Babies, it’s cold outside: family fun ways to connect to nature in winter

Avatar for Ally Davies
By Ally Davies

This time of year, with shorter, darker days and chilly, damp weather, it can be tempting to stay hunkered down inside and begin to disconnect from the world outdoors. Here are our tips for keeping nature in mind even when Jack Frost is about….

We get it. It’s cold outside, rain is slithering down the window panes and the cup of tea and sofa are deeply appealing. We draw the curtains mid-afternoon, huddle up together and forget about the world outside.

And don’t get us wrong, there’s a lot to be said for cosy winter snuggling. But here at CPRE, we love the outdoors and are always trying to stay connected to the green spaces outside our doors. From pots on the balcony to beloved local parks, from postage stamp gardens to long muddy walks in National Parks, we’re trying to keep nature in mind year-round.

We reckon that there are some little ways that and your family, big and small, you can stay linked to the countryside and green spaces even in the wintry months.

We know, we know, it’s not quite the same as languid lazy days picnicking in your local park in the summer – but these five top tips are a good way to keep that nature connection going through winter and into the warmer months.

A small boy holds a tray with homemade figures and trees
Edward with his homemade snowy scene, complete with snow-capped mountain | A Douglas

1. Bring your favourite outdoor spaces to you

It can be hard to get to all your favourite green places or countryside spots in the winter, with shorter days, rougher weather and restrictions on travel. Or perhaps you’re still managing little walks and adventures in those nearby green corners and parks that are so essential to us, now more than ever.

Either way, why not bring your favourite local spot to life indoors? Use simple crafty materials to create your own little local scene – and why not make it extra wintry and imagine what it might look like covered in snow, as Ned has in our photo here? Hills and trees might be snow-capped and snowy figures might sit in the landscape.

'Use simple crafty materials to create your own little local scene.'

To make it even more of an adventure, you can use the scene as inspiration for some creative writing. A snowy fairytale or a frosty acrostic poem, maybe!

2. Eyes down: pick a pebble

Nature still offers us up little gems, even in the colder months, so take a stroll, keeping your eyes to the floor, and see what you can spot.

A hand holding pebbles in pinks and grey
These pebbles all came from the same beach! Now it’s your turn to choose your favourites.

Try making it a playful little competition: everyone has to choose their favourite leaf or pebble and you can take turns at being the judge who decides the winner! Perhaps those who find the best one get a little prize? After all, everyone needs treats to keep them warm when we’re out and about…

3. Find your true colours

We might tend to think of the winter landscape as being bleak, all greys and browns. Certainly, the sky can look pretty grey a lot of the time! But if we keep our eyes peeled, we discover that even at this time of year there’s a whole rainbow of colours to be seen.

Blackbird devouring a red berry
A tree brimming with berries is a splash of colour – and will help feed your local blackbirds in the winter | Chris / Unsplash

Make a list of colours (perhaps the rainbow spectrum of red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet, and add in greys and browns) and then set out for a stroll or settle down by the window to see what you can see. Tick each colour off as you see it, and see who can be first to spot those rarer colours!

'Even at this time of year there’s a whole rainbow of colours to be seen.'

Look out for unexpected splashes of colour in people’s gardens or containers: cyclamen and winter pansies can offer a bright flurry of pinks and purples. And some trees still hold onto gorgeous autumnal hues of red and orange deep into winter- look out for the last few fallen yellow leaves from any Gingko Biloba trees near you, or the deep brown crispy oak tree leaves that curiously manage to hang on the tree all winter long!

Hiking boots beside icy patch in the mud
Be extra careful puddle hopping in the ice, but use the slippy patches as a chance to look and listen closely | Annie Spratt / Unsplash

4. Puddle hopping

There are no two ways about it: the weather in England can be pretty grey and damp in winter. We reckon your best bet is to embrace the mud and the wet!

Before you leave the house, we suggest leaving old paper or cardboard or used plastic bags by the door… Best to be prepared. Then pop on some messy clothes and sturdy or old shoes, or wellies if you have them, and get splooshing!

Choose the prime puddles for a good old splash, and have a stomp through every patch of mud you see.

'Tune into the sounds of the icy puddles as they snap beneath your feet.'

If the weather is icy then take extra care – but tune into the sounds of the icy puddles as they snap beneath your feet. A sensory adventure!

5. Feed your friends

This time of year, wildlife can do with a helping hand to stay well-fed and watered. Cold weather and ice can make it harder for birds to find food and they’ll appreciate a little boost from their human friends.

Homemade bird feeder with great tit eating from plastic bottle
Get crafty to make your own bird feeder and watch birds like this Great Tit enjoy it! | Nbgbgbg / iStock

And this one is a win-win, as not only are you helping nature but you’re also giving yourself a ringside seat on nature! Bird feeders can be found at garden centres, local shops and supermarkets but if you’re feeling crafty you can also make your own as a family, and then hang them somewhere where you should be able to see their visitors from indoors.

The next bit brings you back to that cosy sofa! Settle down with some snacks and wait for the birds to come and enjoy theirs. Just watching them is fun enough, but you can also gamify it by trying to work out what you’ve seen – we love this RSPB spotter’s guide – or see how many you can tick off on their Spot It! checklist. Even in urban areas, you’re likely to get some hungry visitors.

A young boy in bright wellies walks through mud
Don't hold back: embrace the mud this winter! Bill Waters / CPRE