Socially Distanced Outside Winter Activities

Socially distanced outside winter activities

Important Note: At Tales of a Mountain Mama, we can’t tell you if it is safe to socialize outside where you live right now. The CDC and your local health department are the best sources of information for how to stay safe during this time. TMM encourages everyone to wear masks, social distance, and wash hands frequently.

But as more people are looking to spend time outdoors, what we can do is give you plenty of ideas on how to stay warm and have fun if you are socializing safely outside.

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Socialize outdoors for your sanity

More than ever before, people are looking to spend time together outside this winter. And for good reason. Not only does the CDC say that socializing outside is safer than spending time with people indoors, but also, as any parent can tell you, playdates outside go a little smoother.

There are no toys to fight over, no worry about making messes, no parents shushing everyone because it’s getting “too loud.”

Winter, however, is different. While hanging out in the backyard over the summer is lovely, it can sound a little less appealing when temperatures dip below freezing. But outdoor winter playdates can be just as fun – and often more memorable – than summer ones.

Here are our best tips for socializing outside all winter long.

Stay warm while socializing outside

Your first challenge will be to stay warm. Remember, dress for the weather you have, not the weather you want. Looking like the Michelin Man is preferable to ending an outing early because your cold toes just can’t take it anymore. If you want more information on layering to stay warm, be sure to check out our advice for kids and adults here.

Having grown up in Virginia and ending up in Montana, I’ve had to learn to deal with cold weather. And as one of those people who is always cold, here are a few of my favorite tips.

Start your layering with a tank top

Keeping your core warm is essential, and this small layer pays dividends in the warmth it provides. We love wool tank tops like this one.

Keep on adding layers

Again, I’m always cold. When the temperature is below freezing, I like to have a base layer on – typically a wool shirt and leggings underneath my pants. If you don’t have wool base layers, synthetic fabrics that stay close to your skin will work too.

I’ll follow up with a sweater, maybe a fleece coat if the temperature is really cold, and a parka on top. Last year I upgraded to a long coat that comes down almost to my knees and it makes a big difference in keeping me warm.

Again, if you want more information on layering to stay warm, be sure to check out our advice for kids and adults here.

Wool socks are worth their weight in gold

If your toes give you trouble, you need wool socks. We recommend Darn Tough for the whole family for their durability. If you have room in your boots, you can stick some toe warmers in your boots too.

If you’re staying still, dress twice as warm

When my kids are running around while I’m sitting and chatting with a friend, I tend to get colder long before they do. If your outdoor socializing doesn’t involve a lot of moving, remember that you’ll need to dress far warmer than you would if you were going for a walk.

Tend to run cold? Check out our best secret for keeping warm!

Blankets, hot water bottles, and hand warmers can be life savers

Have a ready stack of blankets on hand if you plan on sitting and talking for a while. Bringing along a hot water bottle to tuck underneath can also provide some much needed additional warmth.

Chase the sun

Having friends over for an evening is lovely in the summer, but in the winter, you need to remember the sun is your best source of warmth. Time outdoor activities for when the sun is overhead. Consider how much shade your yard gets, and set up your socially distanced chairs in the sunniest part. If you’re going for a hike, try to choose a path that has more direct sunlight.

Have hot drinks on hand

Sipping a hot drink to keep away the chill is one of my favorite parts of winter. For safety’s sake, you probably want to encourage everyone to BYOHC (bring your own hot chocolate). Peppermint tea (or candy cane tea as we call it) and apple cider are also delicious.

Try this Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe from Amelia’s The Easy Camp Cookbook:

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Keep your feet off the ground

Resting your feet on the ice cold ground will lead to misery, and quick. If you are sitting in a chair, or standing around a fire, have a piece of cardboard to act as a buffer between the soles of your shoes and the frozen ground. Sounds minor, but will make a huge difference.

Head inside before everyone is miserable

If you want your kids (or your neighbors or your in-laws!) to have fond memories of your outdoor playdates (and agree to do it again), then leave them wanting more. Don’t wait until the tears are frozen on cheeks to wrap things up – try to head inside while you can still feel your fingers.

Backyard socially distanced outside winter activities

Here are some easy ideas for simple outside activities to do with friends in your own backyard, or close to home.

Have a fire

If you’re going to be spending several hours outside in the cold, a fire is almost a necessity. After all, even nothing beats watching a fire burn with friends.

We love our Solo Stove for it’s lack of smoke and general ease (especially if you don’t have a built in fire pit), but be aware – it doesn’t put off much vertical heat.

If you don’t have a great place to build a fire in your own yard, check out nearby campgrounds. Even if you aren’t spending the night, you can often just use a site for the day.

Watch TV outside

I know, I know. Screen time. But hear me out. If watching the big game inside, alone, takes all the fun out of your favorite sport, hook up an extension cord and set your computer or TV on the front steps or on the back deck. Why not? Definitely won’t be the weirdest thing this past year.

Bring the inside toys outside

If your ground isn’t covered in mud, snow, or ice, why not try bringing some of your favorite indoor toys outside and have a socially distanced playdate?

Just because it’s winter, there’s no reason you can’t have a teddy bear picnic, nerf gun battle, or remote control car race outside. Just make sure you dress warm enough (and that you are okay with any toys you bring outside getting a little dirty).

