Holing up under a blanket in the same pajamas you’ve been in since last Sunday is always an option during the not-so-nice Midwest winter. It’s warm under there, and the TV will continuously provide new entertainment while you grumpily countdown the days until either spring arrives or you smell so badly you can’t stand yourself. And don’t even get me started on the pent-up energy of your children that will literally destroy your home from the inside out.
Yes, that is an option. Not a great one, but an option nonetheless.
Now let’s flip the switch for a second. What if you came into the day prepared with something fun and different to do? An adventure for the whole family that is slightly out-of-the-box but makes the snowy days go by a teensy bit faster? Something that gives your whole family positive memories of wintertime and potentially brings everyone closer together? I love those kinds of winter days.
But to be completely transparent, I have plenty of days holed up under a blanket watching Love is Blind too. Life is about quality, not quantity. We have to try our hardest to make it all count!
Here are 25 tried-and-true family ideas, adventures, and activities that can be enjoyed when the days are chilly but the spirits are high:
1) Have a Spa Night
Who doesn’t love to decompress after a long, cold winters day? I know I do. And sometimes I include the kiddos in my decompression (which makes it far more comical). Pick up a tube of mud mask, a cucumber, any salty scrubs you can find, and go full-on facials. Or paint each other’s nails. Or soak your feet in a bathtub. Or lay on a heating pad. Whatever you do, do it together. The more ridiculous, the better.
2) Indoor Campout
Our family loves the outdoors, but winter isn’t super conducive to sleeping out there like we do in the summer. So we bring the tent inside (not the monster 10-person tent, but the smaller pop-up one), clear out the living room, throw in a million pillows and blankets, make s’mores in the microwave (yup, it’s messy.), and play games, read books, tell ghost stories…whatever makes it feel like camping. Plus, the easy walk to indoor plumbing is a major bonus.
3) Visit all the Libraries
Sometimes with all the hubbub of play and action, our family forgets about those beautiful brick buildings called libraries. Even if they aren’t natural readers, most libraries will provide shelves of easy readers, book clubs, some entertainment, music, audio books, and even movie rentals. And be sure to check with your local library about potential museum discounts or free admission tickets they might provide.
4) Do a Room Swap
If you have kids who don’t have an aversion to loss of control, this is a fun one. Pick names out of a hat to see whose room they will be living in for a day. They get to sleep in that person’s bed at night then swap back the next day. The rules are you can’t move anything, take anything, or break anything, but you have full reign of the other kids’ stuff and a glimpse into their life and how they spend their day. It sounds relatively mundane, but the kids think it’s hilarious and they find plenty to do.
5) Make Snowman Characters
When I was 13, my dad, sister and I built the entire cast of Wizard of Oz out of snow in our front yard. It was an awesome challenge finding props to make a Scarecrow look like a Scarecrow, and don’t even get me started on the Tin Man. Our kids have built Anna and Elsa and the Ninja Turtles but the options are truly endless. The creativity that comes from this challenge is always surprisingly impressive! Plus there’s always hot chocolate to get them through.
6) Head Indoors to Play
If the energy is just too high in the house (it happens), it’s time to get out. While indoor play places cost money, sometimes it’s worth it just for a change of pace. We love the Minneapolis Bouldering Project, Good Times Park, The Children’s Museum, Bell Museum, Mall of America, The Crayola Experience, MiniSota Play Cafe, Urban Air, Brookview Backyard, Edinborough Playground, the K.U.B.E, and Playground Plaza.
7) Bust Out Some Exercise
Know what’s nice? Exercise. Know what’s even better than that? YouTube. We do a whole lot of family workout videos (the simpler the better) via YouTube and lately I’ve even started doing yoga with my teenager to help improve his posture. Dancing is always fun and usually winds up in laughter because we all have no rhythm. But it’s a good way to burn the energy and boost the endorphins. And it’s totally free and warm and wonderful. My youngest loves GoNoodle for a good workout right their speed.
