6 Ways to Help Kids Build Outdoor Skills Through Winter Fun

Shorter days, fluctuating temperatures, dreary grey skies and unpredictable weather are hallmarks of winter. While the instinct might be to stay indoors, getting outside empowers kids to beat the winter blues.

The great outdoors is an incredible environment for learning. Research shows outdoor recreation, a fundamental need for children, not only supports physical development, but also contributes to cognitive functioning, creativity, problem solving, positive self-esteem and more.

Whether you’re venturing to a local mountain for time in the snow, or navigating a cold rainy day in the city, developing outdoor winter skills will serve kids well. It can help them prepare for the unexpected, like becoming lost or getting in an accident, and fosters learning that will support them in their everyday lives for years to come. Best of all, it is fun!

Fun activities will encourage socialization, exploration, STEM and building skills, culinary abilities, leadership and imagination. To encourage more kids to get outdoors year-round, Scouts Canada is sharing seven fun ways for families to make the most of winter, and learn some important life skills along the way.

1) Become explorers.

Head outdoors for some unstructured playtime and encourage your kids to lead the fun. Giving kids the freedom to explore and discover is an essential part of play that nurtures imagination and creativity, and enables safe risk-taking to test their abilities and limits, decision-making, problem-solving and self-regulation skills.

2) Build a shelter, and develop STEM skills.

Building a shelter from materials only found in nature is a fun way to spend an afternoon, and it also teaches kids about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Follow the method of learning by doing and encourage kids to discover what works, what doesn’t, and find solutions themselves. Offer guidance through questions like, “What can we use to fill the cracks to protect us from the wind?”

Younger kids can first try building a tarp shelter using branches, a lightweight tarp and rope. No one plans to get lost when out for a hike, but it happens all too often. Knowing how to build a shelter for protection from inclement weather, wind and the cold can be lifesaving.

3) Practice getting lost and found.

Embark on a nature walk and take steps to prevent getting lost by following a marked trail, or leaving trail markers. Let kids take the lead by practicing navigating a trail, then have them lead the way back. Each time they’re unsure of the way, tell them to hug a tree—it’s the best way for kids who get separated to stay put until someone finds them.

A game of lost and find me takes hide and seek to the next level and puts navigation skills to the test. Obtain (or make) a map of the neighbourhood and split into two teams. The team hiding should leave clues about their location that correspond to the map. The second team can then use a map and the clues to seek.

4) Practice ice safety.

Do you know how to tell if a frozen pond is safe to walk on or what to do if someone falls through? Head to a local park to practice an ice rescue. Lay down a tarp to simulate ice, and do safety drills like crawling with your feet spread wide and using items found nearby like a branch or a hockey stick to assist the person in the “water.”

5) Become an outdoor chef.

The ability to build a campfire to cook a simple meal is an important survival skill. Once kids perfect their fire building skills, try creating a fire with just one match. Be sure to follow fire bylaws and only build a fire if it’s safe to do so.

If you don’t have access to a space to safely cook outdoors, try a cooking challenge at home. Create a meal without using power or select five unusual ingredients that must be used to inspire creativity and problem-solving abilities that could come in handy during a power outage or emergency situation where food is in short supply.

6) Go forest bathing.

We all need time to destress—whether it’s due to anxiety related to the pandemic, school, work or another part of life. Forest bathing is a form of meditation, and studies show that simply spending time in nature can help boost your mood and offer mental health benefits. Head to a local forest for a quiet walk, paying close attention to your surroundings. Perhaps you’ll even spot local wildlife.

Prioritizing safety is essential for successful outdoor adventures, especially in winter. Remember to leave no trace—which means to leave nature as you found it to protect and preserve it for generations to come.

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