Winter is a great time to spend an evening outdoors with kids gazing at the stars. (Credit: Scottdale Ariz. CVB)
Wintertime Can Be Fun for the Whole Family
by Keith Sutton
Don’t let the season’s cold keep you housebound. There are plenty of fun things to do outdoors this winter.
Spring, summer and fall are seasons of outdoor fun. Fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, boating—it’s easy to think of exciting ways to enjoy a day outdoors.
In winter, however, many families tend to vegetate in front of the TV. A snowfall coaxes some outdoors long enough to build a snowman or go sledding. But many think of excuses to ignore the wonders of winter.
“It’s too cold out.”
“There’s nothing to do.”
“The kids will catch cold.”
It shouldn’t be that way.
When we reach my neighbor’s pond, the boys are chattering excitedly. The world is blanketed in snow on this winter afternoon, but everyone is wearing warm toboggans, coats and gloves. They’re eager to see if the catfish will bite.
Fortunately, the whiskerfish are cooperative. Jared, Zach and Matt each bait their hooks with chunks of hot dogs and cast them out, and soon all three are tussling with some of the pond’s scrappy channel cats. The two older boys know how to remove their fish and put them on a stringer. I help Zach with his.
For two hours, we fish, and to my surprise, no one complains about the cold even once. When each youngster has five fish on his stringer, we halt our excursion so we can return home to clean our catch and prepare some fish for supper.
“Catfish always taste better when we catch them in winter,” Matt says later as we all chow down on the delicious deep-fried fillets.
“I agree,” I reply. “That cold water keeps them fresh, I think.”
“Do you think we could go again tomorrow?” Matt asks.
Despite the cold and the snow, all four of us are on the pond bank again by nine the next morning.
January 3 (barely). At 1:00 a.m., I awaken the boys. They rub sleepy eyes as I help them with warm coats.
The air outside is cold. The sky is clear. The stars are bright. We lay in grass on the hillside and snuggle to watch the northern sky.
“What will they look like, Dad?”
Before I answer, it begins. The first meteor strikes the atmosphere and streaks across the sky like a bottle rocket fired from the moon.
“Wow! Did you see that?”
Another appears, this one shorter, like an ember from a popping campfire.
“Did you see it?! Did you see it?!”
They look at me, wide-eyed, then back at the sky. I sense a growing excitement. No more sleepyheads.
The shooting stars strike up a rhythm. Each minute one blazes a path across the heavens. Each minute I hear a rush of exclamations: “Ooooooh! Ahhhh!”
You might see shooting stars any night, but when Earth crosses fields of debris left by comets or asteroids, many more appear. During early to mid-December, for instance, Earth crosses the orbit of Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Then you can see 50 to 80 meteors per hour, an event called the Geminid Meteor Shower. Other winter meteor showers include the Ursid, a few days prior to Christmas, and the Quadrantid during the first week of January.
If the nights are clear, watch the sky with your kids.
Boooroooo! Boooroooo! The chase is on. Our beagles race after a cottontail. Eleven-year-old Josh waits to intercept.
“The rabbit is running out in front of the dogs,” I tell him. “He’ll cross this opening any time now. You have to be ready.”
“I am ready,” he says.
The cottontail bursts from the fencerow. Josh cocks the hammer on the .410, aims and fires. The rabbit rolls. Josh seems astonished. I am.
“Beautiful shot, son,” I say, patting him on the back.
Josh grins. It’s his first rabbit and the beginning of a life-long passion for hunting.
Hunting small game with dogs is a good way to introduce youngsters to the joys of hunting. While dogs work, kids can talk, ask questions and share their excitement without fear of spooking game. Between chases, you can discuss hunting techniques, gun safety and ethics. Most of all, small-game hunting allows plenty of shooting for eager youngsters.
Small game, hunting dogs and kids—there’s no better combo for wintertime fun.
The pine seedlings on the hillside need thinning. I need help cutting and piling. Five of my sons are snug in the house playing Nintendo and watching TV. Can I coax them into the cold without a lot of grumbling?
“Hey, guys, I’ve got an idea. Let’s build a wickiup.”
“A wicki-what?” Jared asks.
“A wickiup,” I reply. “It’s a shelter like Native Americans built. We’ll cut some trees, and I’ll show you how to make one. You can camp in it.”
An hour later, 100 pine saplings are piled on the hillside. I never heard a grumble.
We lash a sapling between two trees. Then we create a lean-to of more sturdy saplings run from the crosspole to the ground. The framework is covered with bushy pine tops.
“If you ever get lost and have to spend a night in the woods, a lean-to like this will keep you warm and dry,” I tell the boys. “To turn it into a wickiup, finish covering it, and leave just a small entrance.”
Building the wickiup was a small lesson in wilderness survival. It was fun, too. The boys camped in the wickiup almost every winter weekend, even in the snow. It kept them warm and dry and away from the Nintendo.
What will you and your kids do this winter?
6 More Ways to Have Fun This Season
- Plan a winter campout. Bundle up. Carry warm sleeping bags and wood for a big campfire.
- Collect shed antlers. In many areas, whitetail bucks shed their antlers this season. A trip to the winter woods may turn up a trophy.
- Call a coyote. Predator calls are easy to use, and winter is a great time for calling.
- Create a backyard bird-watching station. Put out several feeders—some for seeds, some for suet. Keep a list of birds that visit.
- Take a winter photo safari. Let each family member shoot photos of winter scenes, then have the best ones printed and framed.
- Try tracking. Go out after a fresh snowfall and examine the tracks of the many animals you are certain to find.