From Inside to Outside Enjoying the Gifts of Winter

It is a cold winter’s day. A delicate layer of frost edges the corner of each window and mounds of snow smooth over bushes and trees. Birds are huddled under eaves, fluffing their feathers, reminding you that winter is well and truly here. Meanwhile, the kids are hunched behind computer screens, or tapping their feet to the tunes emanating from their hand-held device. And you are thinking, “I’ve just got to figure out some way to get the kids outside!”

From TV, computer games, Wii consoles and Xboxes, our society has created many enticing reasons for kids not to go outside. Children are easier to monitor when they stay indoors. They are ‘safer’ inside. And, in the age of multi-tasking we can ‘look after them’ while we are busy doing something else and we have the satisfaction of knowing that they are being entertained.

If we give our children some winter experiences in nearby fields, forests and green spaces, we’ll help them to recognize, as John Muir once said, that if we, “tug at a single thing in nature, we’ll find it connected to the rest of the world.”

So grab your hat, mitts, warm boots and winter jacket and don’t forget the kids! Experience the exhilaration of winter while the air is crisp, sharp and clear. Here’s an outdoor project to enjoy:

Build a Snow Fort or Quinzee.

When the snow is more than 20 centimetres deep, dig out the recycling containers and find several shovels. Fill up the recycling bins with snow and haul them over to a central location. Mound snow up as high as you can (a big pile about 2 metres high and 4 metres across would be ideal). Make sure your pile slopes gently. Use a shovel to smooth the sides into a symmetrical dome shape. Here is an important tip: You must leave the mound for a minimum of at least three hours! This will give the snow crystals time to coalesce (bind). Ideally, leave the mound overnight.

After the pile has settled, find a series of sticks 30 centimetres long and push them into the mound so that one end is at the surface and the other end is pressed deep into the mound. There should be a stick every metre or so, covering the entire surface of the Quinzee.

Next, begin hollowing out the mound. Make sure you have snow pants and an insulated jacket with a hood; this can be cold and wet work! Use your shovel and start scooping out snow. Have your children haul the snow away from the entrance. Keep digging until you come across the butt end of one of the sticks. The sticks serve as a guide so that you know the walls are of an even and consistent thickness.

When the Quinzee is sufficiently hollowed out, use a larger stick or your fist (12 cm in diameter) to poke three or four holes through to the outside (one overhead, the rest along the sides). These holes will serve as ventilation, helping to bring fresh air inside.

If I know my children are going to be playing in the Quinzee without supervision, I make an extra exit. If you are up for an adventure, insulate the bottom of the Quinzee with a tarp and sleeping pads. If you are well dressed and if there is enough insulation above and below you, you and your children can spend a cozy and unforgettable night in a snow fort of your own creation!

Submitted By Jacob Rodenburg, Executive Director of Camp Kawartha, an award winning outdoor education centre and summer camp. He has worked in the field of outdoor education and camping for over 30 years.