One of the best parts of winter is getting outside and playing in the snow. I’ve come across quite a few people (cough* adults* cough) who hate winter because it’s cold. I admit, winter is cold. But it can be a lot more enjoyable for you and your family if you find reasons to get outside.
You don’t have to be a “ski family” to take advantage of winter (although, I do aspire to become one at some point). Something as simple as just going for a walk and stopping to observe changes can make winter more pleasant. Not to mention that winter is full of rich opportunities for learning and development across various domains. Here are some photos of us at play in the winter.
1.Take a walk: Sometimes the simple act of walking outside can lead to discoveries and rich exploration.
Earlier this winter when we were playing in our local playground, my daughter became entranced by the sheer number of geese that kept flying overhead. Soon she started making the association between honking and geese flying above so as soon as she heard the honking, she would stop and say, “Momma! The Geese are coming!” She hypothesized about where they were going (to work and to look for food, specifically waffles). These ideas prompted us to borrow a book from the library called Honk, Honk, Goose!
In the past, one of H’s favourite things to do was to pull at snow-covered Evergreen tree branches and get a face full of snow.
As temperatures started to drop and rise, H discovered icicles. Here she can be seen breaking off icicles and using them to draw in the snow.
In the past, she has also drawn with twigs and marveled at how big her shadow becomes on the beautiful white canvas that freshly fallen snow leaves behind.
One of H’s favourite discoveries from this winter was to see how as ice forms and melts, it creates routes for water to travel. She became fascinated by this “river” that was flowing outside of our house and checks regularly to see if has come back.
She made similar discoveries when she went under the slide at our local park and watched ice dripping.
She was also captivated by the water flowing out of the eavestrough/gutter. She insisted it was water for Dora (her snowman) to drink.
Another fun thing children are usually drawn to while outside is making and looking for footprints. It’s fun to retrace our own steps as we walk in a circle or try to determine what animal created the footprints we see while on our walk.
There is a lot of opportunity for rich discussion while going on walks. Children will point out things that you may have never noticed and share their theories with you. The following exchange happened with us as we passed by some bare trees:
“Plants grow. There are very different plants. Big ones and small ones. Momma ones and bushy ones. Don’t you love how they grow?”
2. Visit the Park: The reality that it is covered with snow will add an extra layer of novelty and challenge.
H loves going to the park, no matter the weather. While this year she discovered it’s quite difficult to swing in the winter with the snow being so high and the swing being so low, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year.
She did, however, find other reasons to love the park this year: she loves the gross motor challenge that climbing over snow banks provides. She spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to climb over and slide down walls of snow.
She also enjoyed cleaning off the slide and didn’t mind landing on her bum. What ordinarily might cause tears resulted in hysterical laughter as she tried to get up off the snow.
I also introduced some basic physics to this experience – I made a snowball and let it slide down the hot slide on a sunny day. H had fun racing against the snowball while she pondered about how smoothly it slid and how it became smaller by the time it reached the bottom. We raced different sizes of snowballs.
3. Create: There is something so beautiful and inviting about a blanket of white snow- like a canvas beckoning.
Snow is one of those versatile mediums that can be completely empowering or very discouraging depending on other weather conditions and what you are trying to achieve. H wanted to build a snowman for so many days but the conditions just didn’t work for us. Finally as temperatures started warming up, the snow started packing together and we were able to finally build a snowman this year. Mind you, it melted by the end of the day and she was a little sad.
Other classics include snow angels and forts. This winter we brought sand toys to the park and used them as molds.
We also found this cool structure at a different park although we didn’t hang out too long since the floor was all iced over and H slipped as she tried to run across.
Other fun ideas could include using coloured water in spray bottles to paint pictures on the snow. I remember going on a field trip as a child in Ontario (which is full of maple trees). We tapped sap and added it to fresh snow to make (and eat) taffy. It was a great experience!
4. Travel through the snow and ice: Many modern winter sports seem to have originated from people simply trying to travel over snow and ice. Even though we have found more efficient ways of doing so, these activities have become great hobbies.
Our family is not particularly athletic so here are some ideas in case your family isn’t either!
Pull your child through the snow on a sled. While sledding downhill is fun, with younger children, a pull sled may be easier. Last winter before my daughter was comfortable (and fast enough) to walk long distances in the snow, I would strap her in the sled to take her to playdates in our neighbourhood. This worked out well for me since I was usually carrying food.
Snowshoeing is an easy winter activity. Last year, we rented snowshoes from the University of Calgary and headed over to Confederation park. We brought extra rope and attached my daughter’s sled to a caribiner on our backpack to pull her along hand’s free. This year, I hope to get H to try out snowshoes for herself!
Dog sledding was another easy winter activity we tried last year. H really enjoyed this activity. She got to sit cozily in the sled and quickly learned the commands. It was quite cute to hear her yelling “mush!” She also got to interact with the dogs which is something she enjoys doing (but doesn’t have much opportunity to in her daily life).
Next winter (post-pregnancy), I hope to be able to go skating and cross country skiing with H. By then, I can push baby along in the stroller (and lean on the stroller for support as I brush up on my skating skills) or use a covered ski pull during cross country skiing.
5. Bring in the snow: If all else fails, bring some snow indoors!
Depending on how much snow you use, how particular you are about mess and whether you have a water table at your house, you can structure this experience to meet your needs.
When H was about 14 months, I would bring snow inside the house for her to play with. You can use a shallow container, but I just used a table cloth near the entrance of our door. You can add tools (I just added things from around the house) and other loose parts depending on if your child will mouth them. H was pretty good about fine-motor play and didn’t try to eat everything. On this day, she played with dried kidney beans and stayed engaged for a long time.
In Calgary, we are also blessed with chinooks. This means that the temperature can get ridiculously warm while we still have snow on the ground. On those kinds of days, we would bring H out to the porch and play with the snow there. Here she is exploring and making snow muffins with her dad.
Here are some photos of children I worked with exploring snow in an indoor setting (at a water table).
Along with bringing in snow, you can freeze ice all year long to use for sensory play. Here are some photos of ice blocks I froze over the summer with my students. I froze small items in big blocks of ice so multiple children could play at once.
This was just an overview of the easy winter/snow play we did over the past few years. I hope it has given you some ideas to make your winter more enjoyable!