8) Have a Movie Marathon
Some days are just made to be lazy. Those are the days when we stay in the comfiest clothes, grab a favorite stuffy, and settle in for a movie marathon. We are big fans of doing sequels (sometimes even trilogies) and themed films like Toy Story, Back to the Future, Pixar movies, Jurassic Park, 80s classics, Star Wars, Home Alone, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, or family-friendly musicals (my teenager’s least favorite but my daughter’s choice every time).
9) Visit a Museum
This one seems obvious because it’s such a simple way to spend a cold day, but that’s what makes it worth mentioning. The Twin Cities has some truly remarkable museums for children and families and some are really affordable too. We love the Children’s Museum, but also enjoy the Bell Museum (and the planetarium is awesome), MN History Center, Mill City Museum, the Bakken Museum, and of course the Science Museum of Minnesota.
10) Sign Up for a Class
Again, these cost money but I find a one-on-one class with a child is one of the best ways to truly get to know them and their interests. Our family has taken baking classes, painting classes, fairy houses, pasta-making, lego building, walking-stick-making…the choices are endless and the prices vary greatly, which is nice. Check your local Park & Rec catalogue or simply Google something in your child’s interest, and make it happen!
11) Host a Bar
No, not that kind of bar. The kid-friendly kind (but you can have a cocktail. I’ll allow it). We have done some fun “bars” in our house in the past – sundae bars, mashed potato bars, pasta bars, caramel apple making bars – really anything can be a bar. Load the table with toppings and options and let the kids go to town making it however they see fit. It’s a blast and they’ll be sure to tell you so.
12) Open a Restaurant
I am the proud CEO of both “Mama B’s” and “Mom’s Spaghetti,” two pretend restaurants we’ve had in our house. You can have family members dress up, use a table cloth and the “nice” dishes, light a candle, even make a menu. It’s like being at a restaurant except you’re the only server and you should’t expect a good tip. But you should anticipate their excitement of changing up the day-to-day dinner routine with just a few little additions.
13) Sled. Sledding is the Best.
I’m the mom who kind of dreads the idea of sledding, but once we are out on that hill and everyone is fully geared up and excited, it’s just a really glorious parenting moment. Did you know if you type “sledding hill” into Google Maps you will see a bunch in your area? I choose smaller hills for the smaller kids, but when it’s just my oldest and his buddies, we go big! Most regional parks have big hills and there’s no shortage of difficulty levels with jumps and obstacles if that’s what you are looking for.
14) Take a Winter Hike
Winter hikes can be far more beautiful than even Fall hikes, which is a bold statement for a Minnesotan to make. Make sure everyone bundles in warm waterproof gear and enjoy a classic footprint-making, animal-tracking, sled-pulling (and snack-eating) family winter hike. We have so many family favorites (see my list of wide open spaces here) but if you download the All Trails app, it’s really simple to search and find some unique hikes with filters for difficulty level, views, even family-friendliness.
15) Take a Food Tour
Have a day with time to kill and a little cash on your hands? Pick a favorite family treat, plot out a plan in your maps app, and hop in the car for a fun food tour. We’ve done this with donuts (more times than I care to admit) and the kids love it. You can create a ranking sheet and let them rate each place, comparing notes at the end. If you do bigger items like burgers or pizza, may I suggest sharing so you aren’t full after a stop or two. It’s like the State Fair, but with less walking. Oh, the irony.
16) Do an Art Dump
Do you have a drawer filled with old art supplies? Paint, play doh, clay, paper scraps, tape, glue, buttons, pipe cleaners…whatever it is. Take it out and dump it on the table. Give them some parameters then let them go to town creating. Have a specific project in mind or need some inspiration or more supplies? The best stop ever is the Artscraps Reuse store in St. Paul. Endless stuff. Just stuff. So much stuff. Trust me, worth the stop for an adventure just like this.
17) Make Your Own Board Game
Keep it simple, or make it complicated. Whether you’re aiming for a Candyland or a Risk, making a board game from scratch is super fulfilling and takes a lot of time and thought. It can be as cheap as you want it to be as well. We used a piece of cardboard, wrapped it in aluminum file, taped the sides down, made cards and a trail, cut out people for our “players” and played for a remarkable amount of time. It’s nice to see the clever ideas they come up with.
