Winter can be a wonderful time a year, and just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean we should lock ourselves indoors for the season. I live in New England, and so many times I hear adults complaining about how much they loathe winter. How they can’t wait for it to warm up so they can get outside and enjoy time in the warmth and sun. To me, that is unfortunate. Not only are these adults missing out on the beauty that winter brings and the refreshment that crisp winter air on a bright sunny day provides, but if these remarks are made within earshot of children, what is the message that is sent to these kids? That the only time to truly enjoy the outdoors is when it is warm? To me, that signals a whole lot of people who will be spending a good 5 months out of the year indoors, sans fresh air and natural physical activity (at least in my neck of the woods). Sure, going out to explore nature in winter is cumbersome – it requires many more layers than are necessary for any other season. But, there is still fun to be had and learning to be done even when it is snowy and cold.
So, what are some of my favorite learning and exploring activities in the winter? First on my list is tracking. In my opinion, winter is the best time of year to seek out and identify animal tracks. Each year I am amazed at the variety of animal activity that happens just outside our back door. The best tracks can be found after a few inches of fresh powder. The most common tracks we tend to find in our yard are from deer, fox, racoon, squirrel, and rabbit. A fun family activity is to follow the trail of tracks. Try it. You might be entertained by the path a certain animal took. Or, you might see where the squirrel traveled to dig up a stash of nuts and acorns. We also enjoy taking hikes with our snowshoes. Snowshoes have been especially useful with the snowfall we’ve had this winter so we aren’t continually battling with falling though up to our knees (or hips for the kids!). On these hikes, we like to look for signs of life, such as green lichen growing on rocks or trees or green plants sticking out of the snow. It is also fun to find leaves and plants captured in ice or look for patterns in nature. Of course, the kids like to build snow forts and go sledding too! As long as they’re outside learning about the world around them, I’m happy!
For some winter exploration inspiration, I recommend the following reads!
For adolescents and adults:
Winter World by Bernd Heinrich*
A Year in the Maine Woods by Bernd Heinrich*
Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes
Life in the Cold: An Introduction to Winter Ecology by Peter Marchand
* A side note: I had Bernd Heinrich as a professor at UVM, and while I am perhaps more inclined toward his writing because of this, his infectious curiosity and love of nature is sure to inspire others to get out there and explore. I know it did for me!
For young children:
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Winter Eyes by Douglas Florian
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick
**This post was shared on the Outdoor Play Party**