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Baby, it's Cold Outside: 25 Activities to Get Kids to Play Outdoors This Winter

Things to Do Parenting

The winter months are the hardest time of year for me as a mom. The cold days and gloomy weather mean more time trapped indoors with the kids, less motivation to "go and do", and a seeming lack of creativity to come up with ways to keep everyone active and occupied. 

In European countries where forest kindergartens, outdoor classrooms, and outside napping are common, the parenting mantra is "there's no such thing as bad weather" when it comes to playing and exploring outside. There are even entire books devoted to this subject. 

There's also heaps of research showing the health benefits of playing outside in the winter, not the least of which is less exposure to bacteria and viruses that live inside and cause colds and flu! Outdoor play is also crucial to keep physical activity up during the winter months, providing children with different challenges for their developing muscles and brains, and to ensure kids get their daily dose of Vitamin D, which is critical for mood regulation (= less crabby kids!). Not to mention that more outdoor play means less time spent on screens.

So, how do we re-train our American brains to send those kids outside this winter and, perhaps more importantly, prepare ourselves for the objections they are inevitably going to throw at us? 

Dress Them for Success

The first objection you are likely to hear from your kids is that it's too cold outside to play. I was born and raised in the year-round sunshine and mild temps of Southern California, so I totally get this one. No one likes to be uncomfortably cold, especially this girl.

Gearing the kids up with the appropriate clothing is the key to success here. Sure, if they head outside in a hoodie and with no gloves or hat (my kids favorite attire), they are going to be cold, whine and be headed for the door in 5 minutes flat.

Despite their likely protests, insist that they dress in clothing that's appropriate for the weather. That means layers and a proper winter coat, gloves, hat and scarf. If there's snow on the ground, that also means snow pants and boots to prevent them from getting soaked-through wet, which is sure to cut short their outdoor adventures. Chances are, once they are running around and playing, they will heat up and start peeling off some of the layers. But you have to make them comfortable from the start to get them over the hump.

Outdoor Winter Activities to Keep Kids Active

Give Them the Proper Tools

The next objection you are likely to hear is "There's nothing to do!" or "It's so boring out here!"

We've all heard the now familiar refrain that it's not our job as parents to fill every moment of our kids' days with stimulation; that we should let them be bored, which in turns fosters creativity and independence. There's a lot of wisdom in that advice, but it's also not a bad idea to equip kids with some tools and suggestions to set them them up for success.

Just like making them wear the appropriate clothing gets them over the hump of being cold, prepping them with some suggested activities will help them get over the hump of being bored and set them on their way to more independent and creative play. Here's where we come in!

We've put together a list of suggestions that are guaranteed to make your child (and you!) love winter play -- whether there's snow on the ground or not. It also never hurts to corral some neighborhood kids or friends to join in the fun. That usually does the trick to extend outdoor play time any time of year. 

25 Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids When It's Cold Outside

1.  Go on a winter scavenger hunt.

2.  Make fairy houses out of sticks, bark, dry grasses, pebbles, leaves, feathers, pine cones and other natural materials. This is one of my daughter's favorites!

3.  Freeze water colored with food coloring in ice cube trays, plastic food containers and muffin tins and bring outside to construct colorful ice sculptures.

4.  Collect pine cones - see how many different kinds you can find over the winter!

5.  Draw a Tic Tac Toe game in the snow or dirt and use sticks and pine cones to play.

6.  Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and draw in the snow. No snow? No problem! As long as you use washable food coloring, you can do this one on the sidewalk, too.

7.  Make a pine cone bird feeder using peanut butter and birdseed. 

8.  Create a nature book or journal by collecting and taking pictures of things you find on nature walks over the winter and gluing them in your book as you go.

9.  Collect rocks and use them to make kindness rocks or other rock crafts.

10. Go for a family bike or scooter ride around the neighborhood.

11. Build a bonfire and make s'mores.

12. Grab some binoculars and go bird watching. Keep a journal documenting all the different birds you spy on your adventures!

13. Go on a winter picnic complete with blanket, sandwiches, and hot cocoa in a thermos. 

14. Set up an outdoor treasure hunt by hiding items around the outside of your house, backyard, or neighborhood playground.

15. Take your dog for a walk. No dog? Ask a neighbor or friend if you can take their dog on a walk!

16. Set up a nature-based obstacle or challenge course using logs, trees, rocks, etc.

17. Go letterboxing or geocaching. There just may be treasure waiting to be found right in your own neighborhood.  

18. Hang a target in a tree and take aim with pine cones or rocks.

19. Windy day? Fly a kite! Yep, this one's not just for summer.

20. Snow on the ground?

  • Build a snow fort or a snow man.
  • Go sledding. 
  • Make snow ice cream.
  • Use shovels to create paths or cool mazes in the snow.
  • Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
  • Make snow angels.
  • Gather the family or some friends together and have a snowball fight.

21. Grab an old cardboard box, find a hill and go cardboard box sledding!

22. Draw pictures with sidewalk chalk.

23. All of the popular outside summer activities work just as well in the winter (and warm you up in the process!):

  • Hula Hoop
  • Jump Rope
  • Catch and Frisbee (Gloves with grips will keep your hands warm and help you catch!)
  • Dodgeball 
  • Corn Hole
  • Horseshoes 

24. Research which plants can grow in cold weather over the winter and plant and tend your own garden. 

25. Gather a group and play Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, or Hide and Seek. 


Check out our Family Activities & Events Deals and Coupons for affordable things to do with kids in your neighborhood -  both inside and out - all year round.


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