Winter is a beautiful time of year to explore nature, but with restrictions on where and how far we can exercise, there are worries about how the same pavements may become a little boring for kids.
With only a short time to get out in the daylight each day around work/homeschool, we are lapping the same rectangular field each weekday, meaning I’m writing the following to hopefully also help anyone looking to liven up the pavements right now.
I know we are lucky to have some beautiful places on our doorstep here in Leicestershire, but right now we are staying local, with walks from our house – as we’re used to being a bit more free range, we’re getting itchy feet, so trying to keep the motivation up on the same trails. Once we’re out, the difference to our mind and body is incredible – it not only helps us burn off some energy, and get us away from the work/homelearning screens, but also makes us feel good too!
What’s more, many of these are free and don’t require you to need any equipment or a printer.
I know I don’t need to remind you to stay safe and stay local, these ideas are for when out on your daily exercise, to keep the kids entertained when you’re walking the same paths each day during lockdown.
1. Seasonal sensory fun
Winter is a great time of year to explore with a whole range of amazing sensory fun to have! What sound does the ice make as it crunches under your feet? How does it feel as it breaks? Can you see the patterns in the ice? Are there any animal footprints? What does the frost look like?
Even walking the same paths is a bonus as you know the route so can spot little things in nature you may not notice before, from little footprints in the snow to animal hideouts – just remember not to touch them 🙂
If you’re homeschooling, why not get them to write or draw what they’ve seen when they get home? How is the environment changing while the seasons are changing?
2. Follow the leader
Let the kids tell you which way they want to go – it makes them feel like they’re in charge! Even if it is as simple as getting to a fork in the road and offering them them the option of going left or right.
3. Map reading
If you know the roads around your streets (or maybe you could use Google maps!), try drawing a simple map, then get the little ones to draw lines along a route from your front door. When you’re out, see if they can follow the route they’ve drawn!
4. Scavenger hunt
Winter is a great time of year to explore nature. Why not see what you can spot? Print out an online scavenger hunt, there are many out there, from nature finds, to sensory objects or spotting things with different colours. We love these ideas from the Woodland Trust.
If you don’t have any to hand and need a quick last-minute distraction for tired legs, try a rainbow hunt by getting the kids to spot something on the route using different colours of the rainbow.
5. Nature crafts
From leaf rubbings to stick crafts, there are a whole range of crafts you can do with nature. We love all the resources from Forestry England as they have downloadable packs that are great for homeschooling too, while keeping you having fun at home, including a Gruffalo Spotters activity pack too.
6. Bring a backpack
We may not be going more than about a mile from home, but Lily still insists on filling her backpack with her Kidnoculars, her Usborne Minis books, a little snack, duck food and her spare socks and gloves.
This not only helps me not have to carry everything for her, but also is a great way to make her feel more independent on our days out. She has space for her water bottle in there too, but when it is full she does find it too heavy to still be able to climb or jump around, so that’s still down to me until she drinks a bit.
I also insist she carries any of her ‘treasure’ finds in her backpack too, so I no longer have piles of stones in my own backpack!
Lily’s favourite item in her backpack is definitely her binoculars – to be precise, it is the Learning Resources Kidnoculars that I bought her during Lockdown 1, and have since come with us on every adventure!
She pretends she is taking photos with them too, but they’re perfect for little kiddy hands and very simple to use. They are a great conversation-starter too as she tells me what she can see. Definitely one of our best ever purchases!
8. Treasure hunt
Nature is a beautiful treasure, so why not use this for a fun walk? You can integrate it into a scavenger hunt if you were looking for ideas of what to search for. Lily loves making a treasure chest out of an egg box (a great craft at home!) while I’m working, and then we can head out to search for treasure on our walk after work! The Woodland Trust suggests a Tiny Treasure Hunt to seeing what natural treasures you can find to fit into a matchbox,
9. Nature spotting
In Lily’s backpack, she has her Usborne Minis books on Trees to Spot, Birds to Spot, Bugs to Spot and Flowers to Spot. They’re £2.99 each (they were from us for her Christmas present!) and a great way to help her understand nature, see what she can find, and they’re well organised into locations, so what to expect in towns, woodlands or countryside too, with stickers at the back.
We also think the Spotty Dawdlers nature spotting books look great too, with flashcards and stickers, and the perfect size for little hands.
If you don’t have these to hand, that doesn’t stop you being able to spot nature – why not get the kids to take a photo on your phone of something they’ve seen, and then they can look it up online when getting home?
10. Track your time outdoors
Track the time you’ve spent outdoors, such as with the 1000 Hours Outside trackers, a fantastic visual way to keep motivated to keep walking. We love the trackers as you can break them down easily for different milestones to keep up the motivation.
11. Litter picking
Litter picking, when done safely, is a great way to help children learn about the environment and protecting nature, while clearing up your local area.
You can pick up little litter grabbers online for kids for under £5, or if you have an adult one then get the kids to point out the rubbish for you to pick up.
12. Virtual challenges
There are plenty of virtual challenges out there where you can track your walks and earn medals for it . This one looks great over at the Kidz Medal Club, with dinosaur, unicorn, under the sea and other themed challenges, where you earn a medal at the end.
Treasure Map Trails also looks a fantastic idea for all the family to have a socially-distanced local adventure by downloading maps, solving clues and exploring your local area.
13. Magnifying Glass
Give the little ones a magnifying glass and they’ll instantly become little explorers! You can pick them up for a few pounds online, including toddler-friendly versions.
Ask them what patterns they can see in the frost, ice or snow, as well as look closely at any animal tracks. Maybe they can take a little book to draw what they see and then look it up when they get home to find out more?
14. Make your own adventures
Anyone else’s kid love to climb on everything… and then jump off the end?! Finding natural obstacles along the way can really make a walk that little bit more fun. Why not turn a walk into an themed adventure, playing on things your children love, such as pirates, unicorns, fairies, monsters, superheroes? Even better, dress up for the adventure – you’ll be sure to make your neighbours smile too 🙂
15. Find ‘secret’ spots
Lily’s favourite place to head right now is the ‘secret’ tree swing in the field. It isn’t secret, but the field is always so empty, she feel like it is a secret.
If you have somewhere to aim to go, a goal to reach, it can make the little ones excited to get out, when the weather may be keeping them drawn to the cosy sofa!
16. Feed the birds
While the lakes are icy and through the winter months, it can often be difficult for birds to find some nutritious food. Bread isn’t nutritious for the birds, but there are many things you can find at home to feed the ducks or birds if you’re not near water. We bought duck food pellets from the garden centre and decant them into a brown paper bag for when we want to head somewhere with water.
17. Muddy Puddles
This needs no explaining, but this is a fantastic time of year for all the mud and puddles! Make sure you dress right for the weather, and you’ll have all the fun when out and about – plus it’s usually quieter in muddier areas, so as long as you’re prepared, you’ll have a great time!
18. Dance like noone’s watching
You don’t need to walk on your routes – if it is safe to do so, such as on a path through a park or field, rather than driveways, why don’t you try hopping, skipping, jumping? Set a visual distance, such as to reach the next tree by galloping sideways, and race each other there – it always ends in giggles!
19. Play games
Another free and fun way to keep the kids entertained on a walk is by playing games. Anything from I-spy to who can hop 10 times first, racing each other to the next tree (safely of course), and hide and seek. Other favourites of ours are cloud spotting and making up stories with the cloud shapes we spot!
20. Plan a post-walk treat
We all know that there are just some days that it is just too cold or miserable to be having fun, or those little legs need a little more motivation to keep walking!
Why not plan a warm hot chocolate, a movie afternoon or a living room picnic for when you get home?