As the weather turns colder it is tempting to encourage children to stay indoors. However, getting outside is just as beneficial in the winter months as at any time of the year. If you embrace the outside opportunities available during the Winter, you will be amazed at the possibilities.
Many activities that are usually linked with summer can have an exciting new twist in the Winter. For example, why not get the grill out and head outside for a winter BBQ? A hotdog in December is an extraordinary thing and can go very well with hot chocolate warmed over an open fire.
Why go outside?
Getting outside brings enormous benefits for all members of the family, but for children, it is a particularly great way to promote their health and development.
- It’s great for their physical health. Being in the great outdoors is the perfect opportunity to run, jump and play. Outside activities are great for developing strength and coordination.
- It improves mood and promotes happiness. Even winter sunshine can stimulate your brains and leave you feeling calm and positive. Being outside is a great way to reduce your stress levels.
- It provides an excellent opportunity for social development. Playing with family and friends outside adds an element of adventure that can’t be found indoors. It also encourages children to invent and play games that build bonds and friendships.
- All the things can be experienced outside provide sensory stimulation that encourages the development of the senses. It engages all of your senses in a way that indoor activities, like electronic games, can never achieve.
- It also builds independence. When outside, there is a sense of freedom and curiosity that allows for exploration and imagination. This often supports children to develop the ability to enquire and discover independently
Getting outside in Winter also has many benefits specific to the season:
- It provides the perfect opportunity to observe and experience seasonal changes.
- Being outside in the cold builds up resilience and encourages self-management skills.
- On freezing days, there is the opportunity to see things that aren’t available at other times of the year; ice, bare trees, frozen earth, and so much more.
- During cold months there is still lots of wildlife to observe, and most of it behaves differently during the summer.
Prepare for the weather
A crucial part of going outside during the Winter is wrapping up warm. Don’t go overboard and pile on so many thick clothes that you sweat on a cold day. Aim to be comfortable rather than ‘warm’.
Layers are a great way to be able to make quick adjustments if the weather changes. Thin waterproof layers are useful in case you get muddy, or the weather quickly turns damp. They can also be built up with warmer layers or swiftly removed when the sun comes out. The more adaptable an outfit can be, the more it will prolong the time you can stay outside.
Winter activities worth going outside for:
There are hundreds of great things you could do outside during Winter, we have chosen a few of our favourites. Most of them don’t rely on specialised equipment or activity centres. They are equally suited to a garden or to a quick walk to a park or woodland:
1. A walk in the woods /Scavenger hunt
A walk in the woods is incredibly relaxing and gives you a glimpse at a different side of nature. Keep a look out for any icy puddle; jumping on it to crack the ice is great fun. In the darker earlier evening why not take a walk around your local area and look for houses with Christmas lights and decorations?
Turning a walk into a scavenger hunt can give it a sense of excitement and purpose. Why not print out or write down a list and challenge your family to find as many items as they can? This works well when working together as a family or splitting into teams to compete against eachother.
Here are some things you could hunt for:
- an odd-shaped twig
- a frost-covered spider’s web
- a pinecone
- animal tracks
- bird tracks
- an evergreen tree
- a holly bush with berries
- a leaf skeleton
- a feather
- a tuft of animal fur caught on a bush
- a robin
- a bird flying
With the nights getting darker earlier, it is the perfect opportunity to introduce children to the night’s sky. Getting wrapped up in comfortable clothes and going outside at night can be a real adventure. You can make it even more special by taking hot chocolate, blankets, binoculars and torches.
If you can’t see the stars where you are, a short walk or car drive could help you to get a more unobstructed view. Choose a clear night then head just out of your town or village and see what you can see. There are lots of other ways you can explore the sky and constellations together. In 2012 the BBC put together a handy guide for parents who want to introduce their children to stargazing.
3. Ice egg hunt
A great one for when you want to stay nearby or in the garden. This is an egg hunt that is more suited to December than to Easter.
You will need:
- Small toys
- Food colouring
- First, carefully push a small toy into each balloon.
- Using a tap, fill the balloon with water until it is egg-shaped. These can be whatever size you prefer. The smaller the eggs, the easier they are to hide, but the quicker they melt.
- Add a few drops of food colouring to each balloon. (If you find it easier you could add this to some water then pour in the coloured water using a jug.)
- Tie the tops of the balloons and leave them in the freezer for a few hours until fully frozen solid.
- Carefully cut the balloon off to reveal an ice egg.
- Hide the eggs around your garden.
- Start the hunt!
Once the eggs have been found, they can either be slowly defrosted to reveal the toys or you could carefully excavate the toys.
4. Make ice paint
Another great idea to try with ice in the garden. Fill up an ice tray with water and add some food colouring, water-based paint or powder paint. The stronger the colour, the better.
Freeze them in the freezer, or outside if it’s icy, overnight and prepare for some fun in the morning. The coloured ice cubes are great for some outside artwork.
5. Winter picnic
Picnics are easily written off in the Winter as something only done in the summer. However, they open new possibilities in Winter. You don’t have to go far for them to be great either.
Wrap up and fill your basket with warm food and drink. Freshly cooked food can be wrapped in foil and brought along for a snack that warms you from the inside out. A few deck chairs or a blanket adds the finishing touch to warming lunchtime adventure. This is a perfect match for the scavenger hunt or an evening of stargazing.
6. Photo expedition
There are so many exciting things to see during Winter; this is a perfect time to get snapping some photos. They are a great way to get arty or to help record the items on your scavenger hunt. Look for wildlife, a beautiful sky, unusual trees or even create your own winter sculpture from things you find along the way and then pose with it for the ultimate Winter selfie.
Taking a camera with you when you head out gives a fantastic sense of excitement and purpose. While you’re out with your camera, why not look out for animal tracks?
7. Pick up sticks
Winter is the perfect time to get stuck into sticks. Sticks offer endless possibilities for imagination, adventure and fun. Is it a stick, a pen, a sword, a walking stick, a telescope? They can be used for pointing, poking, waving and even weaving. The possibilities are endless.
With all this to do outside, it would be a shame to stay indoors. It often appears as if going out is more of a hassle. But the great outdoors often provides free entertainment with very little to set up.
What are your plans this Winter? We’d love to hear about your outdoor activities and what you love about Winter.