Whether your kids enjoy developing their powers of natural observation or prefer playing in the snow, a winter getaway is an opportunity for family learning. Do a bit of research before you go, pack a few simple things, and you're on your way: sketch pads, construction paper, scissors, pails and shovel, food coloring, a few spray bottles — and a carrot!
- Create a sundial. Search for a long stick with your child. Once you find find it, set it in the snow. You and your child can try to tell the time throughout the day by where the stick's shadow is cast. (At high noon the shadow will be at its smallest for the day, and depending on your latitude, there might not be a shadow at all.)
- Start a nature sketchbook. Buy an inexpensive artist's sketchpad or book, and have your child begin a winter nature diary. Each time you take a walk, ask her to observe something up close in nature, draw the item, then write down descriptive details and date the entry.
- Identify trees during a walk in the winter woods. Draw your child's attention to the shape and bundling of evergreen needles and patterns on bark. Borrow a naturalist's guide from the library to help make your identifications. You might put your child in charge of using the reference book — this will build his research skills.
- Go on a berry hunt. Pick berries with your child, leaving the leaves attached. Try to identify them together (but don't eat them!). Use a naturalist's guide or check the Web before or after your search to find clues.
- Observe the night sky. Before your trip, you and your child can work together to research the constellations and planets that may be visible on a cold clear night at the latitude and longitude where you are staying. Practice picking them out in the heavens by first tracing the constellations on paper.
- Search for animal tracks. The best time is early morning when snow is pristine — you'll find the tracks of nocturnal animals. Have your child draw and label what you see. Visit www.bear-tracker.com before you leave for your trip and download pictures of tracks for various animals.
- Play snow "basket"-ball. Scoop out a large bowl-shaped area in the snow and make a ton of snowballs, then see who can land the most into the basket.
- Try snowball catch for variation.
- Team up for snow hockey or golf. Use a broom for hockey, or bring along a toy club for golf.
- Have fun with outdoor tic-tac-toe. You and your child can use a long stick to draw the grid and the Xs and Os. Or color snowballs (use a spray bottle filled with watered-down food coloring) and throw them into the grid to play.
- Go snow bowling. Line up inverted pails of snow with your child, then try to knock them down with snowballs.
- Build a snowman, of course. Use stones, branches, and berries to decorate (and a carrot for his nose!). Have your child take the lead and see what sort of creative snow sculpture you two can produce.