Last March Break, our family cross-country skiied in one of the hardest and most epic cross-country skiing trails in southern Ontario, the Pinetree Loop in Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s 17 kilometres with hard climbs and long steep downhill sections. No awards were handed to our kids, who at the time were seven and 11. All they got was a feeling of accomplishment and the scenic rewards viewing of one of Canada’s iconic parks.
However, our kids’ outdoor activities didn’t start in Algonquin park. They started years ago with countless small excursions in our community and lots of outdoor play. Getting them outdoors early and often means we’ve been able to gradually increase the distances we hike, bike, and ski as a family.
Depending on where you live, there might be snow on the ground all winter long or not very often at all. Take advantage of snowy days when you do have them with these seven fun outdoor activities you can enjoy right in your own community. And while not every winter day comes with snow, it’s still possible to have lots of fun outside, so we’ve included some ideas for snow-free days, too.
1. Cross-country skiing
If you have snow, head to your local park. Put your skis on and make some tracks so your kids can follow the tracks after you. Play Follow the Leader and get your little one to mimic you. Only use poles when they have mastered following you. When they can manage flat ground you can start them on small downhill and uphills. Be patient as it can be frustrating getting around on skis for little legs. If you’re new to the sport or don’t want to do it yourself, you and your family can sign up for family lessons at most resorts and even some parks and recreation facilities around Canada.
2. Snow Circle Tag
Let the kids stomp a huge circle in your backyard or local park with their feet. Next, make a cross through the circle and then add more paths through the circle. The circle should look like a giant pizza with 8 equal slices.
To play, choose one player to be “it” to chase the other players. The player who is “it” tries to tag the free ones while all players (including the person who is “it”) must stay on the paths created. Once a free player is tagged, they’re “it.” The centre point sign is a free zone where one can’t get tagged. The game ends once kids are tired.
3. Go tubing in the snow
Have some floaties laying around in the house? If so, you have what you need to go tubing. Go to the closest sledding hill and have a blast.
4. Snow hopscotch
Create hopscotch squares in the snow with squirt bottles filled with food colouring and water. Use a snowball as a marker and play hopscotch. Throw the snowball to one of the squares, hop to the square with the snowball and stop, pick up the snowball, and head back. Pass the snowball to the next player.
5. Slide on icy patches
Go for a walk in your neighbourhood and hunt for icy patches. Let kids stomp, slip, and slide on the ice.
6. Go skating as a family
Start easy in the beginning. Marie Jonsson, a skating instructor friend of mine, gave me a good tip: “A good way to prepare children to go on the ice is to let them walk inside the house wearing their skates, with the guards, on rugs,” she said. “When they have the balance, they are ready for the ice.” We used this tip and started with small trips to the ice rink and used the little helper while there.
If you’re new to skating yourself, there are always many places to sign up for lessons for both kids and adults.
7. Search for some local geocaches
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt using a GPS to locate caches. The caches can include different treasures. You can find caches all over the world, including in your community. You will need a GPS device; most smartphones have apps for this.
Before you head to your closest park, you need to register to find the caches in your area. Make sure you write down the coordinates and clues.
Another version of this GPS treasure game is letterboxing. Letterboxing typically uses handmade stamps for your stamp book instead of random trinkets.
Exposing your kids to lots of outdoor play opportunities in the winter means that in time they will surprise you with what they can do. Even if you never choose to tackle the Pinetree Loop as a family, winter will be a lot more fun for everyone.