11 lovely things to do on a winter walk with children
- Credit: Pixabay
Don’t let the freezing temperatures put you off: winter walks can be magical with children and it’s particularly important for them to keep active with the continuing pandemic restrictions.
Winter can be challenging (particularly for your washing machine!) but there are plenty of reasons to head outdoors in the cold – for a start, new experiences and new situations challenge children in ways that benefit their bodies and brains.
Secondly, exercise means a better night’s sleep for the whole family and thirdly, there are so many wonderful winter sights to see before spring arrives.
A positive to emerge from 2020 has been a surge in appreciation for exercise and outdoor activity during endless lockdowns and restrictions.
Walking and cycling proved to be the most popular forms of outdoor activity: figures suggest that more than 60 per cent of families reported walking 60 per cent more than they did before the pandemic measures were introduced.
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But while it may be easy to step out for a walk in the sunshine of spring and summer, or when you can kick up the leaves on golden autumn days, it’s a different story when it’s cold and the sun disappears by mid-afternoon.
So here are some fun activities to help persuade your children outdoors for some exercise and if you’re stuck at home self-isolating or shielding, we’ve added some alternatives. Wrap up warmly, grab a flask and head outside.
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11 Lovely things to do on winter walks with children (and at-home alternatives)
Rather than heading out during the day, go for a walk by moonlight while the days are short and the nights are long. Under a full moon is best if you want to have your path lit but darker nights are great for star-spotting: look out for the Quadrantids meteor shower from the beginning of January and dark skies on February 11 when there will be a New Moon, which means the moon won’t be visible in our night skies. Let your children play with torches when you go out – you’ll be amazed how much fun they can have with a simple beam of light.
Stuck at home? Head into the garden, or a balcony or just outside your front door after dark and look at what you can see, hear and smell. Is the smell of wood smoke in the air? Can you see any stars? Is the moon full? What can you find using torchlight?
Make your own sensory nature box for little ones
You could add an extra dimension to making a collection for a sensory box at home by having a scavenger hunt on your next walk – look for natural materials which are different colours, textures and smells which can stimulate all the senses. Your basket will be different depending on where you walk: if you live near a beach you may have seaweed, shells, small stones, polished beach glass and other seashore finds, if you live by a wood you can collect leaves, feathers, pine cones, seed heads, herbs, acorns and nuts. If your child is still putting things in their mouth, ensure you don’t collect small items that could be a choking risk. When you get home, place the items in a box and use them at a later date when you are learning about things that are smooth/prickly/soft/smell of the sea or you can use them for sorting, painting, crafting or building.
At home? Make a fairy garden. Fill a container with drainage holes with compost, make paths with stones and a stream using glass beads or silver foil. Use figures and other objects you have from playsets to create a scene and plant with real houseplants. Previous nature finds can be used such as glittered pine cones as snowy trees.
A smaller alternative to a nature box, give each child their own empty matchbox and ask them to see how many tiny objects they can fit into it to make their own matchbox museum.
At home? This exercise can easily be carried out in a back yard or you could create an indoor treasure hunt for drawings of items such as feathers, shells, leaves and twigs on pieces of cardboard which could be put into the box.
Make ice ornaments
This is one that you can do in your garden on nights where the temperature dips below zero and can be done in the smallest of gardens or even on a balcony. Find some tiny nature treasures on a walk with your children such as small leaves, berries, pine needles, seed heads and twigs. Take a container such as a foil pie plate or a plastic food container such as an old margarine tub and place the natural treasures at the bottom before filling with water to just cover the items. Leave outside overnight during cold nights (or cheat and use the freezer!). The next day, remove the ice ornament from the container and make a hole (with a drill or a heated needle) in order to hang up your ornament outside where the sun will catch it. Or make an ice lantern by following these instructions: www.thinlyspread.co.uk/ice-lanterns/
Christmas Eve is the perfect time to make ice lanterns. Wrap up warm and head out for a foraging walk to collect berries, holly, ivy and evergreens or plunder the garden for rosemary sprigs and cotoneaster berries.
