10 ways to embrace the outdoors with your family this winter


This winter hasn’t quite been the deep-freeze-fest of past years, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s still kind of a tough season to really enjoy. If it isn’t nose-hair-freezing cold then it’s slushy and wet—too warm to do the usual fun winter activities but still too cold to do spring stuff. It’s enough to make the whole family want to curl up on the couch permanently.

Well, never fear. You don’t have to stay indoors until the temps get more humane. A little preparation, a little planning, and you won’t even notice it’s winter—and that dent in your couch will be a long-ago memory.

Prepare for the weather

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There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Even the muckiest, slushiest, wettest weather can be enjoyable if you take measures to stay warm and dry. The secret? Dress in layers—moisture-wicking fabrics next to the skin, then a layer to keep warm (think fleece), and, finally, a waterproof outer shell. Add hats and mittens (which keep hands warmer than gloves) and waterproof footwear, and you’re set for just about anything. Pack a thermos full of hot chocolate, and away you go.

Do the usual fun stuff

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If there’s snow and the temperatures are low enough, go skating, snowshoeing, or skiing. Hey—these are winter classics for a reason. If you don’t have the equipment, you can always rent, or you can pick up inexpensive gear at second-hand sports shops. Make sure to take lots of pictures, and remember—it’s supposed to be fun. If you end up making snow forts instead of hitting the slopes, that’s cool too.

Try a winter picnic

Photo by Maria Evseyeva/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Maria Evseyeva/Shutterstock.com

Dining al fresco doesn’t have to be reserved for warmer months. (Why risk a summertime ant invasion?) Pack a tarp to lay under your blankets, pour some soup and some hot chocolate into a couple of thermoses, bundle up, and find a picturesque spot to enjoy your repast. Bonus points if you include a frisbee—diving to make that great catch is much more fun when you’re cushioned by a snowbank.

Learn why winter’s for the birds

Photo by MilousSK/Shutterstock.com
Photo by MilousSK/Shutterstock.com

Many birds in Canada don’t fly south for the winter, and with leaves off the trees, our feathered friends are much more visible than in the summer. Go on a hike to collect natural materials to make a bird feeder—a pinecone spread with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed works well. Place your feeder in an area that’s visible but sheltered, and keep track of which birds visit. Also, put some soft wool, cotton, or other fibres out as spring arrives—birds will use them to make nests.

Experiment with your camera

Photo by Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock.com

It doesn’t matter whether you have a DSLR or a camera on your phone—head out to capture some great winter images. Pick a theme to make it more fun—if you’re in the city, explore alleyways and lanes, or shoot pictures of frosty doors. If you’re in the country, see if you can capture only black and white scenes (which isn’t too hard if there’s a blanket of snow). Even small kids can have fun shooting photos—and if they get bored with that, they can help spot things to take pictures of.

Have a winter campfire

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Just like a regular campfire, only with a few more layers and a little more hot chocolate. Set up comfy chairs (or mould seats in the snow), get out the marshmallows and enjoy the warmth of a roaring fire. Prep your wood in advance if you can so it’s nice and dry.

Pretend it’s summer

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Who says baseball is just for warmer months? Head over to the local diamond and hit a few fly balls (consider adding a coloured dot to the ball so you can find it in the snow). Take out a hula hoop, and see who can last the longest.Use coloured water to draw hopscotch grids in the snow. If it’s really cold, blow bubbles and see what happens. Haul out the buckets and shovels and make snow castles.

Do some cold-weather science experiments

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Have your kids predict what they think different materials will do in the snow, then test their hypotheses. See how liquids like dish soap, vinegar, or salt water react to being in the cold air. What happens to a balloon when you take it outside, then bring it in? There are some more great ideas here.

Throw some snowballs

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Go on, you know you want to. Make some snowballs, then use coloured water in squirt bottles to draw a target on the ground a few metres away. Assign points based on how close to the middle you can get your snowball.

Practice your putting

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Stomp down an area of snow, and bury an empty tin can to make a hole. Use a plastic ball and a stick (or real putters, if you’ve got them) and see how well you can “golf” in the snow. If you’re feeling really ambitious, create an entire course, complete with obstacles, hills, and snow traps.

How do you make the best of winter with your family?