Around here it’s not really snowy, much to my children’s dismay. They’re dying to go sledding and the weather keeps giving us anemic snowfalls that barely cover the grass blades. But even without the snow, it’s cold. Very cold. Bone chillingly damp, biting wind, and frigid temperatures. (you guys up in Alaska and Canada can laugh, that’s fine. ) Yesterday opened at 8 degrees then added wind-chill. No fun.
So what do you do when it’s time for the weekly homeschool meetup and you can’t go to the playground or go hiking? Here are a few ideas that our group is doing, plus a few that we’ve done in the past. Because most of us are on a budget we try to keep costs down, and this list will reflect that.
1. Go outside anyway
If it’s not horribly cold (40-50 ° F) then head outside for a nature walk anyway. It’s a quiet world, filled with the sound of dried leaves crunching, quiet bird twitters, and the occasional ripple of water. It’s a wonderful time to practice looking for and identifying animal tracks, as well as identifying bird calls. We’re coming up on the Great Backyard Birdcount (February 16th – 19th) and the bare trees make it so much easier to see the birds.
Winter is a perfect time to discuss dormancy and hibernation, check out the leaf buds on the deciduous trees, and practice identifying trees by their bark. Look for signs of animal life like crayfish holes near water or broken bark (bear sign or deer damage from earlier in the fall.) Keep a close eye out for squirrel nests, and depending on where you live, eagle nests.
2. Go to a museum
We’re lucky – we live near the DC area where museums are sprinkled all over the place. That’s not the average, of course, but I’m betting there’s some sort of museum close enough that you can visit. Ask about homeschool programming or a special field trip – museums love sharing all the cool, interesting things they know.
Don’t forget the weird museums too – those off-the-wall museums that don’t get as much attention as the art museums or discovery museums. One of my impactful childhood memories was visiting the Norman Rockwell museum. Certainly not the average museum, but interesting!
I would suggest going to discovery museums, but around here those are quite expensive. We try to avoid expensive.
3. A scavenger hunt
Where, you might ask? What about a grocery store? (buy some stuff, of course!) Write up a list and have the kids – calmly – go searching for them. Make it a double-whammy and add in some math (a budget, perhaps?) and maybe a cooking session later at a volunteer’s home.
Or go to a library and have a scavenger hunt there for books on XYZ subject. Help the kids practice learning the Dewey Decimal system. If your librarians are friendly, ask for a tour. Your friendly neighborhood library is in the business of learning and information these days, not just books. You might be surprised by what they have to borrow!
4. Field trips to inside destinations
Sounds obvious, right? Think outside of the box – one of our group set up a field trip to the local plant nursery. A huge nursery, with indoor space and greenhouses. After the trip we’ll be creating a terrarium (and paying for it of course) to take home. It’s an amazing plant nursery complete with koi tanks, huge water fountains, and all kinds of hardscape materials. It’s our source for rocks to paint, and it’s one of the kids’ favorite places to visit.
For other ideas, keep thinking outside of the box. We’re also going to tour the local recycling plant. The Engineer has been dying to do this once I explained single-stream recycling to him. I’m not sure how much we’ll get to observe because of safety reasons, but it’s an amazing opportunity that we’re really looking forward to.
Call around. You will be surprised how many places are open to doing tours. The local grocery store, a fast food restaurant, a power plant, factories, the animal shelter, you name it. It never hurts to ask! The worst they can say is no.
5. Your local library
If your library has a community room, ask about reserving it for a time slot. Do a game day. Do a one-time class. Bring a collection of Legos (or borrow the library’s if they have one) and have a grand build-fest. Do an art day, a craft day, a science day. There are all kinds of fun things to do that are actually more fun in a group.
For example, this week is my turn. We’re hosting an owl pellet dissection at the library. I handled ordering all the materials and got the costs down to $5 a person (this includes all tools and materials like tweezers, instructional materials, gloves, etc.) and we’re going to poke around in owl puke together. By doing it as a group, we get to compare everyone’s bones and see what we find.
If your library is big enough, sit down and have a talk with them about doing homeschooler activities during the day. Many of the library’s activities are planned for after-school times in the afternoon and evening: see if they could duplicate some of that during the day. For example, a local library is doing a reoccurring STEAM event with different challenges. Our library holds a Lego build session for homeschoolers. Librarians generally love hearing from us homeschoolers because they know we’re serious about learning and we’re super flexible.
Winter doesn’t have to mean hibernation for homeschoolers. It’s a great time to explore indoors for those of us accustomed to spending more time outside. And it’s possible to do it without spending a lot of money – you just have to put some creative thought into it. Go have fun!