As part of our commitment to making 2011 the Year of Play, we’re sharing ideas for how to shed the structured life and integrate some good old fashioned creative play back into your family life. Today, (cool) progeny contributor Monica Wiedel-Lubinski shares some thoughts for getting some much needed vitamin D while playing this winter. We suggest you read this post with a side of longjohns. And you may want to ‘plan’ to set-the coffee maker before you head out so there is a steaming cup ‘o joe when you return. {{Stick to hot milk for the pint sized ones}}.

Don’t let the cold keep you and your youngster indoors! Winter is a great time to observe wildlife and explore nature (as long as you are bundled up). From snow cookies to icy castles, there’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had. Try one of these wintry activities:

winter play with children under 2

  • Bundle up for a stroller or wagon ride. Stop to savor winter beauty like snow-covered pine trees, reflective frozen ice or nests visible in bare trees.
  • Listen for sounds in winter. Are geese honking overhead? Scampering squirrels? Birds chattering from the shrubs? Is snow crunching underfoot?
  • Walk or crawl in snowy surroundings (limit the amount of time your little one does this!). Offer beach toys or a bucket to play in the snow.
  • Sing a winter song. Cuddle your little one and sing “Here Comes Suzy Snowflake” or “Frosty the Snowman” as you take a winter walk.
  • Sprinkle bird seed in your yard together. The birds won’t mind if it’s dumped in a pile or evenly scattered – they are grateful for your offerings all winter long!

winter play ideas - (cool) progeny

winter play with children ages 3-5

  • Take a winter walk! Bring along a backpack with items such as a magnifying glass, spray bottle with water, beach toys, bath toys, buckets, measuring cups or sunglasses. You may want your camera, too.
  • Explore the winter landscape. Let your child pull out the backpack items and dig in. Resist the urge to initiate your own activities. Instead, let your child select items or locations in the yard to explore. This will provide an opportunity for her to invent a game or share her own interests with you.
  • Time for snowballs! Teach your child how to compact snow into a snow ball. (Use water from a spray bottle if it is helpful.) Arrange the snowballs from largest to smallest or set up a target (dad?!) and throw them!
  • Make snow cookies. Yes, you heard that right: COOKIES! Bring out old baking sheets and cookie cutters. Let your little chef make snow cookies – you can even add sprinkles on top. (If the snow doesn’t pack, spray with your water bottle and let the cookies freeze. Remove the cookie cutters the following day.)Write letters in the snow. Arrange twigs to spell his name or to write a message.
  • Make track shapes. Gather up kitchen objects, bath toys or blocks to “stamp” into the snow. How many shapes can you make?
  • Play ‘hide the bear’. Well they do hibernate after all, so take a stuffed animal such as a turtle, frog or bear outside and hide it from plain view. Challenge your tot to find the hibernating animal.
  • Build a snow castle. Use beach buckets filled with snow to create snow castles. Make one glorious castle, decorated with icicles and stones, or build an entire village. Add holiday lights to see your creation lit up at night.
  • Make a mini-snowman (or snow woman, if you prefer). It’s still a snow man even if it is two feet tall! And if you build quickly, you could make a whole family. Add carrots, raisins, apple slices, cereal pieces or banana to decorate.

-Fashion a recycled feeder and hang it somewhere you can view it from a window. Try using a 1/2 gallon milk jug, oatmeal container, or cereal box. Determine how to hang it with string and cut openings to fill it with seed. The more unusual the container, the more creative you can be!
  • Count birds that visit your bird feeder. (If you’re like me, you may want to count squirrels, too!)
  • Use drops of food coloring to create colorful water dyes. Pour them in clean, recycled spray bottles and let your child squirt rainbow art in the snow.
  • Do a science experiment. Make two snowballs. Place one outside, where you will not move it. Place the other on a plate inside. Take photographs of each snowball over time. How long does it take each one to melt?

Monica Wiedel-Lubinski is the Director of The Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center. For more great ways to share nature with your children, visit or check out all of Monica’s (cool) progeny Nature Play contributions.