As the chilly weather and shorter days roll in, spending time outside with the kiddos becomes a bit more challenging, but as important as ever. We’ve all heard someone say something along the lines of, “Come inside…you’ll catch a cold!!” But this common misconception that cold weather brings about illness should be abandoned at the door…leading outside, of course! As long as children bundle up and stay safe, the benefits of outdoor adventures far out way the risks. Getting the blood flowing and soaking up essential vitamins, both supports our immune systems, so we may better fight off such viruses, and excites the senses. However, finding outdoor activities can sometimes be tricky and it is easy to want to curl up in a cozy blanket and hibernate until spring. Here are a few ideas and projects my children and I have done to stay connected to the natural world this winter.
Nature Confetti and Ice Suncatchers
Frozen Ice-suncatchers are a beautiful way to capture the sun and add some splendor to your yard! And they are super easy to make…winter temperatures do most of the work for you!
You will need:
Some sort of container: paper plates, aluminum pie crust pan, etc.
Natural materials: leaves, twigs, rose hips, feathers, berries, etc.
Something to hang the suncatchers: kitchen twin, yarn, ribbon, jute, etc.
Freezer or just set outside in freezing temperatures
Hole punch to make confetti from dried leaves (optional)
We used compostable paper bowls but you could use any sort of container. Search the yard or go for a walk in the woods or neighborhood to find natural materials and arrange them in your container. Next fill with water. You can even add a couple drops of food coloring to add some vibrant colors. Finally leave outside to freeze!
When they are frozen, you can pop out the ice and drill a hole for your string to hang. Or as an alternative hanging measure, you can wrap the string around the perimeter, with a good length at the top, then fill with some cold water and refreeze. You will then have string that wraps the suncatcher! Hang on a tree where it can catch the light and enjoy the beauty of your creation!
Winter Scavenger Hunt
Committing to learning with your children outside, ignites many opportunities to use your senses and connect with your little ones. Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? Winter scavenger hunts are a great way for the kiddos to have fun, while using their senses to understand winter habitat ecology! You can use the list here as an example, but there are certainly more items that could be added, depending on your region or where you intend to do the hunt!
Before the adventure, try talking with your children about how to use their senses for each item. For example, do you “see” the pine trees? Can you “smell” them? What do the bark, pinecones, and pine needles “feel” like?
After the search is a great time to talk over the items in your search, as the excitement and chaos of the hunt is often too great whilst in the moment! What items did you find, and which did you not? What was the most exciting winter spotting? Any new discoveries?
Electronic Wildlife Watchers
This next activity is not one to be done outside, but is great fun to watch wildlife in real time from the cozy comfort of your home. There are numerous wildlife cams, such as Cornell FeederWatch Cam, where we often catch a mongoose snatching fruit at the Panama feeders during the nighttime hours. My children also love to check on Iris the osprey at the University of Montana’s nest camera! https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/hellgate-ospreys/
Time to get out the Sibley’s and see how many backyard birds you can identify! This is a great introduction to fascinating bird behaviors and I am always amazed to hear about the children’s “eagle-eyed” observations.
Another fun activity to check out some “bugs” and the health of your local watershed, is to identify macroinvertebrates using a dichotomous key. You can find the one we use here.
Bring a container so that you can collect specimens, being sure to keep an adequate amount of water for the creatures. Carefully turn over rocks and you should find some critters. Use a net if you have one.
Once you’ve collected some species, start at the top of the key, asking questions based on the characteristics you observe. For example, “shell or no shell, legs or no legs,” following your way down to the correct identification!
Check out some valuable online resources for more information on your local watershed, what makes a healthy stream, and how macroinvertebrates are bioindicators. A great resource for Butte, Montana is The Clark Fork Watershed Education Program!
Missoula, Montana is far from lacking in the “things to do” department. There are beautiful mountains surrounding the city with ample hiking trails, plenty of rivers and lakes around to satisfy your need to fish, kayak, or float, and an array of local businesses waiting to help you shop, drink, and have a good time. While the outdoor activities in Missoula are absolutely killer and usually free, sometimes you want to hang out with friends inside for a night of fun, or the unpredictable Montana weather is forcing you to.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 of my favorite (completely biased) indoor activities to do in Missoula for (BONUS) $10 or less.
