As the weather turns colder, we must work with it so that children don’t miss out on all the proven benefits of being outdoors, particularly in winter when crisp, frosty days can be full of sparkling winter magic. Just imagine….
air so cold that you can breathe smoke just like a dragon
skies so blue and clear that you can watch the birds gather before they make their cold, long journeys
bare, brittle trees that make patterns against the sky
There’s so much learning out there. Don’t let the weather dictate how the outdoors is used. We can still go outside in almost all weather conditions as long as we are prepared for it and have the right clothes.
Make sure you have a box or drawer of spare hats, scarves, and gloves for any children who need extra clothing to keep them warm. If you are in a nursery, you may also consider keeping a collection of spare warm clothes for the adults so that there is never an excuse not to go out into the winter wonderland awaiting us.
Fun Winter Activities for Preschoolers
When everyone is good to go, here is a selection of my favorite winter themed activities for preschoolers:
Provide a selection of large umbrellas (the more colorful, the better) and wait for a heavy rainy day. Show your preschoolers how to open up the umbrellas, and then all you need to do is stand underneath, listening to the rain. Spend time listening to the sounds you can hear. You might want to stomp your feet and do a little rain dance if the rain starts to ease, like the birds do when they are looking for worms.
Introduce words like:
Plop plop plop
Sing rainy day rhymes like:
Rain rain, go away
Come back another day
It’s raining, It’s pouring,
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed and bumped his head,
And couldn’t get up in the morning.
When you are back indoors, follow up this activity by painting pictures of the rain falling on colorful umbrellas, and use percussion instruments to recreate the sounds that the raindrops make.
Almost every preschooler has an instinctive urge to jump in puddles, so go with the children’s interests and find some good-sized puddles, put your boots on, and allow them to jump in them for all they are worth.
If you don’t have puddles in your outdoor area, why not go for a walk together to find some at the park or down the street?
As the preschoolers jump up and down, encourage them to listen to the noise that their jumping makes.
Introduce new words like:
Talk about where the water in the puddle has come from and where it all goes when the sun comes out.
You can set challenges like:
Can they think of a way to cross the puddles without getting their feet wet?
Who can make the loudest noise from the puddle?
Who is the best puddle jumper?
Who can make the biggest/highest/longest splash?
Who else might need the puddles? (Talk about how birds, insects, and wildlife need water even through the winter.)
Can you see your reflection in the puddle if you keep very still and don’t make ripples?
When you are back indoors, draw and paint water pictures with different shades of white and blue paint, or add natural food coloring to your water tray and swirl it around.
3. Frosty Pictures
This fun winter activity works best where the children have had first-hand experience of a cold, frosty day. So the next time there is a morning frost, wrap up warm and go and search outdoors for frosty, icy patterns in the environment. Show your preschoolers how to stomp both feet, rub their hands together, and breathe their warm breath into their palms to keep their hands warm. You could introduce the rhyme:
by Cecily E Pike
Look out! Look out!
Jack Frost is about!
He’s after our fingers and toes;
And, all throughout the night,
The gay little sprite
Is working where nobody knows.
When you are back indoors, try this activity to make sparkling frosty pictures. Black paper works best for this, but you can use other dark colors if you haven’t got black.
Mix up a solution of very thick, salty water and paint your picture onto the colored paper. Then, simply allow the water to dry in a warm place. As the salty solution dries out, it will leave frosty patterns on the paper.
As the preschoolers paint, remind them of the frost outdoors with winter words like:
4. Ice Rescue
This preschool winter theme activity aims to rescue some small figures from the middle of a block of ice.
The night before you do this activity, prepare the ice blocks by placing large tubs of water in the freezer. I use empty margarine tubs. In each tub, drop a small plastic figure. I like to use fairy tale characters like a prince, princess, king, or queen, but you could also use superheroes or TV characters. Overnight, the water will turn to ice, and the small plastic figure will be embedded in the middle of the block of ice.
Explain to the preschoolers that they need to rescue the figure inside the ice.
Work outside if possible, so that the ice doesn’t melt too quickly. Turn the ice blocks out onto a table or workbench and provide a selection of tools. I like to use:
A toy tool kit including a hammer
A wooden spoon
A metal spoon
Ask the preschoolers to choose the best way to rescue the princess and let them get started. If the process of chipping away at the ice is taking a long time, talk about other, quicker ways to melt the ice, like using some warm water. (A few times during this activity, I’ve used a jug of warm water to release the character, and the children are genuinely amazed at how warm water can melt ice.)
