First of all, winter doesn’t have to keep you cooped up inside. There are plenty of things to see in the winter that are harder to see in summer when trees are full of foliage. Even so, most animals hibernate, birds migrate, and trees and plants go dormant or die. So, maybe you might need a bit of help with winter nature study ideas to make the most of your outdoor time.
Before you trek outside, make sure you have the proper gear. You will still need outdoor exploration tools, but you also need to dress for the weather. That sounds obvious, but how many times do we go out for a winter hike and forget something? Then, we’re standing there shivering. Layers are best, because as you get active, you sweat inside those heavy coats. And then you have wet clothes against your skin, which is bad news if a biting cold wind gets in there.
The Ultimate Guide to Fun Winter Nature Study Ideas
First, you may want to bookmark this page so you can refer to it again and again over the coming weeks. The things I mention here are found in a lot of places, but maybe not everywhere. But, then again, southerners have a very different experience of winter, right? These winter nature study ideas are most helpful to northerners like myself. I recommend taking several walks in winter and looking for different things each time. Keep a notebook handy and record what you saw, when you saw it, and draw an illustration.
Some of my favorite natural things to study in winter are trees. Standing starkly against a background of white, their eerie shapes hold a certain beauty. Getting kids outside in winter is a great way to start teaching them about plants. Here are some things to look for.
- burl: abnormal bark growth on the tree.
- dead lichen: look for patches of discoloration on tree trunks and fallen logs
- bark: bark rubbings can be easier without the foliage in the way
- evergreen trees: why are they evergreen? What are the differences between species? What about the seed cones?
- decomposing leaves: are there any identifiable leaves around? how do they break down?
In addition, you may find some abandoned nests, both wasp and bird. Can you tell by the nest what type of birds and insects lived there?
I highly recommend getting a field guide to birds. That will tell you what birds are native to your area and which ones stick around in the winter months. You might be surprised at how many birds do not migrate! Learn their calls and where they like to hang out. Then you will be rewarded with stunning photographs and close ups that are hard to capture in the summer!
Animal Prints and Droppings Winter Nature Study Ideas
In winter, it’s easier to track animal signs because they aren’t shrouded by leaves and brush. They show up bright and clear in the snow and mud. Discover what animals are out and about by learning their tracks and scat. Or, take some time to learn a lot more that the forest and field has to tell us through other nature signs. Then, you’ll never get lost and you’ll know more than you ever thought you could about your natural surroundings.
Night Sky/Winter Stars
This is the perfect time to take a look at the night sky and chart constellations and planets. Some of the most famous star are seen in the winter sky, not the summer sky, in the northern hemisphere. I know it’s cold, but since it gets dark early, make the effort. You will appreciate the beauty and the changes.
The Science of Water and Snowflakes
There’s plenty of snow, ice, sleet. But, if you live near a pond, river, or lake, you’ll notice that it isn’t frozen solid. Why not? You could also discuss the difference between snow, sleet, and hail. Another angle is, What creatures hibernate below the ice? What changes do their bodies go through to make this possible?
Weather and Clouds
We don’t have to go out and explore winter nature study ideas in order to observe weather and clouds. But, it’s a great time to dig a bit deeper into this area of science, especially since it relates to snow and ice. You could also discuss why it snows in some parts of the world and not others. Why is the south pole colder than the north pole, for example. After all, the Arctic Circle does have summer and plants do grow there for a short time. Taking some time to explore this unique environment might lead to other discussions, such as the Northern Lights.
Rocks and Soil
What rocks, sediments, and soil types can you find in winter? You might think everything is hidden under the snow. Or, that all the ground is frozen so there’s nothing to study. However, freezing and melting snow is powerful enough to crack rocks! Look for evidence of this, especially in large boulders. What other signs of erosion can you find? In the soil, can you find evidence of burrowing worms and insects. What do you think made those holes? How do they survive in the soil during the cold months?
Some of the rocks may be easier to identify in winter, too, because all the moss and mold has died and the leaves don’t obscure the rocks anymore. See what types of rocks are found in your area.
Subscription boxes bring the winter nature study ideas to you!
Sometimes, it’s challenging coming up with winter nature study ideas or even ideas for other time of the year. It’s also challenging finding all the tools we need in kid sizes. So, I found these two subscription boxes that feature either monthly or quarterly boxes. These boxes include gear, activity challenges, and more. Check them out and see if they might make life easier for you.
These boxes come monthly and each one is themed. These are appropriate for older kids and teens.
These boxes come quarterly and supply what is necessary to explore the corresponding season of the year. These are more appropriate for kids under age ten.