Having three boys in quick succession means that sometimes the four walls of our house feel too confining – especially in the winter. Cabin fever is a real thing, y’all! There are only so many books to read, crafts to make or cookies to bake before they start getting antsy. And it’s not just the kids. My husband and I both need fresh air, too. In our time together, we’ve also figured out that in order to survive and thrive all winter long, we need things we can do as a family, as a couple and as individuals to keep us happy and healthy.
One of the best things about life in Minnesota is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy many fun winter activities. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: we do things in the winter that we love to do in the summertime. We just bundle up first. Here are a few of our favorite ways to really enjoy winter:
5. Prep for Outside Activities
Set up your tent or portable ice house indoors. Involve the kids in a complete gear check. Lay out all the equipment you will need for your next outdoor adventure. Give them age-appropriate jobs to care for the tools and equipment.
Since our boys are young and pretty squirrelly, when my husband bought a new-to-him portable ice house, he assigned our middle son to Quality Control. As the QC guy, he was responsible for checking the canvas inside and out for any holes. He liked having an important job and was a little disappointed that his searches didn’t turn up any holes because he wanted to learn how to patch them. It was really sweet to hear him chattering away as he reported his findings to my husband. They also had to test out how many favorite blankets and stuffed animals would fit inside. Once they piled it up good and high, we popped in a beloved Disney movie and had a fun family movie night.
And one of the best parts was hearing throughout their conversations how excited they were getting to go fishing the next day. They talked about the pros and cons of the area’s lake, what kind of fish might be in the lake, how they would get the ice house out to the lake and what they would bring for snacks. I know when he went to bed that night; my little guy had visions of minnows and tip-ups dancing in his head. My husband, too!
This same idea applies to any winter activity: ice skating, camping, skiing, snowshoeing and whatever else you can dream up. The idea is to involve them in the planning so that 1) they get some idea of what to expect from the activity 2) they feel involved and invested in it and 3) that they get excited about it.
4. Go Ice Fishing
Contrary to what outdoor magazines will lead you to believe, a tricked out $20,000 Ice Castle (aka a winterized camper with fishing holes drilled into the floor) is NOT required to go ice fishing. If you have one of those, great! That definitely provides a fun setting for trying to catch dinner. And I won’t lie; the creature features are pretty cool. (Heat, bunk beds, TV, game tables, etc.) On the other hand, a used pop up works great too. And if the fish aren’t biting, it’s easy to pack it up and scoot over to a new spot. Because it’s a smaller setup, it takes up less storage space and you have to be really intentional about what you pack for your trip. No matter the size or type of your ice fishing set up, what matters most is that you are spending time outdoors together.
The great thing about this activity is that it can be a family adventure, a mom and dad date or time for mom or dad to hang out with their friends. It’s a flexible past time with lots of opportunities to practice good stewardship of our natural resources, bond with loved ones, or enjoy solitude, eat locally caught fish and maybe even add another “the one that got away” story to your repertoire.
3. Capture a Sunset
Photography is one of my hobbies. One of the reasons I’m drawn to it is that I find it therapeutic and interesting. There is always something new to learn and a new way to see things. There’s something innately beautiful about simply looking at things to intentionally find the beauty in a place or a moment.
While some people may write winter off as a harsh, cold and colorless time of year, I love it. From an artistic standpoint, I believe the beauty in the stillness and wintry monochrome is elegant. And surprisingly, some of the most vibrant sunsets I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life have been midwinter.
This is another activity that doesn’t have to cost much to enjoy it. As someone once said, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” Grab your smartphone and go! Or if you received a fancy new camera for Christmas that you still haven’t learned how to use, take a class or find a mentor who will teach you.
It’s easy to get lost in photography in the winter. Venture out for a walk after you’ve layered up. Stop and look at the snow covered branches on your street. Tag along on a friend’s ice fishing trip to get out on a frozen lake. Take photos to document their catch. Take a little walk around the ice houses. Capture the sunrise or sunset from the ice. Not a fan of driving on a frozen lake? Stay on shore. Or take a drive through country backroads and search for a pretty vista. Stop when you feel moved to do so.
2. Play Outside
My husband works a lot of weekends. And at times his schedule is unpredictable. I am the default parent during these times. Those are some of the realities of being a law enforcement family. As much as I want to bring them out and about to do fun activities, there are times that just don’t work. Plus, five days a week we have to hurry out the door and do two drop-offs and then two pickups in the evenings.
When the weekend rolls around, it’s nice to have some slow days where we stay in our jammies and hang out at home. I intentionally make it a priority to slow things down on the weekends, limit our outside obligations and focus on the simple things at home. I want our kids to grow up with happy memories of learning which snow is safe to eat, lining up in the bathroom to peer in the mirror to see who has the reddest cheeks from outside and finding the perfect patch of untouched snow to make a snow angel. By this winter, they’ve done all those things and more.
Why should we only enjoy slides and swings in the summer? You should hear their peals of laughter when they zoom down the slide and land in a pile of snow at the bottom. We also leave our trampoline up all year long. Is it a pain to clear off the snow? Yep. But for me, I’d rather do that and have it available for them to blow off steam than wrestle with disassembling and reassembling it each year.
Need snow shoveled? Grab a kiddie snow shovel or a beach shovel and let ’em have at it. In between goofing off and throwing snow to see how high in the air they can make it, they might actually clean a stair or two off.
Plus, it will give you lots of photo ops and you can play with new techniques while you capture a little bit of their childhood in the winter.
1. Light a Bonfire
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered the absolute joy that is the winter bonfire. I confess that I love a wintertime bonfire so much more than a summer one. I feel like winter bonfires are just inherently cozier. The lower temps usually lead to more snuggles by the fire. Hence, it’s a good family activity or a great date night activity. What mama needs an excuse to cuddle up with her babies and enjoy them? Who needs a reason to snuggle into their partner and light an internal fire?
On top of the obvious, I enjoy them more in winter because my anxiety over a runaway wildfire is so much less. In my head, the snow-covered ground is less likely to catch fire from a stray ember. I can relax a little more while still being vigilant about safety.
Schlepping firewood to the fire pit is much easier when you have a sled along. There’s a slight novelty factor that can’t be ignored. The kids love to help with this chore and often argue over who gets to pull the sled. Clean up after the fire is out is another story…but we are working on it!
And last, the kids really love to cook over a fire. One of our family Christmas gifts was a kid’s campfire cookbook. It’s full of easy to prepare, portable foods. A family goal this year is to cook each recipe from it. The boys have enjoyed deciding which ones to do first. And like in number 5 above, we find ways to engage each of them. We make sure that they are safely supervised and that the specific tasks are age appropriate. It has helped each of them feel more confident and independent.
If you haven’t tried any of these ideas, what are you waiting for? You may be surprised how much you like one of these things if it’s outside your comfort zone.
What other easy and fun things do you do to stay active in the winter?