5. Ice Sculptures
Using the same principle as the activity above, freeze several large ice blocks by putting large tubs of water in the freezer overnight. Using a large plastic tray, turn out the ice blocks, this time without the figures in the middle, and encourage your preschoolers to explore and investigate the ice. You can also add frozen ice pops for some variety and color if you want to.
Show the children how to sculpt the ice by chipping away at it with tools. I like to use metal pottery tools, which you can find online, but always complete a risk-benefit assessment first to make sure your children can work safely. You will know your children best.
Younger children may like to simply build the ice blocks on top of each other or feel the coldness and slipperiness against their hands. As the ice begins to melt, talk about where the water is coming from.
(This activity can be very cold for little hands, so it’s advisable to have gloves to put on once they have touched the ice.)
6. Winter Walk
Seize the moment for this winter fun activity and choose a frosty, crisp, clear morning where you all wrap up warm for a beautiful winter walk. Remember to take binoculars and magnifying glasses with you.
Tell your preschoolers that you are going out to look for signs of winter, such as:
Frost-covered sparkling spider’s webs
Crisp white grass
Frozen jagged puddles
Magical dripping icicles
A white airplane trails across the sky
Bare tree branches
Bright red berries for hungry birds
Take photographs and look closely at any signs of winter that you spot. This activity is a great talking point to introduce the next activity.
7. Feed the Birds
Birds are always looking for a little extra food during the winter months, so if you feed them, I guarantee they will come into your outdoor area.
Follow the recipe below with your preschoolers to make tasty winter treats that your birds will be very grateful for:
You will need:
2 empty coconut husks
1 jar of peanut butter
2 tablespoons of lard or coconut oil
A small packet of bird seed
What to do:
An adult should attach a piece of string to the coconut husks before you start by making a small hole in the husk.
Ask the preschoolers to spoon all of the peanut butter into a large bowl.
Together count out 3 tablespoons of fat (coconut oil or lard) and add it to the peanut butter.
Mix it all together with a wooden spoon. (If the mixture is too stiff, you can warm it slightly by putting it in the microwave for a few seconds.)
Add the birdseed and mix again.
Pass the bowl around so that everyone has a stir.
Now use spoons to fill the empty coconut husks with the mixture.
This is great for preschoolers to develop their fine motor skills, and they will get really involved as it’s for a real purpose.
Leave the mixture to set hard.
Tie your bird feeders outside in a high place that cats can’t reach.
For lots more exciting ideas to make winter bird feeders, visit the CBeebies website.
8. Bird Survey
Now that you have a steady stream of hungry winter birds visiting for the tasty treats on offer, your preschoolers can start to learn or practice counting and identifying the birds.
Set up a simple bird-watching station by making a den under a tarpaulin, or use a tent. Add some binoculars, a clipboard, paper, and pen.
Encourage your preschoolers to watch carefully through the binoculars and every time they see a bird, to make a mark on the paper. (A very simple tally chart.)
At the end of each day, count up the marks together to see how many birds visited.
You can also add bird books and identification charts to your bird hide. For example, if you know that you have blackbirds, robins, and sparrows in your outdoor area, add pictures of those birds to the clipboard and make your mark against the type of bird that you see.
This is counting, sorting, and classifying for a real purpose.
9. Snow Trails
This is a lovely winter activity to encourage your preschoolers to get mark-making.
You will need:
A large plastic tray
A bag of caster sugar
A tub of table salt
Silver glitter (optional)
What to do:
Fill a clean, dry plastic tray with the bag of sugar and the tub of salt.
Mix them together.
Add the glitter if you are using it.
The tray should now look as though it’s full of snow.
Show your preschoolers how to use your index finger to make swirls, numbers, and letters in the “snow.”
For most children, this feels lovely to write in. For children who don’t want to put their fingers into the mixture, offer the sticks instead. I like to take photographs to record the marks the children make. When they have finished, give the tray a gentle shake from side to side, and you will have a clean snow tray to start again – Magic!
10. Go Out in the Snow
Snow days don’t come around every day, so if you are lucky enough to have one, seize the moment, wrap up warm, put on your boots, and go out together into the white wonderland to try and catch a snowflake on your tongue or in the palm of your hand.
If you are lucky enough to have a decent amount of snow, work together to build a snowman by rolling a snowball through fresh snow so that it gathers more snow as you roll. Eventually, you should have a large snowball for the body and another one for the head.
Decorate your snowman with sticks for arms and pebbles for eyes, a carrot nose, and a twig mouth. You can even put a hat and gloves on him if you want to.
If you are lucky enough to have a large space, lie on the floor together and wave your arms and legs from side to side to create snow angels.
Remember to take photographs. Days like these are special days that your preschoolers will remember for a long time to come.
If you would like lots more winter activities for young children, visit this website.