Winter can be one of the most miserable times for dads with kids. The sun goes down early and, depending on your part of the country, the wind can freeze even the slightest amount of exposed skin.
Young kids exhaust all toy options and resort to, “Dad, can you play with me? Dad, can you play with me? Dad, can you play with me?” until you finally give in.
Older kids spend every waking minute on some kind of electronic device, leaving you wondering if you are raising them or if they’re being parented by an iPad.
All of that can add up to a winter season full of frustration and a longing for springtime.
If you can relate, you aren’t alone. Most parents across America experience this every single year. But we can tell you that winter doesn’t have to be the worst of times. In fact, it can actually be the best of times!
The key to thriving during the winter months is making a list of fun, engaging, and educational experiences that you can do with your kids.
So, dads with kids, listen up. We’ve done the work for you and listed some fun creative winter experiences that are enjoyable and formative for everyone.
Go on an adventure in the snow
If it’s not too cold, bundle your kids up and take them on a hike through the snow. Imagine that you are explorers in an undiscovered, icy land, sent by the king and queen to claim new territory (or whatever scenario works for you). Bring a camera to document your adventure and a backpack so that you can bring back interesting specimens to study when you get home.
Introduce your kids to your favorite childhood movies
You may have to screen the films beforehand, but it’s fun to show kids the movies that were important to you when you were young. Movies like E.T. and The Sandlot are timeless and still resonate today.
You’ll have a blast as your kids roll their eyes and make fun of the old-school scenery and clothing in your favorite movies.
Here’s the deal. Kids want to know their dad and learn about his life before they came along. This is an easy and unique way to be vulnerable and relate with your children.
Create scenery using household items
Not all dads are creative, but a lot of dads have an extra-full recycling bin at Christmas time. A great way to utilize all of those empty Amazon boxes is to turn them into scenery for a play. Give your kids tape, markers, crayons, and glue and let them build a stage set (bonus dad-points for jumping in to help).
Then, ask them to perform an original play for you (even more bonus points for acting in the play).
Go to the local sledding hill together
When the snow falls just right, bundle up, load up the sleds (or trash can lids) and take the kids sledding. Bring your phone, some kind of camera, or a GoPro if you’re fancy, and take a video of you and your children speeding down the hill together. Watch the video when you get home over a cup of hot chocolate.
Unplug and play cards
Some experts say that at least 90% of American kids own a tablet or a smartphone. That means that a lot of their extra time is spent staring at a screen, disengaged from their family. One great thing you can do with your kids this winter is to schedule intentional, unplugged time together.
Designate a place where every family member place their phones and electronic devices before going to play cards or a board game together. The key to making this work is putting it on the calendar and committing to it yourself. If you can pull this off, the reward of quality time is greater than the effort.
Start a neighborhood coat drive
The winter season is a perfect time to donate coats to organizations that work with under-resourced people in your community. Starting a coat drive is a great way to teach your kids about caring for others. Here are five simple steps to doing a coat drive:
- Make informational fliers together (include dates/times/where the coats are going)
- Walk around the neighborhood giving them to each household
- Host the coat drive either in one location or by going to each house to receive donations
- Go with your kids to a local organization to drop of the coats
- Debrief with your kids about how they felt and the impact they made
Volunteer at a nursing home together
Throughout the year, nursing homes host all kinds of special events for their residents (bean bag tournaments, Christmas caroling, game nights, etc). And they love it when families come to help with their events. Plus, you’ll have the chance to give your kids some valuable life lessons. Here are the four steps to take to make it happen:
- Call a local nursing to find out if they need volunteers for any upcoming winter events
- Talk with your kids about the reason you’re volunteering
- Go together to the nursing home to serve and connect with the residents
- Debrief with your kids about their feelings and talk about whether or not you could volunteer together again
Go to a local roller-skating rink
If you’re a child of the ‘80s, just reading this made you smile. A fun winter experience for you and your kids is introducing them to the sights, smells, and old-school vibes of an indoor roller-skating rink. Bring a roll of quarters for the arcade and, if you’re feeling brave, dress up in some of your old clothes, too.
