6 ways for children and families to enjoy nature this winter
Winter is on the horizon, but your outdoor fun doesn’t need to come to an end. There is a beautiful winter world awaiting for those who seek refreshment and energy from the outdoors. Below are six ways you and your family can enjoy nature this winter, despite the chilly temperatures.
Winter skies can be the clearest of the year and the richest in stars. In addition to winter constellations such as Orion, Canis Major and the bright star Sirius, Canis Minor and Gemini the Twins, this season you can observe The Great Conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter.
Go outside and look toward the south/southwest, where you will see two objects shining brighter than any surrounding stars. The brighter one is Jupiter and the dimmer one is Saturn.
These two planets are 400 million miles apart, but currently in the same part of the sky (this conjunction happens only once every 20 years).
Over the next few weeks, Jupiter and Saturn will become closer together. On Dec. 21, they will be 0.1 degree apart – there is no correlation to the winter solstice, only a happy coincidence.
Make an ice sun catcher
Get outside and decorate! National Geographic Kids offers instructions on how to create a natural ice sun catcher to display in your yard. All you need for this simple craft is a Bundt pan, bits of nature (pine needles, berries, colorful leaves) and a ribbon. Just like a snowflake, no two sun catchers are alike. Visit kids.nationalgeographic.com and search for "sun catcher."
Take a nature walk
Bundle up on a cold day and head to your favorite hiking trail, where a whole new ecosystem is waiting to be explored.
Scavenger hunts are a great way to keep your little ones motivated on nature walks. Create a simple list of things to look for – a pinecone, an animal track, a feather – and offer a treat once it’s complete.
Lake Erie Nature & Science Center offers printable nature scavenger hunts at www.lensc.org.
Read a story around the fire
We tend to associate outdoor fires with summertime and s’mores, but this can be a perfect winter activity on the right night (with correct safety precautions taken, of course!).
Gather around the fire with blankets and hot chocolate, and read a seasonal story such as “Snowmen at Night” by Caralyn Buehner or “Bear Snores On” by Karma Wilson.
Looking and listening for birds in winter offers the benefit of trees not having leaves, making it easier to spot birds. Some birds may have migrated south for the season, but those that have stayed offer much to see and hear.
If you prefer to watch birds from indoors, you can attract them to your yard with a classic bird feeder recipe: a pinecone, peanut butter, birdseed and a string.
Take an indoor break
Need a break from the cold to explore nature indoors? Register for free general admission at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center by visiting www.lensc.org. Among the indoor and outdoor live animal exhibits, natural history displays, state-of-the-art planetarium and nearby hiking trails, the center offers plenty to discover during the winter season.
Morgan Paskert is on staff at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.