Boy, we are in it now. The dark depths of winter. Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, sunshine is scarce, and getting through the coldest, darkest days of the year can feel like a slog once the holidays are over. The one thing that helps our family make it to spring is thoroughly enjoying the thing we only get this time of year: SNOW!
If you are lucky enough to live in a place where there’s snow right outside your door, count your blessings and get out in it every day. (In fact, what are you doing reading this blog? Go!) If you have to drive to the snow, get your gear organized (see my earlier “get ready” blog) and make it happen! Getting out in the snow is good for your mind and body, and your kids’ too.
Once you’re in the snow, then what? Maybe this is the year you’ll finally teach your kids how to alpine or nordic ski. Or maybe you’d rather just have some low-key, simple fun. Here are 7 fun and easy snow activities to do with your kids.
1. Launch a Snowball Battle
Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned snowball fight? Here are a couple of ways to expand on that old-school fun.
- Prep for a real battle royale. Divide into teams and spend some time making a huge cache of snowballs. Kids love building an arsenal. You could even get a snowball maker for a snowball assembly line. Then each team creates a battle plan. Maybe there’s a goal and a winner, like capture the flag. Or maybe it’s a crazy free-for-all. Either way, preparing and planning for the battle is more than half the fun.
- Hit the target. Maybe you have kids who aren’t so into battles with icy projectiles. If so, try a game where you still get to throw snowballs, just not at each other. Set up a target in the snow that kids can aim for and see who can hit it the most. The target can be vertical (like a snowman), or on the ground. Paint colored rings on the snowy ground, like a giant dartboard, and see who can hit closest to the center. Keep track of points. Or don’t.
2. Create Snow Paintings
Got a little Basquiat or Frida Kahlo in the house? Send them outside to paint a snowy masterpiece on your front lawn. Their medium is squirt bottles filled with colored water. Show them how to adjust the spray nozzle, then point them toward their snowy canvas.
You can dye water with a few drops of food coloring. Or, even better, have the kids mix up their own natural watercolors using stuff from the kitchen. Fruits, vegetables, and spices can make all the colors of the rainbow. Puree fruits and veggies in a blender, strain the liquid, then heat and reduce it until most of the water is gone. Add this concentrated color to the water, a few drops at a time, to get the hue you want. You can add spices directly to the water.
- Strawberries or raspberries make pink.
- Tomatoes make red.
- Kale or spinach make green.
- Red cabbage makes blue.
- Blueberries make purple.
- Paprika makes orange.
- Tumeric makes yellow.
- Coffee grounds or cocoa powder makes brown.
- Crushed charcoal makes black.
Artist Nick Neddo wrote a great book, The Organic Artist for Kids, which explains how to make even more wild inks, along with lots of other cool nature-based art.
3. Follow the Human Tracks
In this snowy variation on Hide-and-Seek, everyone starts together in the same spot. The seeker closes their eyes and counts, as the hiders step carefully away to individual hiding spots. Once the counting is over, the seeker looks at the snow to find and follows each set of tracks leading to each hider. It is a fun, easy way to learn about seeing and following tracks.
4. Search for Animal Tracks
Speaking of tracks, the snow is an excellent place to find animal tracks, too. Hike into the woods (away from humans, if possible) and Pay Attention to undisturbed areas of snow. Do you notice any animal tracks there? See if each person can find a set of animal tracks. Can you figure out which animal was there? What was it doing? Was it walking or running? Animal tracks you are most likely to see are rabbit, squirrel, birds, deer, raccoon, and even coyote (if you’re lucky).
Here are some tips for figuring out who made the tracks:
- Symmetrical track, 4 toes, claw marks, small heel pad = dog, fox, coyote
- Asymmetrical track, 4 toes, no claw marks, larger heel pad = housecat, lynx, bobcat
- Heart-shaped track, 2 toes = deer or elk
- Small track, 5 toes, looks like tiny human handprint = raccoon or squirrel
- Giant track, 5 toes, huge heel pad = definitely Bigfoot (at Trackers we call him Old Harry)
5. Blow Ice Bubbles
Have any old bottles of bubbles lying around the house? Did you know you can create ice bubbles when it’s cold outside? Set the bottle outside until it gets really cold. Then, instead of blowing the wand with your hot breath, wave it around in the cold air. As the bubbles come out, they freeze. If you catch one, it will freeze over in your hand. Whoa! Or, if it’s below freezing, the bubbles freeze midair, then drop to the ground and roll around as frozen orbs. SO much cooler than boring old bubbles, right?
6. Build a Snow Shelter
On one glorious school field trip, I went to the mountain with my daughter and her 3rd-grade class and learned to build snow shelters. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done with kids in the snow. If you have enough snow, there’s no reason you can’t build one at home. If you have no snow, head to the mountains. Here’s what you need:
- Snow. You’ll need a full front yard’s worth, about a foot deep. Dry fluffy snow doesn’t work well. You need more challenging, stickier snow.
- Sand pail or brick mold
- Small shovels or garden trowels
- Hose/water (optional)
Here’s how you build it:
- Draw a circle. One person stands in the middle, and another person takes 2-3 steps out from the middle and walks in a circle around the center. The smaller your circle, the easier it will be to build the dome and the more stable it will be. Just make sure it’s big enough for a couple of kids or adults to sit inside.
- Mold snow blocks. Sand pails will do the trick, but square or rectangle shapes are even better. Harder, stickier snow is the best (the kind you use to make snowballs). Use the snow inside your circle first, then move to the snow outside to make the rest.
- Lay snow blocks along the circle. Then stack on the second layer and so on. Scrape a slight incline into the top of each brick so that the next layer tilts inward a bit.
- Pack snow between gaps as you go. This will make it stronger and less likely to collapse.
- As you move higher, use smaller blocks. Don’t make your circle too tall before you start angling in to close up the ceiling. You don’t need to be able to stand up inside. Kids can crawl in and sit. It should be taller than your height when you sit down.
- Cut air vents in the roof and walls. So people inside can breathe.
- Make a door. Once you finish your dome, cut a hole in one wall to make a doorway. Cut the block of snow you removed in half and lean the two sides together outside your door to make a tunnel around your entrance. This helps keep your entry protected and your shelter warm.
- Strengthen it. Once you’ve built your snow shelter, hose it down (in spray mode, so you don’t melt holes in it). Ice is stronger than snow, so freezing your shelter’s top layer will make it stronger and last longer.
Snow Shelter Safety Tip: Snow shelters can collapse. When your kids are building one and playing in it, keep an eye on them. Do NOT build a snow shelter by digging into a snowbank. While this method is easier, dug-outs can collapse more easily, and, depending on how much snow is above the opening, a collapse can suffocate you. If a snow block shelter collapses, the falling snow blocks might hurt if they land on you, but there shouldn’t be enough blocks in the roof and upper walls to smother anyone. Blocks of snow are easier to push out of. Another reason to keep your snow shelter small—less snow to possibly fall on your head.
7. Strap on Some Snowshoes
Your favorite hiking trails will look totally different covered in snow. And with less foliage in the understory and trees, animals can be easier to see. Snowshoeing is simple enough for kids to master quickly and an awesome way for your family to explore together in the winter. Pack a picnic and a thermos of hot chocolate and make a day of it! You can rent snowshoes at most outdoor gear shops, or buy them cheaply at used sports stores or Goodwill.
I hope these ideas inspire you to get outside and have some frosty family fun. Spring will be here before you know it and your chance to blow frozen bubbles will be gone until next year!