Taking time to slow down and notice the sights, smells, sounds, feel and even taste of winter is a marvelous way to activate kids' senses and sharpen observation skills, all while connecting them to the rhythms of the natural world. Plus, if winter is cold or gray where you live, focusing on the beauty of winter helps kids (and ourselves) connect with the beauty of the season, no matter how it looks where you live.
Download our scavenger hunt clues or make your own. Find all of the clues in one outing or keep looking over a few weeks. Either way, get the family out and give winter a second look!
This activity is featured in our January 2023 Calendar. Click to get your free copy and sign up to get a fresh, new calendar each month!
Step 1: Get or make a set of clues.
Download and print our Winter Scavenger Hunt worksheet. If you like, clip the clues to a clipboard or tape to cardboard to make it easier for kids and more sturdy.
Review the categories.
Review the words and images and make sure everyone understands what we are keeping an eye, ear, nose or hand out for.
Enjoy the hunt!
You can hunt for one thing at a time or just walk about, noticing items as they appear to you. Most importantly, follow kids' lead and remember that just being present and using multiple senses is all that matters.
Set up boundaries.
If you want kids to be able to wander and hunt freely, set up boundaries and/or a rule to follow. Our stand-by rule is, “You can wander as far as you like, as long as you can still see one of us.”
Use a crayon or pencil to check each category as they find it to keep track of their progress. Some kids will love this. Other kids will want no part of writing or recording, but will prefer the thrill of the hunt. If you're in a group, cheer each time you find another category to engage everyone!
End whenever it's time.
Kids need not complete the hunt in one outing—or ever, really. The process of looking, listening and sensing the world around them is the goal, so as long as they've gotten a chance to do just that, your mission is complete!
Why is this activity great for kids?
Use a variety of sensory clues, and you give kids a great way to sharpen their senses. Hunts also provide marvelous practice with focus and self control. Matching objects with categories gives kids great practice with the basics of making connections. Teaching your kids to see the magic that winter hides behind its dreary exterior not only teaches them to make life in the winter more exciting (we adults need that!), but it also helps teach them to think critically and to look just a bit below the surface to find the deeper meaning in things.
People use critical thinking skills to gather information, evaluate it, screen out distractions and think for themselves. These skills help us identify which knowledge to trust and how to use new and old knowledge together to decide what to believe or do. People also use these skills to develop arguments, make decisions, identify flaws in reasoning and to solve problems.
Also referred to as “higher-level thinking,” critical thinking draws on many other skills that matter (e.g. focus/self control, communication, making connections, and even empathy). Kids won’t fully develop critical thinking until adolescence or even adulthood, but remarkably there is lots that you can do to help your kids build its foundation during preschool and early school ages.
How do little kids build a base for such a complicated set of skills? A key building block to critical thinking is the ability to develop theories about the world and to adjust your theories as new information becomes available. Kids can practice this as they attempt to solve mysteries or actively wonder about why things are as they are. As a family, the more you ask questions, make predictions and allow kids to take active part in discovering the answers to their questions, the stronger you make their foundation for critical thinking. As kids grow out of the 3-to 5-year-olds' freewheeling relationship with reality, you can also train them to question information and see the inconsistencies or flaws in certain ways of thinking.
Why does it matter?
In a world that is increasingly saturated with media messages and where information comes from a wide range of sources that differ in quality, critical thinking is more important than ever. Kids need this skill in order to be informed and empowered consumers, to either suggest or evaluate new solutions to complicated problems, to make decisions about our society and its governance, and to form the beliefs that guide their personal and professional lives.
What do we mean by developing the ability to Make Connections?
By making connections, we mean the ability to take something new and understand how it is similar to, related to, or different from other things. In addition, it is understanding how those relationships change in different situations. This is sophisticated stuff, and young children are not able to make these connections with abstract ideas. However, the more young kids learn to sort, categorize and identify how objects are similar or different, the better they build the foundational skills for making connections down the road.
Why does it matter?
In order to recognize themes when reading, or build a sense of how numbers work, one needs to understand how one thing relates to another and how those relationships can change in different circumstances. Information is not hard to search for these days, but understanding is always hard fought. Kids who can make connections can make real sense of, build on and apply what they are taught in school. It's also the kids (and adults) who can see the unusual connections between things who can think and act creatively. It's not surprising that making connections is one of the seven skills professor, author and child development expert Ellen Galinskyadvocates as essential for today's children in her book, Mind in the Making.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?