5 Engaging Backyard Winter Activities to Get ‘Em Outside When It’s Cold
It’s the dead of winter, and you’re about to lose your everlovin’ mind on account of your feral children being all cooped up inside, getting on each other’s—and your—nerves. So you banish them mumbling and grumbling to the back yard, and then they show up like stray cats at the back door five minutes later. Good thing you locked it!
The key to keeping your beloveds outside long enough for them to expend some energy and you to get your wits back is to get them really engaged in outdoor winter activities that are fun and challenging. Activities with a purpose—an end to a means, a problem to solve—will keep them at it, and hopefully, they’ll forget all about Minecraft or Shark Attack! or whatever screen diversion they’re into these days.
Here, then, are five outdoor winter activities that will not only have your kids looking for their own dang mittens so they can go outside, but also (hopefully) staying outside until you have to call them in for dinner.
1. Make a Snow Sculpture
You can see it in the rolling of your darling one’s eyes: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Snowman. Blah, blah, blah. If your kids are over the whole snowman thing for the winter—or for life—entice them into the great out-of-doors with the promise of enormous personal satisfaction once they construct a whale, or a gigantic couch the can lay on, or a rocket ship, or a bunch of creepy monsters emerging from the snow.
To get them inspired, Google something like “cool snow sculptures” and let them behold the awesomeness they’ll find there. Hand them the box of molds and tools you’ve already assembled—plastic bowls and tubs, scoops and spoons, etching and spackling tools—and send them on their merry way.
Making an epic snow sculptures is one of those great outdoor winter activities that keeps on giving even as it melts and contorts come spring, until its last sad vestiges melt away into nothingness. Getting all of the neighborhood kids involved will get them working on their social, leadership, and cooperation skills, and if they do really amazing work, by all means, call the newspaper.
2. Build Stuff Out Of Colored Ice Blocks
A few years ago, I saw a fascinating Imgur post by a guy who built a gorgeous, glowing igloo out of colored ice blocks he made with dyed water frozen in milk cartons. It’s a great story and a cool project, and every year, I get inspired to get out there with my kid and make one myself. Except that I hate being cold, and winter is the bane of my existence, so I’ll save that idea for when she’s older and I can admire and encourage from the kitchen window.
Maybe your kids are too young or have too short an attention span to build an igloo—the one you see here took in the neighborhood of 500 bricks—but they could make a sweet sculpture, a totem pole, or a small fort.
Basically, you fill molds with water, add food coloring, and leave ‘em outside to freeze. Then, you stack the ice blocks using “snowcrete” as mortar. Snowcrete is a bit of snow with a little water mixed in to make a thick slush, which freezes solid and holds the structure together.
Now, you probably don’t have a whole lotta milk cartons just lying around, but now you know to save them. Meanwhile, scrounge up other types of containers from the recycling bin or the garage to use as molds, or let ‘em fill up balloons to make a pile of colorful, frozen balls (as long as they won’t try to lob them at each other.) If it can hold water and easily release the frozen ice, it can be used as a mold.
Please, I beg of you, if your kids do this activity, post pictures, whatever they make!
3. Build an Ice Skating Rink in the Back Yard
An outdoor ice skating rink in the back yard can be fun for the whole family—even if you don’t ice skate—and the good news is that putting down a tarp and filling it with three or so inches of water in the dead of winter won’t kill your lawn. That’s right! The reason is that perennial grasses go dormant once the soil cools below 50 degrees. As long as you pull up the tarp by the time the days are getting longer and warmer, your lawn will suffer no unfortunate consequences.
Building an outdoor ice skating rink isn’t rocket science. Your older kids can probably pull it off without too much adult supervision. Read How to Build an Outdoor Ice Skating Rink (And Why Your Grass Will Survive) for some building instructions and a rundown of the kits you can get on Amazon if you'd rather not DIY.
4. Paint the Snow
Painting the snow is a fun and creative outdoor winter activity to get ‘em outside for a while once the novelty of snow has worn off and your yard is looking a little dirty and jagged anyway.
Buy or gather a bunch of spray bottles. You can find them cheap at your local dollar store, or better yet, you can reuse your empty, rinsed cleaning supplies bottles. Those red and yellow ketchup and mustard dispensers work well, too, but the water comes out faster and won’t last as long.
Fill the bottles with water, and add food dye to produce a rainbow of colors. Send the kids outside to spray paint the snow. Point out that on the “stream” setting, they can write words and make fine lines, and on the “spray” setting, they can color larger areas.
If you have older kids or you feel like doing some art/science with your youngers, have the kids do the coloring duties, mixing the colors to produce lots of different hues.
5. Have an Old-Fashioned Snowball Fight (Using Fun, Modern Tools)
Like building a snowman, a snowball fight is one of those classic outdoor winter activities that can keep your kids outside for eons, especially if they have *tools* to make it fun and interesting. And you can get those tools for under fifteen bucks on Amazon. This pair of snowball makers will produce perfectly round, smiley face-imprinted snowballs, which the kids can stockpile behind the fortresses they build with this snow brick maker. Both of these tools work with sand, too, making them a versatile backyard tool.
And there you have it. Five great outdoor winter activities to keep your kids engaged in the out-of-doors when it’s cold outside. How do you keep your kids busy outside in the winter? Feel free to add your own devious strategies in the comments!