Head on down to Westside lanes and knock down some pins any day of the week! While you’re there, you can also play pool, hang out in their arcade, hit up their casino, or go to their karaoke nights listed below.
Price: $3.89 to $4.89 per person/game dependent on day of the week and time of day + shoe rental at $2.69 per pair
Here is a bonus: Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday after 9pm they have Dollar Bowling where each game (per person) is only $1!
Another bonus: If you’re an early bird, you can stop in on Sunday mornings from 9am-11am and bowl 2 games for FREE with the only cost being your shoe rental.
Get a group together and belt your heart out at any of the karaoke nights in town. Pro tip: The bartenders are more than willing to help you out with a little liquid courage before you make your debut as the next Beyoncé.
Karoake at the VFW – Mondays at 9pm
Kraptastic Karaoke at the Badlander – Wednesdays at 9pm
Karaoke at the Bowl Dog Lounge at Westside Lanes – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and the 2nd and last Saturday of each month at 9pm
Missoula is packed full of trivia nights. Not only are these free, you can usually win some awesome prizes ranging from shots for your table, t-shirts, or $50 bar tabs for winning teams. And hey, since it’s free, it’s a great opportunity to spend $10 on some delicious bar food and drinks.
Price: Did I mention it’s free?
Pub Trivia – Tuesdays at 8pm at Thomas Meagher Bar
Trivia – Tuesdays at 8pm at the VFW
Trivia – Wednesdays at 7pm at the Silver Slipper
Brains on Broadways – Wednesdays at 7pm at the Broadway Sports bar, Grill, and Casino
Trivial Beersuit – Wednesdays at 8pm at the Press Box
Trivial Beersuit – Thursdays at 8pm at the Darkhorse
Trivia – Thursdays at 7pm at Brooks and Browns Bar and Grill
Get your dancing shoes and get groovy with the group dance nights at the Dark Horse and Sunrise Saloon. Seriously, it’s fun.
Price: Free to $5
Salsa 406 dancing at the Dark Horse – 3rd Saturday of each month at 8:30pm
There’s nothing better than grabbing some friends, tortilla chips, and 18lbs of nacho cheese for a good ole fashioned game night. Don’t have the game you want to play? You’re in luck! You can rent board games from the HUGE selection at Retrofix Gaming (around 60 to 80!!) for the low price of 10% of the retail value of the game. A ton of these games are under $10 and will keep you entertained for quite some time. Just don’t get any cheese on them.
More specifically The Missoula Jr Bruins Hockey games (remember this list is completely biased). These range from September to February and take place at Glacier Ice Rink on various weekends starting at 7:30pm. The rink sells hot chocolate and beer to keep you warm, and has some pretty great entertainment in between periods.
I’m sure all of that hockey talk made you want to go Ice Skating! Don’t own skates? It isn’t winter? Well no problem! Glacier Ice Rink has skate rentals as well as an indoor and outdoor rink ready for any type of weather. Check out their open skate schedule at http://www.glaciericerink.com for specific dates and times to transform yourself into Michelle Kwan.
Price: Adults entry $6 + Skate Rental $3 = $9
8. Paint Pottery!
The Zootown Arts Community Center has a “paint your own pottery” studio that is a great activity for any number of people and any age range of people. Prices of pottery range from $5-$30 (plenty of options for $10 or under) depending on what you choose to paint, and that is the only cost of the activity. The ZACC provides glazes, supplies, and even takes care of firing your artwork once it is painted so you get your masterpiece back in around a week. Bonus for the ladies – stop in on the 4th Thursday of each month for Ladies Night and get 20% off of your pottery!
Check out the dance workout schedule at https://www.oulafitness.com/studios/missoula/ and head to the Oula Studio for an hour long class for only $5! Oula is a super fun and welcoming community, and the classes will leave you feeling amazing. There is also the option to do a double-header (2 classes back-to-back) for $7 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Oh, and Sundays the classes are donation based only starting at 3pm.
Price: $5 per drop-in class
I’m talking about concerts and open mic nights. Now, Missoula, Montana has SO many of these I simply cannot list all of them in this short (but amazing) list, otherwise you would be scrolling for hours. Check out the wonderful http://www.missoulaevents.net/ website to see the hundreds of music events happening in Missoula yearly. Now, not all of these are free or less than $10, but there are definitely options under $10. Plus, with all the money you’re saving by using this list, go ahead and splurge on the $20 ticket to see a great band!