18) Try Snow Shoeing
Snow shoeing is a beautiful way to spend a day outdoors walking atop fresh powder, and for cheap. Most state parks rent snow shoes for around $5 for the day and many kids love the idea of walking without sinking – especially if it comes with some epic scenery (like frozen waterfalls or lakes of ice to slide on). This family activity is not for everyone, but it IS a very Minnesotan thing to do and doesn’t require any skill…other than walking.
19) Brave the Snow Tube
One of the most exhilarating (that’s my “mom word” for scary) winter adventures we’ve ever done was snow tubing at a tubing park. We did Badlands Tubing in Hudson, WI, but there are a many out there who do the same thing. It’s a little pricy, but it’s also legendary. You FLY and sometimes your butt actually leaves the seat. If you aren’t a big adrenaline family, skip this one. But if your kids fear nothing, this might be a memorable way to spend a winter day.
20) Grocery Shop for Favorites
You want simple? I’ll give you simple. Pile in the car as a whole family and head to the grocery store. Yup, the grocery store. When you get there, tell everyone they can pick out their own dinner and their own bedtime/movie snack. It’s a blast watching them run around and hum and haw over their special decision. I like this because a) you’re spending time together and b) you’re giving them a little freedom of choice, even if it’s something as simple as food.
21) Do Some Giving Back
Teaching our kids empathy and compassion is so important. Volunteering is such a pre-set way for them to learn just that. We have done Second Harvest Heartland and the Animal Humane Society, but the opportunities are endless of course. Maybe check out a local food pantry or animal shelter. It’s on my bucket list to build beds with Sleep in Heavenly Peace with the kids, but find something that works for you and run with it. Still unsure? Visit volunteermatch.org and filter by age and/or interest.
22) Make Ice Stones
What can you make with water, balloons and food coloring? Let me tell you. Fill a balloon with water, set it outside overnight, peel off the balloon the next day and squirt food coloring on it. The colors mix together making a beautiful ice stone. We lined ours along the front walkway and the kids enjoyed pointing theirs out to visitors until they melted weeks later. It’s messy so I recommend using cookie sheets to hold in the potential disaster.
23) Spend Time with Animals
Do you have an animal lover in your house? Get out and spend some time with them, give them some love, and make their day. Where? We frequent The Cafe Meow, Carlson’s Llovable Llamas, and the Animal Humane Society but there could also be volunteer opps at animal sanctuaries like 22 Farms in Hudson, Furball Farm in Faribault, Farmaste in Lindstrom or Soulspace Sanctuary in New Richmond, WI.
24) Bring the Snow Inside
This one is easy and a little counterintuitive, but kids complain about cold (um, so do I) so bring the outside in. Fill a giant Rubbermaid with powdery snow, fill it with toys and utensils, lay a towel down and let the imaginations run wild. Only rule was – No Snowball Fights! I am always shocked by how long this keeps them busy, but I’m always thrilled by the joy it brings them.
25) Make Your Own Reality TV Show
Do your kids watch reality TV with you? Mine do (I have no shame) so we started making our own at home. For example, my kids love Alone (best show ever, btw) so we handed them a few tarps, started a bonfire in the fire pit, threw them a few buckets, rope and a pocket knife (I know, I know) and set them free to build their shelters and forage for food. The squirrel trap (completely non-successful) was a favorite. We filmed a few moments of it and I iMovied it together for the with musical accompaniment and they were so proud! You can also do Amazing Race scavenger hunts, Big Brother challenges, or Floor is Lava obstacle courses.
Here is a slightly embarrassing example of #25 coming to fruition:
And there you have it. 25 winter adventures that range in price, simplicity and variety. I know winter is long but we can make it special and merry and bright with a little time, effort, and positivity. The days are long, but the years are short. We get 18 winters with these little buggers. Let’s try our best to make the moments memorable.