Some libraries host winter reading contests. But if yours doesn’t, challenge your kids to a good old-fashioned reading competition. Everyone writes down the titles of the books they complete. Then, the first person to finish 20 books gets to pick whatever dinner they want.
Support your local high school’s basketball team
Your high school basketball team might not play the most exciting basketball ever. But your kids will have a blast going to the games—the concession stand, the crowd noises, the speed of the players running up and down the court, and the halftime show.
If your kids are younger, this is an awesome way to teach them about the game.
The perk? High school sporting events are really cheap, if not free!
Buy a huge puzzle
If you have space in your house for a big puzzle, this is another great activity that doesn’t involve staring at a computer or TV screen. At the beginning of the winter, buy a 1,000-piece puzzle and do it little-by-little over the next few months. Every time you and kids walk by the puzzle, stop and put together a piece or two. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you finish it.
Connect with relatives who live far away
We’ve talked a big game about spending time with your kids away from the screens. But the winter months provide you with the opportunity to connect or reconnect with relatives that live in other parts of the country or the world.
Schedule a FaceTime call every week with an uncle, sibling, grandparent, or someone even more distant on the family tree. Work together with your kids to create a list of questions to ask that will help you learn more about the other person.
Write letters to men and women in the military
The fact that you have the freedom to give your kids fun experiences this winter is because there are men and women who have chosen a life of sacrifice.
- Spend a weekend talking about it (maybe even find a book at the library to read together).
- Contact an organization that is connected to men and women serving in the military. Tell them about your idea and then ask them how to make it happen.
- Write letters together thanking those men and women for their service.
- Deliver the letters to an organization or take them to the post office to mail them.
Make dinner together
The messiest idea on the list, this has the potential to be one of the most fun and educational.
- Task your kids with creating a three-course menu
- Help them find recipes online for each dish
- Take your kids shopping for the ingredients
- Cook dinner together. You might want to buy a 6-pack of a beverage of your choice… because… well… this could be stressful.
- Eat together with your kids and be intentional about describing how much fun you had with them.
Indoor obstacle course
You’ve seen American Ninja Warrior. Check out Living Room Ninja Warrior! A fun activity to do with your kids (A very “dad” kind of thing to do) is to move a bunch of furniture and other sturdy objects into the living room for the purpose of creating an obstacle course—chairs to be hopped on, benches for balance beams, step stools as starting blocks. One of the fun parts of this activity is to let your kids’ creativity run wild. You’ll be amazed at what they come up with.
Take a trip to a local history museum
This may not sound as cool as Living Room Ninja Warrior or taking your kids to the sledding hill. But, here’s why it’s a perfect winter experience for you and your kids:
- It can teach your children perspective—that there were people here before them and there will be people here after them.
- It opens up a conversation about appreciating what they have.
Go ice skating
Like I said before: parents are most effective when they can be vulnerable around their kids. There is nothing more vulnerable than falling, over and over again, on the ice. So, take your kids ice skating this winter and let them laugh at you. Laugh at each other until you cry and then drive home retelling epic ice-skating war stories together.
Make a winter bird feeder
Younger kids love making bird feeders in the summer. But did you know that you can feed birds during the winter, too? They can be designed just like the ones you make in the summer with one caveat: you’ll need to make sure they are sheltered from the inevitable snowstorms. Check out this recipe for a great homemade winter bird feeder.
Host a backyard winter Olympics
If you’re like every dad I’ve met, just reading this made you excited. Think of the possibilities: 100-meter snow dash, sled races, snowman building contest, snow-long-jump, snow-ball shooting into a target.
If you want to get extra creative, have your kids make medals or trophies to present to the winners of your backyard winter Olympics.
Dads, listen. Winter doesn’t have to be the worst of times. You don’t have to dread the question, “Dad, will you play with me?” and you don’t have to feel like your kids are being raised by a tablet. Winter can actually be the best of times, a season full of memories and bonding between you and your children. With a little effort and some creativity, you can thrive by giving these winter experiences for dads and their kids a try.
Good luck and happy fathering!