New Winter Outdoor Educational Activities for Children this Season
For two years running our popular article on wintertime outdoor learning experiences for kids has been the “go to” for many parents and teachers across Canada. We’re honored to have been of service. As we enter yet another winter season, we thought we’d revisit the concept and provide some new ideas to make sure that you and your kids don’t stop reaping the benefits of outdoor education, even if it requires a few extra layers of clothing to do so.
3 Outdoor Educational Activities to Keep Kids Learning through the Snow and Winter Season
1. Get to Know Snowflakes
For most of Canada, winter means snow. Kids associate it with building snowmen, having snowball fights and ironically (for this article) the opportunity to miss a few days of school. But what they may not be aware of, is that there is a lot of engaging science behind this playful byproduct of water vapor and freezing temperatures.
Start by reading up on the subject with your kids. The best place to start? With a tale about a man named Wilson A. Bentley. Fascinated by the crystalline structure of individual snowflakes, Bentley was the very first person to photograph a single snowflake, way back in 1885. He would then go on to submit hundreds of photomicrographs to the Smithsonian and in 1931 published a book titled Snow Crystals, cataloging more than 2,400 snowflake images. Bentley’s work lead to innumerable scientific articles to date and that original photo currently rests in the archives of the Smithsonian. There is an award winning illustrated children’s book titled Snowflake Bentley that dives into the life of Wilson A. Bentley and his fascination with the beauty and science of snowflakes. Pick up a copy and read it with your children before heading outside for the next snowfall.
Armed with a new knowledge of snowflake study, take a water resistant camera or smartphone and get in nice and close to capture photos of individual snowflakes. Find a wood or steel surface for optimal background contrast. Let your kids take as many photos as their hearts desire and after an impromptu snowball battle, heads back indoors to catalogue the photographic findings and study the unique formations together. This can become a weekly activity that runs through the entire season and will result in a magical visual library of their experience.
2. Architecture in Snow
There are proven benefits of using building blocks in childhood development. These include the following:
- Improves hand-eye coordination
- Teaches kids early math skills
- Develops spatial awareness
- Improves fine motor skills
- Enhances logical thinking capability
- Improves social skills (when working with others on the “project”)
In the thick of winter, your kids get a whole new set of building materials – in the snow! Even better, the building blocks are not yet formed, so children can learn to mold forms that can be used to building bright white walls, structures, forts and even mazes in the backyard or community park. There will be some trial and error as they discover what types of snow can be packed for effective building, requiring them to add water or other outdoor materials (twigs, etc.). This is a fantastic educational experience that will simply feel like nothing more than a fun snow day activity.
3. Wildlife Tracking
Learning how to track wildlife is an outdoor educational activity that develops analytical, spatial and symbolic reasoning skills. It also focuses on something kids love to learn about – animals. The snowfall of winter makes the process somewhat easier and even more fun. Find the most ecologically diverse area near you, which may include a forested hiking area or eco-park that is safe and open to the public during the winter months. There will be information from the parks and recreation website serving the area that details the species of wildlife common to the region. List them and perform research so that you and your children learn about the seasonal habits of each, identifying what their tracks will look like in the snow. Take screenshots for reference so that you’ll have them with you on your hike and see what you can discover. In some cases, you’ll find yourselves on a wild goose chase. While in others you’ll come across a flock of Canadian geese! Take photos along your journey and create a catalogue for future reference.
We hope the above list inspires you and your children to get outdoors and explore this winter season. You will all learn something new in the process. All that’s left is to bundle up and bring a thermos full of hot chocolate. Just don’t forget the mini-marshmallows!