Winter outdoor activities for kids don’t have to involve snowmen and sledging. There’s a whole load of fun activities out there to keep your kids amused in the great outdoors in the coldest, wettest of months.
Don’t get me wrong – I fully understand how unappealing it is to trek outside in the rain in a futile attempt to get your kids to run off some steam. I’ve been there. Friday afternoon Forest School on a rainy day was particularly tough. While other teachers enjoyed supervising show and tell or PSHE circle time with a warm cup of tea, I was pulling on waterproof trousers and wellies and heading out into the cold, wet January air.
The thing is that as soon as you see their faces light up at the thought of heading outside for a fun activity, and get involved in making it magical and exciting for them, you get swept up in it all too. I’d often lose track of time and we’d all be late back, soaked and happy. It always turned out to be the perfect start to the weekend.
There were of course times when it was too windy to be out in the forest, or simply too cold to be out after break time, but on the whole winter outdoor activities for kids are great for your kids and you. See it like exercise – the thought might not be appealing but once you get into it you’re going to really love it!
How To Prepare For Winter Outdoor Activities With Kids
Half of the battle with cold, wet weather is the prep. Winter activities with kids can be an absolute nightmare without the right gear so get yourself kitted up and ready now and you’ll thank me later. You will need:
- Warm clothes (layers are best) and old is preferable.
- Waterproof coat
- Waterproof trousers
- Warm socks
- Buff (scarves tend to dangle in puddles)
- Waterproof gloves
If you’re planning on letting them run wild in woodland then consider a brightly coloured jacket. It might not be the trendiest but you’ll be thankful when they stand out! Think along the lines of ski gear as this is designed for the cold, wet weather. And remember, whatever you buy for the kids make sure you have for yourself too. You’ll feel the cold a lot more than them, and probably be way less happy about your trip outside than them too!
Get younger children used to getting into their own ‘gear’. This may mean you spend more time indoors helping them get ready to begin with, but it will pay off in the long run as they’ll soon be able to get ready all on their own.
If you have space then give them a peg to hang their wet things on, and again, spend time getting into a routine where they hang their own wet clothes up and put wet clothes in the washing machine. For some children this will be easier than for others, but if you can get them doing it now it will save you a lot of work. Make sure their things are always in the same place, preferably together, so that they can find them when it’s time to go outside again.
The other bit of prep that will make your time outside more enjoyable is to bring some hot drinks and snacks with you. You’ll deserve it from burning off all that energy in the cold!
Simple Winter Outdoor Activities For Kids
These are activities you don’t need to do any prep for – no resources and no thinking. Just pull on your wellies and go!
Eye Spy Walk
Spice up your daily walk with this fun winter outdoor activity for kids. Turn your walk into an eye spy walk where you hunt for certain things each day. It could be as simple as looking for rectangles, or you could get more adventurous and look for unusual colours or even things like hearts on valentines day. You can photograph them and use them in school work, turn it into a competition with a prize for whoever spots the most, or just do it for the fun of it!
Hug A Tree
Yeah ok, sounds a bit too hippy for some. But tree identification is a great thing to learn, especially as a child. Winter is the perfect time to learn about evergreen trees and how to identify them.
Take a tree identification guide and learn how to identify different conifers from their pine needles and pine cones. You can take photos and create your own identification chart, and you might even find yourself hugging your favourite tree!
You can download this tree identification app to save on printing one out (and cutting them down – there’s lessons everywhere!)
Build A Birds Nest
This is a great activity to get kids started on and watch their imaginations run wild (while you drink your cup of tea!) If you can find an old birds nest as an example then great, or you could look at pictures of one before leaving the house.
Then challenge kids to build the ultimate birds nest. If they’re older and need more of a challenge then encourage them to think of all the features of a nest – strong, soft, warm, hidden from predators. It’s a great opportunity for team work but equally as fun on your own.
Daytime Winter Outdoor Activities For Kids
Some of these will take a little more prep, or require you to buy something first, but these are often the most fun so make sure you try at least a few of them!
Make Bird Feeders
Making bird feeders is a great winter outdoor activity for kids of all ages. There are so many different ways to make a bird feeder – from the super complicated to the super simple! This makes it the perfect winter activity to do throughout the winter, and each year after. Simple ideas like covering toast with peanut butter and seeds are perfect for toddlers (or for older children you don’t have time to supervise!) and you can get more and more inventive as they grow. Check out these 32 different ideas and take your pick!
Make Ice Plates
These are super simple and great fun. Head outdoors, either on a walk or in your garden, and collect different natural goodies. The more colourful the better, but if you can’t find things like berries then go for different textures like leaves and ferns. You could even use items from inside if you wanted – try things like dried beans, pasta and herbs.
Then lay out a plastic lid, paper plate, pie plate or silicone mold to use as the mold. Fill the mold with water and add your treasures to the water in any design you like. If you want the ice to go clear then boil the water first. Leave them outside overnight to freeze (or you can cheat and shove them in the freezer). Gently remove the ice plate from the mold and admire your creation. You can host a fairy tea party, or place them in tree branches to catch the light.
