Unexpected snow days and delays. Winter breaks. Choruses of, “Dad, I’m cooold.” For parents of young children, winter is full of interruptions to routine. But it’s also an opportunity to open kids’ eyes to new ways to play.
Finding fun outdoor activities doesn’t just make the colder months go by faster, it’s also good for your kids. For all of us, time outside is a source of relief and release. That may be even more true for young children. According to the Child Mind Institute, regular outdoor time builds confidence in kids, activates all five senses, and keeps their minds stimulated and learning. Cold winter air can even strengthen their immune systems.
While playtime in winter comes with its own challenges, including the need for extra layers and planning, the rewards can last a lifetime. So grab a coat and dig out their tiny boots. Whether you and your family are playing in the backcountry or in the backyard, here are our tips to make the most of it.
The best-laid plans can go astray fast! When you introduce your kids to a new winter activity, be sure to let them set the pace.
“I think it’s really important to have modest goals. Build on your success if the feeling is right and just call it a day and be happy with what you got if the mood is not right,” says Pam Brown, AMC Director of Communications, sharing how she gets her own kids, ages three and five, outdoors.
“If you’re going to go on a winter hike, maybe just get to the trailhead and play around and see how far you get.”
Kids can be finnicky. Remember, even if they’re not in love with an activity one day, that doesn’t mean they won’t be begging to get outside the next. Sometimes a little hot chocolate afterward is all it takes for an attitude adjustment.
Keep Them Entertained
Parents of young kids everywhere will tell you the same thing: If you want buy-in, it has to be fun. In a world of expanding screen time, that means finding continued ways to keep them engaged. Luckily, winter activities abound. Most don’t require a trip far from home, and there’s still plenty of options even when there isn’t snow on the ground. Some choices include:
Winter may conjure images of quiet, snowy fields, but the AMC region is teeming with critters of all sizes. You just need to know where to look. Your kids can take advantage of their low center of gravity to check for animal tracks and spy scat (from a distance!). Help them out by sharing your knowledge and checking AMC’s Nature Guide to the Northern Forest for reference. Be sure to encourage questions, even if you don’t know all the answers!
Kids love staying up past their bedtime. When your pleas to “go to bed” fail, make the best of the situation with a family stargazing excursion. Plan a trip to a DarkSky-certified location like the AMC Maine Woods International Dark Sky Park. Dark Sky Places take extra conservation measures to protect the night from light pollution for a healthier planet and stargazing opportunities you can’t get anywhere else.
Snow isn’t just something to shovel. It’s nature’s sculpting material. Help kids build a snowperson or, when the snow depth is high, even a little shelter. For a creative spin, add food coloring to water and freeze it into blocks with ice cube trays, muffin tins, Jell-O molds, and old yogurt containers. Then you and your kids can create colorful ice sculptures.
For more activity inspiration, check out AMC’s Winter Outdoor Activities for Kids.
Dress for Sucess
Wintertime in the Northeast may not be as consistently frigid as it once was, but it’s still plenty cold. Ensuring your child is properly dressed doesn’t just mitigate complaints, it’s essential to their safety. AMC winter guides recommend “dressing like an onion.” This means utilizing layers that are easy to remove and add on as core body temperature shifts with extra activity and changing weather. Opt for wool or synthetic fabrics that wick away sweat. Given how quickly kids can go from running (and sweating) to tiring out, keeping extra clothes on hand is a must.
Clothing isn’t the only factor to consider in your preparations. Sunset, and with it plummeting temperatures, arrives earlier in the day. Plan your outings accordingly.
Playing outdoors in the winter may take some extra preparation, but you should never lose touch with what makes it such a pleasure. Embrace the Danish concept of “hygge,” or the pursuit of joy in the dark and cold. An easy way to do this is enjoying an activity with a group.
“Adding other kids to the mix can change everything,” says Brown.
Luckily, AMC offers family-friendly activities all year long. Check with your local AMC chapter and our professional guides for hiking, snowshoeing, and outdoor education events perfect for adventurers of all ages. Wherever your outdoor journey takes your family this winter, enjoy the ride. It won’t be forever that little things like the first snow of the season create such a sense of wonder.
“Just be out in the woods and look at snow and listen to whatever you can hear and make snow angels and snowballs. You don’t have to actually rack up the miles,” says Brown.