A young boy runs through the snow as his mom walks behind him, smiling.

Creative activities across Canada to beat the winter blues

The first snowfall of the season was greeted with glee in our home. From the flakes that softly twirled down to the perfectly dusted tree branches, it truly looked like we were living inside a snow globe. For once, my 10-year-old was keen to get to school, and for weeks after that first snowfall he came home with tales of the epic snow fort that he’d built with friends and the “hot chocolate and coffee café” of imaginary drinks that sprung up from within its walls.

As a family, we’ve been sledding, skating, snowball throwing, and hiking. “What a wondrous winter wonderland!” we said those first few weeks. But then, despite our strong start to the season, around mid-January, my winter warriors and I lost a bit of our sparkle and enthusiasm, and the winter blues started creeping in.

*sigh* “Oh, look. It’s snowing. Again.” 

Yup, we’re definitely feeling the chill in our bones and needing a bit of a nudge to get outside these days. Luckily, all around us towns and communities are embracing creative ways of staying active and shaking off the cold-weather woes.

Cold-weather festivals

Winter carnivals are a great antidote to a mid-winter slump. With energizing names like “Ice-Breaker” and “Frosty Fling,” these events often include original games you might not get to experience elsewhere like horseshoe tournaments, snow golf, jam can curling, fishing derbies, skijoring, and snow volleyball. To extend the fun, some activities even extend outside of the carnival grounds so that people can participate from home.

The Vernon Winter Carnival in British Columbia invites kids and families to experience kickball, a fun run, or “build a snowman, castle, snow-bear or whatever you like” in backyards or parks, then post to social media for the chance to win a prize.

Celebrating the spirit of winter and “living like a Northerner” since 1934, the Cochrane Winter Carnival in Ontario lights up the night with a torchlight parade, a kids’ snow box derby on homemade “snowmobiles,” and an at-home ice and snow sculpture contest

Mission: snow play

One of the easiest ways to entice my kids to grab their snow gear and head outdoors, even in the harshest of weather, is to give them a challenge or mission. The allure of a challenge taps into their natural curiosity and can turn a bland day into hours of exploration or building.

One of our favourite activities each year is “Le Défi château de neige” (Snow Castle Challenge) which takes place in towns all across Quebec. With a mission of promoting healthy lifestyle habits and encouraging Quebecers to take part in outdoor physical activity during the winter season, the challenge runs from early January until mid-March. Families, friends, daycares, schools, and organizations are all invited to build a snow castle in their yards, balconies, or at a park, and participants can upload a photo of their creation for a chance to win a number of (active) prizes. 

“Le Défi château de neige is an excellent example of an environment that encourages young people to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. It’s an activity accessible to all and costs nothing,” said Manon Gauthier, coordinator of GénérAction, in a French press release. Bonus points for building those snow forts—it’s a full-body workout with a side of strategic planning!

And there are not only snow forts to keep everyone moving. In Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, N.L., a park has been transformed into a winter orienteering course where participants can get a hefty dose of fresh air while using their navigation and map reading skills to find 10 animal-themed orienteering “signs” scattered throughout Voisey’s Brook Park. 

In Nova Scotia, everyone is encouraged to head outside for an array of challenges. The New Glasgow Snowfolk Building Contest runs until the end of February and category prizes are awarded for Best Multicultural Snowman, Best Snow Creature, Most Colourful Snowman, and the Most Fashionable Snowman.

Across the province, Nova Scotians can take part in a weekly Facebook contest with Take the Roof Off Winter (TTROW) by taking a picture of themselves on a winter adventure with a printout of the TTROW toque and uploading a photo for a chance to win a prize. 

Getting in on the action is Take Me Outside, which is encouraging nature connection for learners and educators with its Winter Challenge taking place between February 19 and March 1. Sign up to receive activity and resource suggestions throughout the challenge, contribute to the activity ideas, and enter your class in the snowman-building contest.

And while many challenges are aimed at youngsters, recently, high schools in the U.S. and Canada took advantage of students having a snow day and offered up a snowman-building challenge over social media, to only be done once they’d finished their Google Classroom homework of course!

Safety tips

Going outside in the snow and building forts to rival Rome’s Colosseum or sculpting an entire family of snow people can be a great winter activity for the whole family, but make sure to do it safely. Here are some important tips so that playing always stays fun.

Build away from the road:

  • Pick a spot in a backyard, or far away from roads, driveways, and other potential hazards.

Dress appropriately:

  • Wear warm clothing, including waterproof gloves and boots.
  • Dress in layers to stay dry and avoid hypothermia.
Dressing kids for winter printable

Tools for construction:

  • Avoid sharp objects or heavy metal tools. Some items you can try are five-gallon buckets or yogurt containers, sand shovels, silicone muffin pans, or recycled milk cartons.
  • Try decorating your fort or snowmen with coloured water. Add food colouring to a spray bottle filled with cold water, give it a shake and start creating.

Ensure a stable structure:

  • If building a fort, start with a solid base and gradually build up the walls from the ground up, not by tunnelling into a snowbank.
  • Pack the snow tightly to create a stable structure.
  • To make snow forts safer and avoid suffocation risks, build structures without tunnels and roofs that can potentially collapse. Try building snow furniture instead!

Check in:

  • It’s always a good idea to check in on children at timed intervals.

Wear a helmet:

  • If your child takes part in any activity that involves going fast, like skiing or sledding, make sure they wear a properly fitted helmet.

So, lace up those boots, grab your mittens, embrace the cold and fun, and let the snowy adventures fuel your winter cheer!

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