again to Pinterest. On snow days, I fill a large mixing bowl with clean, fresh snow and add a can of sweetened condensed milk and a little bit of cocoa powder. Mix that all up and you have delicious “Snow Ice Cream.” It tastes just like a frozen hot chocolate from Tim Horton’s.