At home? Use the freezer! Ice decorations can be suspended outside windows where you can watch them melt.
A penny walk
Give your children a penny and ask them to decide whether heads or tails is left or right. Every time you reach a junction, flip the penny and let it decide where you’ll walk next. You may find yourselves discovering some new neighbourhoods (and maybe a few dead ends, but it’s all part of the fun!).
At home? Ask your child to close their eyes or blindfold them and use the penny to guide them around the house – make them guess where they are at the end of the game and the winner gets to lead you round the house!
You probably did this when you were a child, but have you tried it with your own children? There’s something really satisfying about creating your own impression of a tree trunk by simply placing paper over it and rubbing a wax crayon lengthways over it until the paper is filled. Use lots of different colours for a rainbow effect.
At home? Either take rubbings of things in your garden (textured walls, pots, leaves) or indoors.
Who says snow has to be white? If there’s enough snow, try making snow paint with spray bottles, food dye and water. Fill spray bottles with water and add food dye (gel dye is brighter). Screw the lid on and shake. To use, hold the nozzle of the bottle a few inches from the snow and spray to create colourful designs that won’t last forever!
Stuck at home? Take a small plastic toy which can get wet and find a plastic container that the toy can fit in – a yoghurt pot, a sandwich box – drop the toy in the container and fill with water. Place in the freezer (if you’d like the toy in the middle of the ice, fill your container halfway with water, freeze, add the toy and then fill to the top. When frozen, your children can be Arctic archaeologists, chipping away to reach the toy with a spoon or melting the block under warm water. Feel free to add food colouring to the water!
Create a journey stick
Journey sticks are a way to create a visual guide to the walk you’ve taken. Pick a stick that is around a foot long and, as you walk, pick up fallen items that you see such as leaves, twigs, flowers, berries and so on and wind them on to the stick using wool or string. For an easier method, use a strip of cardboard with double-sided sticky tape on it which you can stick items to.
Stuck at home? You can make a stick at home, too using cinnamon sticks, dried herbs, dried orange slices, bits of evergreen, feathers or anything else that comes to hand (this is also a great time to use a nature box).
Make a nature mandala
Leave a piece of natural art for others to find on their walks by making a gorgeous nature mandala. Use twigs, leaves, flowers, berries, pinecones, acorns, stones, moss, feathers or other natural items to create a pattern on the floor. Choose a meaningful item in the middle and then place the other items you’ve gathered close to it until you have made a circular design. Continue to make patterns until you’ve used all your items. If you live near a beach, you could do this with different coloured or sized stones on the beach.
Stuck at home? Make a mandala in the garden or on the floor from items in your house.
Take a footprints walk
Particularly good after snow – even a light covering! – when you go out, look for footprints in the snow or mud and try to find out what or who made them. Try to find as many different footprints as you can and either take photographs or draw the prints to identify when you get back home.
Stuck at home? Try making your own track marks outside or make foot and hand print art indoors with paint.
Stop for a winter picnic
Children love outdoor eating and drinking and picnics definitely aren’t just for summertime! Take a flask of hot drink, such as hot chocolate or even soup, or heat some squash for a warm fruity drink. The Woodland Trust has a lovely recipe for mulled apple juice – take a litre of apple juice or diluted squash and place in a pan with a cinnamon stick, three cloves and a few pieces of orange peel and heat gently for around 10 minutes. Strain and pour into a flask. Remember to take mini marshmallows for hot chocolate and a snack – the Trust suggests cooking chilli and putting in a food flask before decanting into pre-opened pitta pockets, cooking hot dog sausages at home and keeping hot in a food flask before placing in bread rolls outdoors or wrapping baked potatoes in foil and then covering in layers of tea towels and adding grated cheese and butter when you stop to eat.
Stuck at home? An indoor picnic or a picnic in the garden is just as exciting!