Children in our “neck of the woods” are so lucky to have four distinct seasons to explore and enjoy. Chances are, you have heard about the importance of outdoor play, but many of us forget to keep this a regular part of our children’s everyday play during the winter months. As long as the temperature is safe, there are no health risks to being outside in the snow, just benefits! Playing outside allows children to explore nature, develop coordination and strength, as well as, gain self-confidence. Here are a few suggestions to enhance your own backyard and take a fresh look at this charming season.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of winter outdoor play, is the ever-changing landscape. When you leave your yard at the end of the day, the space will inevitably look different on your return. This offers unlimited educational opportunities for children. A dusting of snow, a new icy layer, or fresh animal tacks can capture your child’s interest quickly. Toys may need rescue from beneath a layer of snow, or fresh animal tracks might spur a conversation to guess who visited your space last night. There is so much to learn about science, nature, and our own physical abilities while playing in snow.
Winter also inspires great creativity, as the snow itself becomes a tool to engineer and create. Your child might dig a hole for a bed, or pile snow for a chair. Heavy wet snow can be perfect for anchoring sticks, boards, or milk crates to build sturdy forts. Creating paths, roads, and even obstacles can be an ongoing winter pleasure as the canvas refreshes so often.
Enjoy the birds and bird songs. Notice the birds in your back yard. What color are they? When can you hear them singing? Do they all sound the same? Where do they live? You may enjoy hanging small bundles of nesting materials (yarn, sting, cotton, stuffing, etc.) from your trees to see if birds find them helpful for their homes. (Tip: Use brightly colored yarn/string, so if spotted around your neighborhood nests, you will know just where those clever birds found it!)
Go cloud gazing. Take time to notice the different types of clouds and talk about them with your children. Which clouds bring snow? What colors and shapes do you see in the winter clouds? Take a large mirror outside and place it across your laps as you sit together in the snow. Observe the winter sky from a different angel. If you have washable paint, add white and gray paint to the mirror and recreate the clouds you see. (Tip: Have your child help place painters tape around the frame of your mirror. This will aide in clean up, as well as offer extra fine motor practice.)
Measure yourselves! Snow can be an excellent tool in showing children concrete examples of their own size. Have children lay down in the snow and measure their body imprints, hand, and footprints. Give them a yardstick, ruler, blocks, and string to size up their impressions. (Tip: Offer a branch or board to help them pull up from their full body impression. This will keep the imprint clear, as well as add an extra large muscle challenge.) Lie down in the snow beside your child and take a photo of both imprints together. Print and post it on your fridge to enjoy this experience all season long.