Create Crystal Balls
This is a great one for all those Frozen fans. Just grab a pack of balloons and fill them with water and a few drops of food colouring and shove them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen you’ll have some crystal balls to decorate outside or play with. Use them to decorate your ‘ice palace’ or to see into the future!
Let’s Go Fly A Kite
Kite flying is usually done in the summer months, but winter is often the perfect time! Grab yourself a brightly coloured kite to brighten the darken skies (and bring a smile to people’s faces).
Be aware that when it’s windy – just what you want for kite flying – it will also be colder. So make sure you wrap up warm (we love a good buff – acts as a mask too) and take a flask of hot chocolate and some hand warmers. There’s no reason you should let the cold ruin your fun these days!
Grow Some Winter Veg
I don’t know about you, but I was definitely a warm weather gardener when I lived in the UK. Kids though, will be any sort of gardener you encourage them to be, so now is the perfect time to dig out that shovel and show them what you’re made of.
There are some great vegetables that you can plant in the winter months and they’re usually things kids haven’t planted before, as we tend to teach them about planting in the Spring. You can grow things like radishes and beetroot in the winter months, and salad will grow year round if it’s protected from too much cold.
Learn How To Store Vegetables
We’re so used to heading to our nearest supermarket and picking up whatever we want. Winter is the perfect time to teach kids how to preserve some of the fruit and veg we can grow for ourselves so that we could have stores all through the winter.
Take a look at some tips on how to store them best and do some experiments of your own in different conditions. You could even run a competition on who can store their vegetables for the longest before they start to turn bad.
You could have a go at making jams and chutneys for the store cupboard, or even learn how to can or pickle your fruit and veg. You can have fun with things like food vacuum sealersand dehydrators to make dried fruit snacks that will last.
Animal Tracking Outdoor Activity For Kids
Winter is the perfect time to go hunting for animal tracks. With muddy weather and potential frost, their little footprints will harden and you’ll be able to spot all kinds of woodland life. You can have a go at working out different animal footprints that you find, you could measure them for a bit of maths, photograph them and describe them in your own fact file, and even take casts of them for some art work.
Just grab some plaster of paris, a flask with some water and spoon to mix it all together. Then pour the plaster into the footprint and wait for it to dry. You can build a mud wall around the footprint to contain the plaster and make the ‘outside’ into the shape you want. Then you can paint and decorate it at home!
Create An Outdoor Hot Tub
If you and your kids want a little luxury on a winters day then create a hot tub in your garden! Being enveloped in warm water while it’s cold outside is the best feeling. Fill a large bucket or paddling pool with warm water (and a few bubbles if you like!) and enjoy! Obviously you’ll need to be around to supervise the water fun, but if it’s big enough why not jump in too!
Spread A Little Love – A Cute Winter Outdoor Activity For Kids
It’s not the easiest of times, so that’s all the more reason to teach your kids about spreading a little love and kindness. Spend some time making some ‘kindness rocks’. Gather up some rocks or pebbles (the smoother the better) and paint on some little messages like ‘sending love’, or ‘you got this’. Then take the rocks out on your next walk and leave them around pathways, parks and benches for people to find. Even a brightly coloured rock without a message could brighten up someone’s day!
Make An Instrument Wall
If you have a wall or fence in your garden then turn it into an instrument wall this winter. It’s a fun activity making it, but it will also provide hours of fun in the days after – it’s a gift that keeps on giving!
Just hang anything you can find that will make a noise when bashed or blown through on the wall – saucepans, cutlery, pipes, bottle tops, or natural items like sticks and pine cones. Then give them a spoon or stick and let them make music. It might be worth checking in with the neighbours first!
Nature Art Valentines Day
Instead of buying valentines cards this year why not get your kids to make their own from nature. You can create hearts from sticks and glue them to card, or photograph them and print them out. You can use colourful fallen leaves or pebbles. You can even carve hearts into thick fallen branches (perfect for older kids) but obviously be sure to teach them the correct way to carve and supervise.
This was my go to favourite winter outdoor activity for kids when I worked as a nanny. Kids just love a treasure hunt, and there are so many different ways you can do one. Hide sweets around the garden (if you have different ages of kids then give them a section each to explore), hide coloured blocks or painted stones, write clues for older kids or get them finding letters that spell out a word clue for the final prize. This is simple fun at it’s best (and will give you a good hours sit down while they hunt!)
Here’s the teacher in me getting excited about freezing water! It doesn’t sound like a fun outdoor activity, but younger kids have probably never thought about how or why water freezes.
Turn the cold weather into a great opportunity for a science experiment. Put trays of water in different places on a cold evening and see which ones freeze. You can explore why water freezes faster away from the house, or create trays of different sizes and thicknesses to see which freezes first.
Make A Bird Garland
This is similar to making a bird feeder but a little easier for younger kids (and great for those fine motor skills!). Simply take a ball of string and a large needle and thread on anything a bird would eat. Things like cheerios, dried fruit, popcorn and pine cones dipped in peanut butter and seeds work great. Then hang it outside a window and keep an eye out for those birds!
