Living in a place where at least half the year is winter means we are tasked with finding ways to enjoy all those colder months. It can feel daunting or unpleasant when there are less daylight hours and the cold is biting, but I can assure you there are lots of fun activities to be enjoyed. Getting outside in the winter with children can be just as fun as any other time of year if you’re prepared with the right equipment and the right mindset.
A positive attitude
First and foremost, having a positive attitude about winter is key. Children and fellow staff members will take cues from those in charge, and if you’ve got a negative outlook on winter, you’re already off to a difficult start. Remember, though it’s freezing outside we are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we still get a lot of sun and, the occasional chinook! The combination of sun, fresh and brisk air, as well as physical activity will only benefit everyone.
Understanding the importance of outside time for children can help contribute to holding a positive attitude in colder months, as well as be motivation for bundling everyone up to head outdoors (and unbundling afterwards!). According to 1000hoursoutside.com, children should be outside for 4-6 hours each day. This may seem lofty or even unattainable but digging into the importance of outdoor activity for childhood development, both physical and mental, shows it is well worth the time and effort. Getting adequate amounts of outdoor play is directly related to proper growth, brain development, physical strength, coordination, good sleep, and appetite. Playing outside isn’t simply an opportunity to burn off energy, though it does that, it is critical for health and wellbeing.
There is an old saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Taking this to heart and ensuring that you, as well as all the children in your care are dressed warmly enough will make all the difference for a fun and happy time outside. Functional, well-fitted, and warm winter gear will allow everyone to participate fully in activities and contribute to a positive winter experience. It is a good idea to have a store of a few extra pieces of warm clothing to lend out for anyone who may have forgotten something. Sometimes an extra toque, mittens, sock, or scarf can save the day!
Fun and engaging activities
Snow Painting – Use squeeze bottles (such as old dish soap or shampoo bottles) filled with warm water colored lightly with food coloring. Bring children to areas of fresh snow and let them “paint” the snow with the streaks of colored water.
Snowmen/Snow Monsters – If snow is sticky and wet enough for rolling into balls to build snowmen, do so. However, if snow is too dry, you can simply push snow into piles and instruct children to add sticks, rocks, and other material to build a “snow monster” instead. Encourage children’s creativity by asking what kind of personality it might have, give it a name, and allow stories to unfold.
Science in the Snow – On days when it’s snowing, bring a previously frozen piece of cardboard covered in black felt outside and show the children the flakes landing on the felt. Bring magnifying glasses so they can see the different shapes of the snowflakes contrasted on the black felt.
Nature Walks – Take the children on walks and search for tracks (squirrels, birds, rabbits, boots, dogs, cats, and other). Note different birds and make a small lesson about which types of birds stay home in the winter vs which birds fly south. Talk about hibernation and which animals sleep through winter and which ones stay awake like us!
Games – Snow soccer, tag games, catch, running games like Mr. Wolf, and free play are all available in the wintertime. You could bring toys such as shovels, scoops, and buckets to dig up snow and build snow-castles.
Winter Picnics – Have lunch or snack time outside. Bring a large blanket for everyone to sit on and ensure foods are “mitten friendly” so children are able to eat without getting their hands cold. Serving special winter drinks such as warmed cinnamon infused apple juice can be a healthy and fun treat as well.
Engaging with winter positively teaches everybody the powerful message that we are in control of how we respond to our environment. Keep language around winter positive and avoid complaining about the cold or the snow. As a class activity you can encourage yourself and everyone to share something you love about winter. As mentioned before, we live in a very wintery place, we might as well learn to enjoy it!