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Child Playing Outside in Winter

From Westeros to Washington, winter is coming, and when it does the world will get a good deal smaller for many as we draw the shades and head for the sofa to wait for spring and a return to the Great Outdoors. But it’s better not to let the cold come between us and the natural world.

Depending on your weather forecast, that’s often easier said than done, yet it’s in our best interests to never stop trying because nature’s gifts—from less stress and lower blood pressure to better mental health and greater happiness—don’t stop giving in the colder months, and that’s frequently the time we need them most.

I get it—when it’s cold, dark, and filled with snow, nature can seem more forbidding than friendly. But don’t let that stop you! Even in winter, there’s still a big, beautiful world waiting out there. Here are 10 ways to work its magic into your family’s life all winter long:

  • Watch a sunset. Winter’s skies produce fantastic colors as the sun sinks. And it only takes a few minutes to unplug and enjoy the show. Bundle up, find some lawn chairs, and gather the clan for a refreshing pause outside.
  • Have a snow picnic. Pack some hot cocoa, a thermos of soup, grilled sandwiches, and cookies fresh from the oven. Spread a water-resistant blanket or pad on the snow, and have some outdoor winter fun.
  • Get snowshoes. They make it easy to travel on snow. And that makes it easy to walk local trails and parks. Find used snowshoes at thrift shops to save a few dollars and encourage weekly use.
  • Have a bonfire. A fire in a small backyard pit or nearby park fireplace gets everyone out under the trees while keeping the gang warm and melting their s’mores, too!
  • Stargaze. The crystal clear skies of winter provide perfect conditions. Pick a night with meteor showers and bring a blanket so everyone can lay on the ground and stare skyward without breaking their necks.
  • Hunt tracks. Snow is nature’s perfect paw print preserver. And you’ll be surprised by what’s walking around in the dead of winter. Get a guide to animal tracks and see what the kids can find.
  • Get a bird feeder. Put it by the window and make sure to keep it stocked all winter. (Birds will come to rely on it!) Then keep a family log of all the species that visit.
  • Go nest hunting. Without leaves, trees reveal the nests they hide. See how many your family can find and bring a guide book to figure out which species made what nests. (Don’t disturb any you find—they’ll be occupied again next spring!)
  • “Collect” snowflakes. Not all storms produce them, but perfect crystal snowflakes are a true marvel in miniature. Bring magnifying glasses and a dark pre-chilled surface (like black construction paper) on which to place your flakes, and explore their wild one-of-a-kind patterns.
  • Go on a treasure hunt. Make a list of things to find, like icicles, dead leaves, dry berries, animal tracks, bird nests etc. and let the family loose to track them down (though not necessarily collect them).

Easy activities like these provide an excuse to get outside and clear winter’s cobwebs from your family’s minds and bodies. They’re not ends unto themselves but simply the means to keep the benefits of regular contact with nature coming even when it seems like warmer days may never come again.

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!