Play With Ice Blocks
Kids love playing with blocks (older kids too!) but why not mix it up and make them some ice blocks to play with for the ultimate sensory experience! You can make different sized blocks from ice cube trays and plastic Tupperware containers, then have fun building with them outside. And when they melt you can start all over again!
Winter Outdoor Activities For Older Kids
Outdoor activity ideas are often aimed at younger children, but there’s just as much to do outside with older kids. These ideas tend to be a little more involved, so they might take some planning, but there’s no reason you can’t leave some of that up to the kids once they’re old enough!
Set Up A Bat House
Bats are incredible creatures, but they need our help to survive. Build them a home outside so they don’t come looking for shelter in yours! And they’re also great at keeping mosquitoes and gnats at bay so if you live near water then this is even more beneficial! You can find a great guide to building a bat box with kids here. You’ll need to use a few tools, but remember children are far more capable than we sometimes think and as long as they’re taught properly and supervised they should be able to do a lot of things themselves.
Brew Your Own Evergreen Tea
Now that you’re a pro at tree identification why not reap the benefits. Pine needles have 5x more vitamin C than freshly squeezed orange juice! And evergreen tea has been used for centuries to boost the immune system.
This is a great way to teach children how to consume nature safely, so you’ll want to make sure they’re old enough to understand they should never eat anything they find without you! Check out this guide on making evergreen tea and give it a try!
There’s a lot of skill involved in photography – it’s a real art form. Get them exploring it young and give them a camera to play with in the great outdoors. They can have fun trying to recreate photos you’ve seen online, create their own art to photograph or just get creative. A phone camera is all they’ll need and if they develop a passion you can get them their very own starter camera for not too much. If they’re old enough they can even start to learn how to edit the photos they’ve taken!
Learn How To Collect Tree Sap
If you have a maple tree in your garden then why not try tree tapping and collecting your syrup! This is a great winter outdoor activity for kids, showing them where maple syrup comes from and how we collect it. You can do this with a range of different trees, but not all contain as much sugar and so might not make syrup, but it’s still a fun thing to try. You can find detailed instructions here and a tree tapping kit from Amazon to get you started!
After Dark Winter Outdoor Activities For Kids
With the night drawing in so early these days it’s good to have some after dark winter outdoor activities up your sleeve.
Listen For Owls Outdoors
Owls are very active in winter months, making it the perfect time to listen and maybe even spot one. Most owls are nocturnal, so you’ll need to head out in the dark, but as it gets dark so early in the winter months this is a great way to fill an afternoon.
Owls use their voices to establish territories and attract mates in the dark. You can download a bird identifying app to work out which bird has which call.
Star Gazing Winter Outdoor Activity For Kids
This is one of my favourite memories as a kid. My Dad used to take us out for a walk at night (we were probably driving my Mum crazy!) and point out different constellations in the sky. It’s even easier now with star gazing apps, and even if it’s cloudy and you can’t see anything there’s a real novelty to be being outside in the dark for kids.
Get rid of some of their energy before bed with a game of tag of hide and seek…in the dark! The person who is it has the flashlight and counts to 100 while everyone else hides. Then they go hunting with the torch! The people being looked for can either move around to new hiding places, making it more a game of tag, or the rules can be they have to stay in one place like hide and seek. These games are so much more exciting in the dark!
Have A Campfire
There’s no better way to keep warm outside in the winter. During forest school sessions we would often have a fire running throughout so that if the kids got cold they had somewhere to come and sit that was cosy. As we have such long, dark afternoons in the winter it’s the perfect time to have a campfire in your back garden. Use the day light to collect sticks (look for ones trapped off the ground so they aren’t as damp) and as night approaches you can light your fire, toast marshmallows and tell campfire stories!
Get the kids involved in the whole process, and use this as an opportunity to teach them about fire safety or reinforce what they already know. There are some great resources about fire safety on the internet, and you should set your own campfire rules so they grow up with a healthy understanding of how to be safe and enjoy fire.
Now that you’ve got the fire going you need some warming snacks to enjoy! The great thing about a campfire is that the cooking opportunities are endless. You can go for the low maintenance marshmallows or you can take it up a notch and go full campfire master chef (just remember the kids are there too – this isn’t all about you!)
I’ve had success making toasties, baked potatoes, sweetcorn, fruit skewers with melted chocolate and bread on a stick (this took a few attempts to get right!) but there are a wealth of ideas out there to try! The great thing about cooking on the campfire is that it becomes a whole day activity. Spend the morning collecting wood, the afternoon preparing your meal and the evening enjoying it. Get yourself a campfire cookbook – this is my favourite – and get cooking!
As you can see, there are plenty of great winter outdoor activities for kids of all different ages and interests! And if you’re looking for more outdoor activity ideas then check out these. Make it your new goal to get outside a little more often this winter and watch the days fly by!