Nature’s Icebox – Ideas for Play in a Cold Weather Outdoor Classroom

By Heather Fox, Nature Explore program Education Specialist 


Winter is in full swing, transforming many outdoor classrooms into snow dusted wonderlands full of new possibilities and challenges. When children have an opportunity to explore nature every day, they develop a personal understanding of the seasons. Here are a few ideas to encourage exploration and discovery in the outdoor classroom should your seasons include a winter wonderland.



Cold Canvas

Take advantage of the low temperatures and add colored ice cubes to your Nature Art Area. I have seen children create structures and patterns out of the ice cubes and use them as a type of paint as they melt into a white canvas of snow.

Winter Writing

Encourage children to trace designs on newly fallen snow. Use wooden spoons, fir branches or pinecones as tools.

Down, but not out

Try adding used Christmas trees to your Messy Materials Area. Children will build forts, design their own pathways and explore trees from multiple perspectives.

Saunter like a Snowflake

Have you ever wondered how a snowflake might feel as it dances through the air? Take advantage of the winter weather, step outside and experience it. Mimic their movements and joyfully participate. Use questions to help guide children to use their whole bodies to communicate what they know and feel.

*What might you look like if you were a snowflake?

*How would you move?

 Melting Mosaics

Winter landscapes hold less color than Spring or Fall. Create some color and experience the effect of melting with this activity. Combine salt and tempera paint to create a colorful melting mixture. Allow the children to paint snow or ice and explore the properties. Encourage the children to use many words to describe what they are seeing.

Tool Tutorial

Get out your child-sized tools and help children use them. Snow and ice create a different medium and a new challenge for children. This type of heavy work can help ground and focus. The movement also keeps them warm and healthy.

Illuminating Ice

Freeze natural items like seedpods or berries in containers of clear water. Pop out and string nature’s beauty from the trees in your outdoor classroom. Ask children to observe the ways in which the birds and animals react to your creations. Have them notice how the sun shines through and sketch what they see.

What types of activities work in your cold weather outdoor classroom? Please take a minute to add your great ideas and inspirations in the comment section below!