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Over the years I’ve shared quite a few winter projects and activities, but while reviewing my posts last week I noticed a gaping hole in my collection – where were the outdoor winter play ideas?! I grew up in Ohio where winters can be fairly snowy and cold, and most of our free time was spent playing outside – no matter the temperature. When winter hit, my sister and I would jump at the chance to bundle up for nearly any outside diversion, whether it was shoveling the driveway with dad or plodding over to the sledding hill at the end of the block.
From fresh air and Vitamin D to risk-taking assessment and better sleep, the benefits of outdoor play are undeniable. From my own lifetime of experience, I can confirm that the physical challenges of moving through snow reawaken a unique set of muscles and a new awareness of balance. And when I think back, some of my very best winter play memories include activities that were also helping to develop my social skills, creativity, empathy, and self-confidence.
Though quite a few of the activities involve snow or ice, I made sure to include just as many seasonal play suggestions for our warmer-winter readers. And even if you don’t think of your family as the outdoor types, consider trying a few…you might just become outdoor winter regulars!
Kids Outdoor Winter Play Activities by Category
Use these quick links to jump straight to a category…
HOW TO PREP FOR SAFE OUTDOOR WINTER PLAY WITH KIDS
Winter play outside comes with its own specific challenges. Here are a few ideas to help you make your kids’ outdoor winter playtime safe and enjoyable for everyone…
- Keep an eye on the weather. Especially during winter, its a good idea to be aware of the forecast, keep your eye to the sky, and watch for changing conditions or winter temperature drops.
- Dress for the temps. The number one rule for dressing in winter (no matter the age)? Layer up! Waterproof outer layers and boots are best if playing in snow, and remember to keep extremities covered up too – hand warmers can be an especially helpful accessory (you can DIY your own stet from scrap fabric!).
- Play near home and stay out of streets. Though not necessarily always a reason to stay inside, heavy snowfall, deteriorating conditions, and icy water or roads can present winter play hazards. When in doubt, keep the fun relegated to your own backyard or neighborhood.
- Check in on warmth regularly. When kids are distracted by play, they can easily loose track of how cold they feel. Teach little ones to become aware of their bodies and their surroundings with a quick warmth check-in every now and then.
- Take warm-up breaks. Chattering teach or frost-nipped cheeks are good signs its time for an indoor break. Who can resist a warm mug of hot cocoa!
- Hydrate. Cold dry winds and heated rooms mean hydration is just as important in the winter months as the summer. Filling a kid-sized water bottle with the days’ water and letting kids sip throughout the day will keep them hydrated with water that’s warmed to room temperature.
BACKYARD SNOW AND ICE PLAY
Snow day! When the flakes start flying, try one of these fantastic activities for snow play...
- Make rainbow snow castles. (top left)
- Try rainbow ice snow painting. (top right)
- Make frozen winter ice jewels. (bottom left)
- Make DIY colorful snow spray paint. (bottom right)
- Make creative snow creatures.
- Make painted ice lanterns.
- Mix up a bowl of snow ice cream.
- Try these 9 ways to have fun with snowballs.
- DIY your own set of cardboard Abominable Snowman tracks.
- Decorate trees outside with homemade colored ice ornaments.
- Make winter snow and ice sculptures.
- Blow frozen bubbles.
- Design and freeze an ice suncatcher.
- Grab a muffin tin and make mud kitchen ice cakes.
- Combine snow with colorful or scented winter nature finds at a winter potion-making station.
- Invite friends over for a outdoor tea party!
OUTSIDE WINTER SCIENCE PLAY
When exploring science concepts, I’ve always been a fan of hands-on learning, and I can’t think of anything more fun than taking the experiments outside! Here are a few of my favorite backyard winter STEAM suggestions…
- Make a snow volcano.
- Become a backyard winter weather meteorologist.
- Make a bottle thermometer.
- DIY a snow gauge and track snow totals.
- Investigate the details of snow with your own snowflake study.
- Enjoy an afternoon of sledding science.
- Make maple syrup snow candy.
- Take water beads outside!
- Learn about levers with a simple DIY snowball catapult.
- Set up a winter scent lab outside!
OUTDOOR WINTER NATURE OBSERVATION
The winter season presents a unique seasonal nature experience for kids. In addition to being a wonderful time opportunity to slow down, observe, and reflect, these ideas foster a deep appreciation for winter wildlife. And a plus for those of you in warmer environments: none of these winter nature play ideas require snow!
- Go birding around your neighborhood, make a pinecone feeder, and observe winter bird behavior.
- Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count.
- Learn about hibernation and build a hibernaculum.
- Track wildlife.
- Collect winter nature treasures.
- Adopt a sapling.
- Go howling.
- …or owling!
- Spend an evening stargazing and keep track of the winter moons.
- Learn to identify trees without leaves.
- Make hot chocolate or cinnamon rolls in an orange peel over a campfire.
- Find a family sit spot and observe the winter solstice!
NEIGHBORHOOD WINTER GAMES
Winter: the season for reindeer games! Keep kids outdoor winter play fun with one of these game ideas, guaranteed to warm up your kiddos and keep them moving all winter long…
- Use colored ice cubes for a unique winter scavenger hunt.
- Perfect your aim with a snowball target throw.
- Go on a winter scavenger hunt in your neighborhood.
- Go ice bowling.
- Play igloo, or tree branch fort-building games.
- Take sledding to the next level with sled relay races and sled pulls.
- Go on an icy treasure hunt outside!
- Challenge your kids to a race with a set of DIY snowshoes.
- Make a snow or ice block maze.
- Organize a backyard winter obstacle course.
- Turn shoveling into a game with driveway snow shovel races.
- Hold your own winter olympics.
For more kids’ outdoor activity ideas, learn about Shinrin-Yoku and simple ways to start practicing with your kids, grab a free printable bug scavenger hunt, or make a DIY nature explorer kit from a shoebox and recycled supplies.