It’s been reported that since the start of Coronavirus, 6 in 10 children have spent less time outdoors despite 83% of children agreeing that time in nature makes them feel happy. With us currently enveloped in winter, enduring another national lockdown, and our cultural aversion to being out in cold weather, it’s quite likely that number is set to increase for our children in the UK.
We know the outdoors played a vital role in supporting both our own and our children’s well-being during previous national lockdowns, so it’s important we reflect on how to harness those benefits through the winter months too. Being outdoors in winter doesn’t always have to end in frozen fingers, damp jeans and miserable faces, it is possible to spend time outdoors and have fun in the cold!
To help you along your way we’ve put together 18 winter activities to keep your distance learning children busy in their own gardens or local public space, to provide some nurturing family time and to help restore their parents energy throughout the weeks ahead. Read on for the details, then download our free poster and send out to your parents. Encourage them to tog up and head outside!
Such a simple activity! Have the children collect a few interesting nature finds (you could work to identify them before using them) and place them in a container. Think tupperware boxes, baking tins and bowls. Fill with water and add a loop of wool, string or twine, with the ends dipped into the water. Either leave outdoors to freeze overnight (if it’s cold enough) or place in the freezer. In the morning hang them on your trees and bushes and observe how beautiful they look catching the winter sun!
Download the woodland trust app onto an adult’s phone (it’s free!) and go for a walk in your local area to spot evergreen trees. Observe their branches, bark and any nuts, seeds or berries that are growing on them. Then use the app to identify the type of tree. You could write a list of the trees you have found and collect photographs to create some fact files about evergreen trees when you get home!
Those dark winter evenings are not all bad! Wrap up and head outside on a clear night to enjoy some star gazing. Using apps such as ‘Night Sky’ will help you to locate constellations. On 11th February there is a new moon, meaning the moon isn’t visible, darkening the sky even further and making so many more stars visible! On 9th March Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn will all be visible to the naked eye, in alignment with each other next to a crescent moon too!
There’s lots of night sky events to go out and observe at this time of year, just have a quick google to find out more of them!
Obviously this one calls for close adult supervision, but creating a fire pit in your own garden can provide some much welcomed warmth and a magical, family evening! Bring some marshmallows and skewers for some melted, sweet treats!
With the earlier evenings, this time of year is the best time to go for a sound hunt at dusk. If you’re lucky you might just hear an owl. Don’t worry if you’re not in the countryside, Tawny owls are one of our most common owls in the UK and they also live in towns too! Not all owls sound like wit-a-woo, some make some rather unpleasant screeching noises! You can listen to some of the most common ones here on the Woodland Trust website.
This one is a given but we couldn’t leave it off the list! Thick snow is a rarity in the UK so if you do have snowfall, make sure to take full advantage and build yourself a snowman! Bring in some academic skills by measuring the snowman’s height and observing how much he melts each day following.
Winter often equals wet and wet often equals mud! The next time you head out for a walk, take some time to observe the mud carefully, you might just find some animal tracks you were not expecting! Take a photograph to help you research what might have made the tracks when you get home. Follow the direction of the tracks to see which habitat the animal might have been heading to!
The birds need our help at this time of year as food is scarce. If you’ve exhausted making bird feeders, try making a garland instead! All you’ll need is a needle, thread and some fruit. Simply use the needle and thread (with adult supervision) to string the fruit up, hang on some bushes and trees by your window. Then hurry back inside, wait and watch as they birds descend for a fruity feast! A great activity to test your bird identification skills too!
If you wake up to a frosty, icy morning, make the most of it! Take your bubble mixture outdoors (you can make your own using water and washing up liquid) and blow your bubbles into the freezing cold air. If it’s cold enough they might freeze before they land, meaning they don’t pop on the ground and instead make a perfect ice sculpture for you to observe! If it’s not quite cold enough but it is frosty, gently blow your bubbles directly onto a smooth surface, given a minute or so they will begin to freeze!
Traditionally our ancestors used to track the cycles of the moon, but in today’s modern world most of us don’t even notice the moon in our night skies. Observe the moon each night over a month and record its appearance, watch as it slowly morphs over the nights from perfectly round, to crescent, to disappearing completely and back again!
Hunting for treasures in nature can be difficult in winter, but there is almost always an abundance of sticks to be found! Gather some sticks at your local park and bring them home to create stick mazes. See who can create the most difficult maze to solve!
There’s often many windy days throughout the winter months, so why not head to a local open space and fly a kite? If you don’t own one, you could research and design your own, using some household items! It would be a brilliant way to investigate different materials and work your children’s problem solving skills too!
Collect some pebbles and rocks on a local walk, bring them home and paint them up. Write some heart warming messages and words on the rocks that might brighten someone’s day up! On your next walk, leave them in places for people to spot and collect them, you never know the difference it might make to someones day!
Going out for a walk on an evening can provide a very different sensory experience. Head over to a hill if you can to watch the sunset! Take a torch and be sure to wrap up warm, but notice how as the light fades, your brain starts to tune in to the noises around you.
Have you become a bit of an expert at ice suncatchers? Challenge yourself to create some ice bunting to decorate your bushes and trees! You could also use your nature finds to create repeating patterns.
Now the trees and hedges have dropped their leaves, we can observe the nests that were hidden throughout the summer months. Take some time to spot a few and if there’s one in a hedge and it appears to be currently unused, take a moment to observe the structure closely (but please don’t remove it!). They really are quite amazing! Challenge your children to build a nest themselves using all natural materials. They will need to find sturdy but flexible materials for the structure and something soft to make it comfortable inside!
The planting season is not that far away! If you have a patch of garden or a plant pot, you could use this time to plan the seeds you could plant in the coming months. Consider creating a flower bed to attract bees and butterflies by researching which flowers are best, or think about which yummy fruits and vegetables you might like to try growing this year. Whilst it’s not time to plant them yet, your children could draw a map of their growing plans to refer back to in the coming weeks!
If you have a garden and a torch this game is a must for running off that evening energy. A cross between tig and hide and seek, the game works by having someone who is ‘on’ holding the torch. Everyone else must hide around the garden, helped by the dark to conceal them. The person with the torch shines it around to look for the others. When they find them they must keep the torch shining on them for 5 seconds, whilst the other person tries to dodge and hide from the light. If they are under the light for 5 seconds they become the person who is on!
Hopefully our updated list of garden activities has got you inspired for some wintery fun (you can find our spring/summer list here). If you’re looking for some more curriculum-focused home learning activities, we’ve just dropped 23 of them inside our Planning Hub, not to mention many of our outdoor lesson plans can be adapted from practical home learning tasks too.