When the sun is shining and the weather is nice, we have no qualms about sending our kids out to play--we know it's good for them! It means for many that we can actually get some things checked off of our to-do list when they go out, too! It's been proven time and again to be really good for the mind, body, and soul--for those young and older. Here are some ideas for kids and families alike to get out, soak up the Vitamin D, and have fun, even when the mercury sinks down low. Blizzards, winter weather advisories, and oh-so-low temperatures don't mean you need to settle in for months of hiding indoors. Healthy kids and adults do not need to let Old Man Winter put an end to staying active outdoors. Think back to the joy you felt as a kid when they announced a snow day - here's to making winter magical again!
Preschoolers are honest. It's one of the best things about kids that age - and few things can redeem your culinary skills in the eyes of a kid like filling a cone with sugar! This particular recipe can be tweaked to suit those around you. To delight the kids in your life, simply buy some sugar cones and tin foil and fill them as you'd like. We use marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, and mini M&Ms. You could even dice bananas if you wanted an outdoorsy bananas Foster. Get a cookie sheet and cover the top of your creations with tinfoil, leaving just the pointy end of the cone sticking out. Set them on a grill or just near the edge of the fire and wait. It varies depending on your fire-building prowess, but it should only be about ten minutes before the contents have melted and you can sit back and enjoy.
Snow Ice Cream
This recipe was first relayed to me by a friend in Alaska--where they also need to entertain stir-crazy kids for months of frozen monotony--and though it's not exact or precise, you get the idea. Chances are you'll spend many hours trying to perfect and personalize your particular recipe! Get a big mixing bowl and some FRESH snow and get to work! (The yield is much less than the initial amount of snow you use, so two cups of snow is only about a 1/2 cup of ice cream when you're done.)
2 heaping cups of fresh snow
1 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. of chocolate malt mix or Nesquik powder
Plain Old Vanilla
2 heaping cups of fresh snow
1 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract
Basically, once you get that condensed milk and snow, you can play with the recipe by adding juices, fruit, syrups, soda or jellies--get creative and then just add sprinkles!
Winter Biking and Ski Trailers
Fat tire bikes have been popular in recent years and while we think they are rad, they can be difficult to maneuver, costly, and rather rare in some parts. Trying to find miniature versions? Even harder. BUT, for those seriously adventurous little cruisers that need to keep riding even after snow has settled in, there is a contraption that looks so cool it might just be worth trying this winter! Strider, maker of a push bike for kids, has a winter option, too! It's basically two one-track skis that attach to each of the tires of your push bike, opening up another season of fun for the youngsters! If you are a fat tire biker, there is a fantastic attachment made by THULE (formerly Chariot) that looks just like the bike trailers for hauling kids in the fairer months, but has skis below. You can use it with the biking attachment or pull it behind you with a harness made for hiking and skiing.
Get a Yurt
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has three parks with yurt sites to date. They are Afton, Glendalough, and Cuyuna (perfect for biking) State Parks. You'll need to reserve them well in advance, but you might not have such wild competition in the winter. Having a roof over your head makes winter camping just a little cozier for most! This can provide the perfect base camp to all the snowy adventures you can find around state parks. They might also have an "I Can" Program, Ranger talk, or something that makes winter in nature extra special to take part in.
On the surface this might sound a little dull - though kids do love headlamps and flashlights! However, if you're really looking to wow the little humans in your life, pick up some reflective tacks or flags at the outdoors section of a local store. During the day, hike about placing the tacks around a hiking route for use at night. You can let the kids lead with their lights in this nocturnal jaunt.
Candle Light Skiing
Once you've learned the (ski) ropes, do it at night. You can make ice lanterns and place them around your ski route. If you're super savvy, you could also use your reflective hike route for this activity! If you're short on space, many public parks, ski trails, and ski clubs have candlelight ski nights. Join a club. It will open up all sorts of wintry opportunities.
Playgrounds aren't just for summer! They make a pretty fun escape during frozen months, too - the slide seems so much faster and you usually have the entire place to yourself!
Animal shelters love volunteers ALL the time, BUT dogs get cooped up and cabin fever sets in just as it does for humans--especially in winter! If you're looking for outdoor exercise with the added dose of good karma, make a dog's day and take them out for fresh air, too!
Make Ice Balloon Orbs
This one can be used for decorating the yard or for winter bowling! Simply fill balloons with water and add a generous amount of food coloring for bold colors, less for lighter orbs. Freeze and peel away the balloon. Now, you have bowling balls, just set up some plastic bottles and shovel the sidewalk! Challenge the neighbors or friends to a snow-bowl!
Snow leaves an incredible classroom for learning and exploration--and a fresh palette each day! We've followed footprints made by all sorts of animals and even people. See how dad has much larger feet? Do you think a dog-like animal or a cat-like animal came here? Is that deer poo? Hours of fun. Squirrel middens, tracks, scat, and all sorts of clues unfold along trails and paths - even in town!
Make Ice Lanterns
The first step to this is eating ice cream. A LOT of ice cream. (Gallon sized ice cream pails make the BEST tools for this activity!) Fill with water, push a small container (sour cream, cottage cheese, etc.) on top and then squish the ice cream pail lid on top. This will create a depression in your lantern for a candle. It takes at least overnight, sometimes 24 hrs. depending on conditions. If you use a larger five gallon bucket, fill with water and simply wait - it freezes into a cylinder after about a day with liquid water still visible in the middle - flip the bucket and chop out the frozen end to do this the easy way.
Volunteer at a Dogsled Kennel or Race
There are kennels all over the northland. Some of your co-workers might even run dogs in the winter. It's fast becoming a more popular sport - you may not have Iditarod racers next door (or do you?) but rest-assured, if you have hard workers that are curious about canines, you'll find a dog lot that might have an extra shovel or two! (And maybe some puppies to help socialize!) If you aren't ready to become a full-blown handler for a musher just yet, consider being a trail angel for a local-ish race. There are many - the Beargrease is the most widely known dogsled event in Minnesota, but there are all sorts of shorter qualifiers and recreational races. Volunteers are needed for everything from parking to puppy judging at some! You'll find your place to shine, we promise!
Visit an Ice Castle
Technically, this isn't lake country fun - not yet anyway, but it's pretty neat that we live in one of the few places that has ice castles! This might be a weekend getaway or an all-day trip, but imagine the look on your kids face when you show up at a giant ice structure! This year Stillwater, MN is the site of the incredible frozen water castle! It's a jaunt from our northern hideaway, but worth it to add a little magic--and maybe give the kids some inspiration for their own igloos in the backyard this season!
Just mix some warm water with food coloring in a spray bottle--use more for bold colors, but make sure to put on clothes that can get stained--just in case. Write names, fill in the garden with bursts of blooms on top of the blanket of snow, or just tie-dye snow angels and an army of snowmen!
Amanda Jones is a freelance writer in northern Minnesota. When she's not in her garden or deer stand she's on the road with her family, seeking out the next big adventure.
She's happiest when she has a strong cup of coffee on a misty, overcast, cool day, with a bucket full of berries or after seeing a killer sunset. Her children and pets keep her busy when she's not writing or exploring. She's also a harsh critic of coconut water and cruciferous vegetables.