by Veronica Davison – When temperatures drop outside, it’s tempting to bundle up under a warm blanket and stay indoors, but it’s actually the perfect time to get out, be active, and connect with nature. There are winter activities for kids that can help keep them engaged and families enjoying the outdoors together. Here are the top five winter activities for kids that will make your winter more wild.
1. Gardening Winter Activities For Kids
Don’t let your garden hibernate over the winter. Native plants can be a great addition to your yard that will improve its appearance and serve as habitat for wildlife like birds and other pollinators and is one of the best winter activities for kids. Gardening gives kids the opportunity to observe firsthand how plants are pollinated and which plants are the most appealing to pollinators. They also learn about the challenges of managing invasive species.
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Aside from their natural beauty, native plant gardens can also offer the benefit of being water-saving and low maintenance. With efforts to conserve water on the rise, rain gardens are increasing in popularity in urban and suburban neighborhoods.
Winter crafts don’t have to be dominated by used popsicle sticks and glue. Rain gardens are a fun way for families to get outdoors in winter. These are created by a shallow depression in a garden where water from rooftops or other sources is collected and slowly absorbed by plants, ground cover, and soil. Father of two, John Cleckler recently planted a rain garden in his yard with the help of his children and was pleasantly surprised to find monarch butterflies laying eggs on the milkweed within the first year.
I made a rain garden to collect storm water. We planted a few milkweed species in it to specifically attract monarchs. I’d given up hope of visitors. But, we were lucky enough to catch at least one monarch landing on a couple of showy milkweed plants (Asclepias speciosa). Later I inspected the leaves and found several eggs,” said Cleckler.
2. Public Lands Winter Activities For Kids
National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks provide excellent opportunities for a plethora of winter activities for kids and to teach them about nature. Guided tours, photography, hiking, winter crafts, and scavenger hunts are just a few activities that can make a wildlife refuge visit exciting. Parents can help their kids enhance what they’re learning in language arts, history, art, and science by visiting public lands.
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For children in the fourth grade, there is a special treat: free passes for them and their families as part of the Every Kid in a Park program. To help parents plan a visit, a planning guide is available that includes seeing protected animals, visiting the woods, finding your park, and places to play.
3. Nature Art Winter Activities For Kids
Some of the most impressive winter crafts have been created with leaves and leaf art is definitely one of our favorite winter activities for kids. The incredible color variations allow for a lot of creativity. While most kids aren’t keen on raking leaves, raking or shaping them into art in the front or backyard puts a new spin on yard work. Another option is to collect leaves that have fallen off of trees in your own yard, a park, or wildlife refuge and to use those to create winter crafts like a design that can be used for homemade holiday cards or greeting cards.
For these months while the leaves are falling, it’s definitely something that we all go out and do together. It’s a time that we can all be doing something together on the weekend since we both work fulltime during the week,” said Joanna Hedrick, who designs leaf art with her family.
4. Birding Winter Activities For Kids
Birding is one of those winter activities for kids that you can do just about anywhere, from a wildlife refuge to right in your own backyard. This calming, focused activity can help kids see their everyday environment in a new way. Being still and quiet so they can hear the birds chirp and watch them wiz by is likely something they miss during outdoor play.
While binoculars can help enhance the experience, no equipment is really needed—and this no-cost activity can be followed by an internet search where parents and children can conduct an online search to learn more about the birds they discovered. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great bird guide with a searchable database that includes detailed information about birds, as well as audio of bird calls.
National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is an annual bird census that’s dependent on citizen science. For over 100 years, citizens across the United States, Canada, and beyond have participated in this free bird watching activity between December 14 and January 5; where they count birds over a 24-hour period. The data are used to assess the health of bird populations and to inform conservation efforts. Jennifer Norris and her son enjoy birding at a local river that is home to threatened species.
We’re an outdoor family,” said Norris. “Cold weather has never been a deterrent to our outdoor activities from kayaking in Canada to birding and gardening here at home.”
5. Western Monarch New Year’s Count
This year marks the first ever Western Monarch New Year’s Count. Organized by the Xerces Society, December 30, 2017 through January 14, 2018, you and your kids can become citizen scientists by counting monarch butterflies!
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Monarch populations have decreased significantly over the last 20 years and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Xerces Society, Monarch Joint Venture, and others have been working with partners and citizen scientists to increase monarch conservation efforts. The data help determine the status of monarch populations overwintering along the California coast.
Veronica Davison is the external affairs chief of the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office in Northern California. Her office is responsible for more than 100 threatened and endangered species.