Creative DIY Winter Play Ideas to Boost Your 1000 Hours Outside

Winter has barely begun and a lot of us are already looking at real estate in places where snow does not exist. Trust me, I get it. We were so excited when we moved to Southern California and bid adieu to cold winters. But, the truth of the matter is, we really missed snow! Like, a lot. It was a strange realization.

Now that we are back home in Michigan, we look forward to winter each year. That’s not to say there doesn’t come a time when it feels like winter has lasted 47 years and we can’t wait for spring to arrive. However, I firmly believe a lot of how we feel about winter has to do with mindset. It’s easy to jump on the “I hate winter” train when that’s such a common sentiment in Michigan, but it’s time to jump off that train and into some outdoor fun.

Something that really got our family excited last year and continues into this year is tracking our time outside through the 1000 Hours Outside initiative. We all love being outdoors, and incredibly, we got really close to making 1000 hours outside for 2021. Tracking was fun for the kids and watching them rack up hours spending entire days outside has truly brought joy to my soul. Counting hours and filling in the tracking chart has given us a lot of motivation to be outside and switch our mindsets into ones that embrace all of our wonderful seasons.

Are you ready to make the most of our Michigan winter and rack up some hours outside? You can find all kinds of ideas online, and I encourage you to do so! Read on for some fun winter activities that we enjoy at our house.

Using Dyes to Paint Snow

There are plenty of kits out there for snow painting, but in all reality, those are just dyes with fancy bottles to squirt them out of. Start saving your mustard and ketchup bottles, or you can even use two-liter or 20-ounce bottles with a hole drilled in the cap. Heck, pull out the water guns and give them a new life this winter! Fill them with water, add some food dye, and you have homemade snow paint. You can also use paintbrushes or even regular watercolor paints.

Some fun activities you can do with snow paint are:

  • Play tic-tac-toe
  • Make a painted path or obstacle course
  • Paint a snowman
  • Add to snow/ice bricks
  • Create a welcome message by the front door
  • Color the snow on trees and bushes
  • Bring the flower beds back to life by coloring flowers into them
  • Practice name-writing
  • Decorate snow angels

Building Forts

winterMy kids really dug in with their hours outside last winter by making forts. If you live in the woods like we do, sticks and branches are helpful to use for stability and added interest. I got the idea from the Michigan 1000 Hours Outside group to make a colorful fort by filling loaf tins with water and dye and letting them freeze outside. It was one of our favorite outdoor activities of the entire winter! (Even if the kids fought most of the time!)

The key is to have “molds” to make your snow or ice bricks with which then create the walls for your fort. You can also save things like heavy, clear plastic toy packaging to cut and use as windows. Lots of toy packaging can be repurposed into things to make bricks with, too, even if they only get used for one day before they are trashed.

Here are some common household items you can use to make snow bricks:

  • Foil pans (you can buy in bulk on Amazon)
  • Sand buckets
  • Pots and pans
  • Plastic storage containers
  • Shoe and shipping boxes
  • Plastic snack containers (like this) with tops cut off
  • Milk cartons with tops cut off
  • Laundry detergent containers with tops cut off
  • Plastic cups

Winter Fun with Ice

When it’s under freezing outside, making ice is a great lesson in science for young kids. Lessons can be found in the amount of time it takes something to freeze and at what temperature, how thin layers of water freeze versus filled buckets, using different items or metal objects to see what will melt your ice or leave an imprint, and so much more. Whenever you’re making ice, keep your dyes in mind to add colorful fun.

Some fun ways to make and use ice outside are:

  • Build a short snow border wall and fill the inside with water to create a mini ice rink for hot wheels or toy figures (or use a kiddie pool)
  • Make a “stepping stone” path around the yard by dumping cups of water
  • Lay cookie cutters on a flat surface outside and fill with water to make ice figures
  • Use ice cubes to make mini igloos
  • Create a mini ice luge to send cars or balls down
  • Build a series of snow bowls, pour water in so they freeze, and then make a game out of tossing ice cubes into them
  • Find a target such as a tree trunk (or build one out of snow) and take aim using ice cubes in a slingshot
  • Make a homemade catapult using a tin can and a ruler or paint stick and fling ice cubes into a snow bowl
  • Pack snow into a bucket, layering small figurines or toys throughout, pour cold water over top, let it freeze, and then use kid-safe tools or kitchen utensils to excavate the toys
  • Wet some spare clothing items and mold them into shapes as they freeze to make a winter “scarecrow”
  • Using a rimmed plate, arrange leaves, small sticks, or rocks into a design, place a loop of yarn at the top, pour water in and let it freeze to make a cool outdoor hanging decoration

Embrace the Michigan Winter

This is where we live and there really isn’t a whole lot we can do about it, so we might as well make the best of it all and enjoy the time we have! Winter can be so much fun if you have the right mindset. I hope you’ll try some of these fun outdoor activities this winter!

If you’re still feeling a little “meh” about winter, check out Erica’s post for more tips!


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Jessica Lukenbill
Here at Detroit Mom, I am surrounded by an awesome community of women who have helped me find a place where I feel I truly belong. I’m a proud foodie who keeps crazy busy with cooking and canning, gardening, decorating, craft projects, and more. My husband of 19 years is Jason, and we have Gwenna, 11, and Larson, 7, as well as a silver Lab named Indy. We have lived in New Hudson for almost four years now. Mid Michigan is home for me, but after my husband graduated college, we spent 16 years moving around his home state of Indiana. Just prior to moving back to Michigan, we lived in Southern California for three years, exploring and extreme-adventuring with our kids to every beautiful outdoor location we could find. We are the family that spends more weekends away than at home, and our kids are master-level road-trippers. Most of our summers are spent at the lake, where I'm convinced it's not a proper summer without a dip in the water every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Reach out and say hi sometime!


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