Lots of families hit the road during school vacations and holidays, but for anyone who’s had to pacify a cranky kid on an airplane or jam the brood into the car and deal with traffic nightmares, staying home can sound like a gift. Sometimes, just exploring your own backyard can be more rewarding than you could imagine. Before you summon up images of PJs and movie marathons, make a plan to balance your family’s time off equally between indoor and outdoor activities—after all, you don’t want to model couch potato behavior, do you? Here are five outdoor ideas to try in your own neighborhood.
Who said picnics are only for summer? Pack some snacks, fill up thermoses with hot chocolate and soup, and get everyone dressed in their warmest winter gear. Head to a local park or playground and enjoy your meal in a winter wonderland. Afterwards, explore the park or let the kids play on structures that are transformed by snow and ice.
Strap on Skates
You may be familiar with your local indoor skating rink, but one of the greatest things about the temperature dropping is the chance to skate outside. If you live somewhere it gets cold enough, look for outdoor rinks in local parks and even on local hotel properties. Open to the public, these rinks are a novelty the whole family can enjoy.
Even if you live in the city, you can find animal tracks, from neighborhood cats to birds looking for food. Take a walk with your children right after a snowfall and see how many they can spot. You can take a journal and have the kids sketch what animal they think might have made the tracks, or take photos to try to identify them at home. You could also purchase a pocket guide to use as a reference for interpreting tracks and other signs of animal life in winter, or get some animal activities for kids from the National Wildlife Federation.
Take a Hike
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean that your favorite places in warm weather are closed. Many local parks, conservation areas, and sanctuaries remain open year-round. Visit websites for land trusts and conservation organizations like your local Audubon chapter and The Nature Conservancy to browse a variety of winter programs, many free for members, from bird-watching to snowshoe walks.
With your kids, design an outdoor bingo game to play. First, decide the categories, such as different types of birds, animal tracks, snowmen, or anything else you can dream up. Make as many cards as you have players, then head outside to see who can fill up their cards first. For more winter games, get ideas from the Appalachian Mountain Club at Kids Outdoors.
Kim Foley MacKinnon is a Boston-based editor, journalist, travel writer—and mom. She writes the Kids Outdoors Boston blog for the Appalachian Mountain Club and contributes to the Boston Globe, AAA Horizons, Boston Parents Paper, and many other publications.