U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

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5 Tips for Opting Outside in Winter

January 18, 2018

Photo of the Aguilera family walking in the outdoors

The Aguilera family benefits from regular walks and hikes on local public land throughout the winter. Photo credit: Amber Aguilera, USFWS.

When temperatures drop outside, it is tempting to bundle up under a warm blanket and stay indoors, but itis actually the perfect time to get out, be active, and connect with nature. There are fun activities that can help keep kids engaged and families enjoying the outdoors together. Here are the top five family-fun activities that will transform your winter.

Photo of Rick and his children outside

Father of two John Cleckler recently planted a rain garden in his yard with the help of his children and was pleasantly surprised to find monarch butterflies laying eggs on the milkweed within the first year. “I made a rain garden to collect storm water. We planted a few milkweed species in it to specifically attract monarchs. I'd given up hope of visitors. But, we were lucky enough to catch at least one monarch landing on a couple of showy milkweed plants (Asclepias speciosa). Later I inspected the leaves and found several eggs,” said Cleckler Photo credit: John Cleckler, USFWS.

1. Gardening
Why let your garden hibernate over the winter? Native plants can be a great addition to your yard that will improve its appearance and serve as habitat for wildlife like birds and other pollinators. Gardening gives kids the opportunity to observe firsthand how plants are pollinated and which plants are the most appealing to pollinators. They also learn about the challenges of managing invasive species. Aside from their natural beauty, native plant gardens can also offer the benefit of being water-saving and low maintenance. With efforts to conserve water on the rise, rain gardens are increasing in popularity in urban and suburban neighborhoods. Rain gardens are created by a shallow depression in a garden where water from rooftops or other sources is collected and slowly absorbed by plants, groundcover, and soil.

2. Public Lands Visit
National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks provide excellent opportunities for recreation and teaching kids about nature. Guided tours, photography, hiking, and scavenger hunts are just a few activities that can make a wildlife refuge visit exciting. Parents can help their kids enhance what they are learning in language arts, history, art, and science by visiting public lands. For children in the fourth grade, there is a special treat: free passes for them and their families as part of the Every Kid in a Park program. To help parents plan a visit, a planning guide is available that includes seeing protected animals, visiting the woods, finding your park, and places to play.

Photo of Jennifer and her family enjoying bird watching in the outdoors

Jennifer Norris and her family enjoy birding at a local river that is home to threatened species. “We’re an outdoor family,” said Jennifer. “Cold weather has never been a deterrent to our outdoor activities from kayaking in Canada to birding and gardening here at home.” Photo credit: Scott Norris.

3. Birding
Birding is an outdoor activity you can do just about anywhere, from a wildlife refuge to right in your own backyard. This calming, focused activity can help kids see their everyday environment in a new way. Being still and quiet so they can hear the birds chirp and watch them wiz by is likely something they miss during outdoor play. While binoculars can help enhance the experience, no equipment is really needed—and this no-cost activity can be followed by an internet search where parents and children can conduct an online search to learn more about the birds they discovered. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great bird guide with a searchable database that includes detailed information about birds, as well as audio of birdcalls.

National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is an annual bird census that is dependent on citizen science. For over 100 years, citizens across the United States, Canada, and beyond have participated in this free birdwatching activity between December 14 and January 5; where they count birds over a 24-hour period. The data are used to assess the health of bird populations and to inform conservation efforts.

Photo of two children playing outside in the leaves.

“For these months while the leaves are falling, it’s definitely something that we all go out and do together. It’s a time that we can all be doing something together on the weekend since we both work fulltime during the week,” said Joanna Hedrick, who designs leaf art with her family. Photo credit: Joanna Hedrick.

4. Nature Art
Some of the most impressive artwork has been created with leaves. The incredible color variations allow for a lot of creativity. While most kids are not keen on raking leaves, raking or shaping them into art in the front or backyard puts a new spin on yardwork. Another option is to collect leaves that have fallen off trees in your own yard, a park, or wildlife refuge and to use those to create a design that can be used for homemade holiday cards or greeting cards.

5. Western Monarch New Year’s Count
This year marks the first ever Western Monarch New Year’s Count. Organized by the Xerces Society, December 30, 2017 through January 14, 2018, anyone can become a citizen scientist by counting monarch butterflies! Monarch populations have decreased significantly over the last 20 years and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Xerces Society, Monarch Joint Venture, and others have been working with partners and citizen scientists to increase monarch conservation efforts. The data help determine the status of monarch populations overwintering along the California coast.

by Veronica Davison / SFWO External Affairs

Last updated: March 12, 2018