Despite the cold temperatures and frigid weather, winter is a wonderful time for kids and families to be outside. There may not be many animals to see thanks to hibernation, but there is still plenty to learn, see, and do. From sledding down hills and playing in the snow, to designing your own nature walk and looking at stars, there are lots of reasons to bundle up against the cold. Here are 4 great (and free!) ideas to help kids learn about nature in winter:
1. Go on a Nature Walk
Grab the kids and go to a local park, nature preserve, or even your own backyard. Challenge them to explore the area and find interesting things - especially ones they wouldn’t see in any other seasons. A pine tree with snow-covered branches. A bird’s nest or stash of acorns in a tree. Once they start seeing these landmarks encourage them to remember where they are, then make a map once you get home. It’s a great way for kids to learn and recognize plant and animal behaviors… and they can even start creating walks of their own.
The night sky is a thing of beauty, and it’s never more clear than in winter (thanks to both the lack of foliage obscuring the view, and the increased number of ice crystals in the atmosphere that reflect more moonlight). Take a few moments each evening to step outside your front door and look up. Point out what stars and planets you see. Look for constellations. Observe the shape and position of the moon. Here's a list of what to expect from the night sky in the northern hemisphere this season - and how to engage your kids.
3. Collect winter things
Grab an old shoebox and designate it as a special “winter box.” This is a place for everyone in the family to put bits of nature they find only in winter -- holly, fallen leaves, bare branches, burrs, etc. The box can even be decorated with extra treasures that don’t fit inside.
4. Keep a Plant and Animal Log
Even though it seems dead, nature is very much alive in winter. Animals are busy, plants are in bloom, and seeds are beginning to unfurl. Start a log with one side devoted to plants and the other to animals, and encourage your kids to record what they find every time they step outside. By the time spring rolls around, your log will be bursting with life.
5. Explore Patterns in Tree Bark
Although their leaves are gone, trees are still abundant in winter. One activity for young naturalists is to pay attention to bark patterns that differ from tree to tree. Is it ridged? Does it peel? Is it scaly? Smooth? Does it have warts? Kids can make sketches, take pictures, or just share their observations verbally. This is a great way to train a naturalist's eye and get familiar with the trees common to your area.
Of course, there are plenty of great educational indoor play options, too, but hopefully these ideas encourage you to see the outdoors as fun and exciting place to learn throughout winter. Have any other ideas? Leave them in the comments below!