Winter Outdoor Play Ideas for Families with Young Children

Maddie Newell, Director of Foresthood

When it comes to playing outside in the winter time, you are probably familiar with the usual suggestions: building a snowman, making a snow angel, having a snowball fight, and activities that require equipment like tobogganing, skating, snowshoeing, and skiing. I highly recommend all of these activities! They are well known because they are tried and true and create beautiful winter memories.

Today we will be focusing on outdoor play ideas that do not require a lot of equipment and that work for children of all ages, especially our youngest who are still mastering motor coordination. Here are some interesting ideas for outdoor winter play:

Ice Bricks: You can give your recycling one more life by freezing water and food colouring inside old milk cartons, yogurt containers, plastic egg cartons, and ice cube trays. Once frozen you can build a colourful ‘candy’ fort, hide in the snow and find, or smash into colourful pieces!

Snow Paint: Fill old salad dressing and condiment bottles with water and food colouring and squirt fun designs or write messages into the snow. You can also use spray bottles, if you have those lying around your house, to try different effects!

Snow Drawing: Grab a stick or use your hands to create interesting designs in the snow! Perfect for after a fresh snowfall, when the snow is usually fluffy and easy to work with.

Snow Maze: Stomp around in lines to create a path that winds around and eventually leads to an exit. Make lots of dead ends to keep it interesting! Stomp it down a few times to make it last and easy to follow.

Snow Fort: Create a pile of snow and then work to shape it into an interesting fort. You can create something that is more like a cave by hollowing out the hill (make sure it’s not too deep or it might collapse from the top). You can also make a big hole in the centre of the hill like a nest with walls to hide in.  If you have access to small, child-sized shovels, this will make the work easier and more available for all sizes of children. Use plastic recycling, beach toys, or kitchen items to mold the snow like you would with sand at the beach!

Snow Kitchen: Take the kitchen tools outside to utilize the snow like you would mud. Pans, bowls, wooden spoons, and other utensils will offer an opportunity to create something ‘tasty’!

Snow Ball Target Practice: There is nothing inherently bad about a good old fashioned snow ball fight if you make sure that all the snow being thrown is soft and that no head shots are taken, but if you’re ever concerned about throwing snow, try target practice! You can make a target out of wood, use a fence or the side of a brick building, or just some trees around your nearest park or neighbourhood. Who doesn’t love watching snow explode?

Winter Scavenger Hunt: While walking around the neighbourhood or a local park, focus on a sensory scavenger hunt. Look for things that have colour, make noise, move, are living, or have a smell (it’s harder to smell things in the cold). You could also incorporate looking for lights on houses into this scavenger hunt or lost hats and mittens in the snow.

Hopefully these ideas have sparked some excitement. Remember that standing still is how we get cold. Activities that encourage us to move our bodies will keep us the warmest. Here are a few other ideas to keep you moving in the cold: search for animal tracks in fresh snow (look them up while you’re at it!), feed the local birds, blow bubbles and watch them freeze, bury legs in the snow, stack and knock over snow balls, bury an item in the snow and find it (if you don’t find it, you’ll get a surprise when the snow melts!), build a creature snow sculpture, smash ice chunks, and pull things around on a sled (bigger children can pull smaller children).

Bring warm liquids with you if you are going out for an extended period of time, like hot chocolate or tea with honey. The sugar will give a boost of energy and the warmth will offer a boost in body temperature. Have fun in the snow, create new and exciting memories, and enjoy the beauty that winter offers!