Depending on where you live, winter is probably not the time when you think about taking your kids outside for nature walks but I’ve found that sunny winter days are some of the best times to get outside!
With shorter daylight hours, taking a nature walk in the middle of the day is a great way to break up the day and to re-energize yourself for the afternoon. Aside from some much needed sunshine, winter is also a great time for young learners to spot wildlife since it is much easier to see birds on tree branches when there aren’t leaves in the way! You can also spot bird nests or cavities in trees where animals may be living (which are normally hidden by leaves).
Below are a few of my favorite cold weather nature activities to enhance any nature walk. They only require paper and something to draw or write with – making it quick + easy to get out of the house!
Have you ever stopped to really look at tree bark? Did you know that each tree species has unique bark that scientists use to identify it?
Materials that you need: crayons in various colors with the paper taken off, white or light colored paper, an area with a few different types of trees.
Mess factor – None – Low
- Place the paper over the bark.
- Rub a crayon over paper. (This may take some practice to get the right amount of pressure.)
- Make any observations about the tree’s bark: Is it smooth or bumpy? Does it have deep ridges? Does it flake off? What color is the bark? etc.
- Make bark rubbings of a few different trees and discuss the similarities and differences.
Draw a Winter Tree
Materials that you need: pencil, crayon, or other drawing supplies and paper (could also be done on top of the bark rubbing), a clip board or other hard surface to lean on (my favorite clipboard is a binder clip and piece of cardboard).
Mess factor – Low
- Step back and position yourself so you can see the entire tree you want to draw.
- Sit down and gather your drawing materials.
- Look for the main trunk (what’s coming up from the ground) and draw that first.
- Now look at the primary branches (branches coming off the main trunk) draw those.
- Follow the tree’s branching pattern and draw the secondary branches.
- Repeat for the other trees in the area.
If you’re in an area with different types of trees, look at the drawings and at the trees and discuss the differences in branching patterns.
Touch a Tree
Materials that you need: blindfold, at least two people, an area with a lot of trees.
Mess factor – None
In this activity, one person is blindfolded and led to a tree to touch. They are then led back to the starting point, take the blindfold off and try to find the tree. For older children this can be made a little harder by turning them around a few times or leading them around an area before going to the tree and back to the starting spot.
- Pick a starting/ending spot.
- Blindfold one person
- The other person leads the blindfolded person by their hand to a tree.
- The blindfolded person has 15 seconds to get to know the tree
- Feel the bark, wrap their hands/arms around it, check the ground for any helpful clues.
- Once time is up the pair go back to the starting point.
- Take the blindfold off and the person who was blindfolded tries to find the tree.
- Discuss what characteristics helped them to find the tree. What did they remember from being blindfolded?
- Switch roles and repeat with a different tree.
Adopt a Spot
- Pick a spot in your neighborhood where there are trees, shrubs, and other “natural things.”
- Each week or month, come back to that spot and discuss what is changing in the area. Record these observations. Have your child draw that spot each time you visit or have them help you compose a picture of the spot.
- This is a great time to use this Teacher Mom Hack and create a Science Journal!
- Review the drawings and pictures every few trips to discuss what is changing and what has stayed the same. Notice color changes in the grass, foliage, animals present, when do buds start to appear on trees, etc.
Want to recreate some trees at home? Check out these great tree art crafts that utilize twigs and sticks collected during your winter nature walks.
About Nicole – I’ve spent the last 20 years teaching audiences of all ages about the environment and sustainability and how their actions can impact the environment. I got my start in environmental education on a whim working for a zoo in college. I had no idea that a college job would lead to me joining the Peace Corps, leading nature camps for a nature center, developing education programs for an international development agency, working at a university and now leading environmental education programs for a water utility. While the venue may have changed, the message is always the same, “Our actions impact not just ourselves but our community (which includes nature) and the entire world”. I’m a firm believer that experiences in nature help children not only learn critical thinking skills, but also gain confidence. While I have no children of my own I’m the cool aunt to 3 amazing kids that love to explore outside.
What does it look like in winter where you live? Share your winter adventures with us @givethekidssomethingtodo!
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