Have some parent time

Taking care of ourselves during this challenging time has never been more difficult or more important, and for most of us, has never been harder to do.

If you have an afternoon where your partner can watch your kids, try meeting up with friends in a park, yard, or even a parking lot. Bring your own chairs, and enjoy some some kid-free adult time. Check out our post on outdoor dates for even more ideas.

Watch the sunset together

Take advantage of early sunsets that you can watch with friends and family without having to keep the kids up past their bedtimes.

Find the best spot nearby to watch the sun set, and ask another family to join you. Hike up to a good viewing spot (bring flashlights for the way back). Or find a place to park and watch the sun set from the back of your respective trunks, wrapped in blankets.

Do some stargazing

Take advantage of early winter nights and look for stars. Bring hot water bottles and plenty of blankets, and head with friends to a park or other open space that doesn’t get too much city light. If you need to hike a bit to get to where you are going, all the better to stay warm. (But remember – the higher you go, the more likely you are to encounter some cold wind).

If you’re looking for more ideas to take advantage of winter’s long nights, check out our post on Family Winter Play After Dark.

Active socially distanced outside winter activities

While backyard hangouts are a blast, if temperatures are really low, you’ll stay much warmer if you keep your body moving. You’ll also (hopefully) have less whining from bored children, which might even give you more of a chance to socialize with the adults.

Here are a few ideas:

Take a hike

Trails with wide paths are easier to maintain conversations with friends while social distancing. If it’s icy, shoe grips like Yak Traks can make your walk much more comfortable.

Go sledding

If you have enough snow, sledding is a great way to spend time with friends. And when you’re flying down a hill, you certainly don’t have to worry about staying in close contact too long.

Try a new sport

Maybe you’ve always wanted to try a new winter sport, but haven’t had the time. If you have any friends who are willing to lend a (socially-distanced) hand, ask if they’d be willing to show you the ropes on a new winter sport.

Winter sports you can try:

Enjoy a bike ride

If you don’t have snow, take advantage of dry sidewalks and trails and go for a ride. Make sure you and your kids have even warmer mittens than normal (bike riding will chill those fingers fast!) and have ears covered too (fitting a hat under a helmet can be hard, but even a thin layer like a Buff can help).

If you just want to spend time with your mom friend, head to an empty parking lot where the kids can safely bike together while you sit and chat.

Go birdwatching

There’s never been a time like the present to take up a new hobby. While many of us are just trying to keep our heads above water, birdwatching is an easy hobby to take up with kids. Here are some tips on birding with kids to get you started.

Have a snowball fight

Again, snow required for this one. But there has never been a better socially distanced winter activity than a snowball fight.

Have a neighborhood snowman competition

If conditions are right, invite your neighbors to a neighborhood snowman competition. Have everyone build one in their front yard, and then at on your own time, walk around to enjoy each other’s creations. You can even stay completely socially distanced while enjoying a sense of community while doing this one.

Find a nature playground

Playgrounds may be closed in some places, but hopefully that won’t stop us from playing. As much as I love to hike, my kids love to find a spot in the woods or by a river to stop and play.

Look for places with rocks and trees to climb, or big fields with plenty of room to run around. Make sure to bring a hot beverage or a blanket for yourself, if you won’t be moving around as much as the kids.

Take school outside

No matter what school looks like for your family right now, it’s probably hard work. But my kids are always more excited to do anything when there are friends involved (even school). Whether you are homeschooling or going to school full-time or somewhere in between, learning outside can happen all winter long.

Discover math in nature

There are so many math activities that you can do with other families outside, like measuring distances or timing how long it takes you to bike around the block. For more ideas, read our reviews of Wild Math here.

Learn your town’s history

Since we are all spending more time at home than normal, now is the perfect time to learn the history of where you live (and squeeze in a little education and outdoor time too!) Drive, walk, or bike to important areas in your city, and read historical markers with another family.

Organize a recess time

If you are lucky enough to life with other families near by, consider organizing a neighborhood recess. Virtual school schedules can be tough, but taking half an hour to run around the yard makes life much easier and is far more fun with friends.

Here are some zero contact game ideas that will keep little bodies moving in cold weather:

  • Simon Says
  • Flashlight or shadow tag (tag a friend by stepping on their shadow, or shining a flashlight on them in the dark)
  • Hula hooping
  • Jump rope
  • Charades
  • Freeze dance
  • Hop scotch
  • Bike or running races
  • Red light, Green Light
  • Mother, May I?
  • What time is it, Mr. Fox?

For games like Red Light, Green Light, Mother May I? and What Time is it Mr. Fox? designate a finish line and make the first child to cross it the winner (rather than the first person to tag the caller the winner).

Socializing outside makes winter more enjoyable

I’ll be the first to admit that winter is not my favorite season. And this year, more than ever, I’m tempted to wrap up in my blankets and not wake up until spring.

But when we make the effort to spend a few hours outside, our moods improve and the winter days tick by faster. Spending those days with friends, as safely as we can, helps more than anything.

Sunnier days are ahead, but there’s no reason we can’t enjoy the ones we are in now, too.

Related posts:

Socially Distanced Outside Winter Activities

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  • Jackie is a coffee-lover, writer and a mom of three young children living in Helena, MT. She thought that hiking might help tame her children’s wild spirits, and co-leads a Hike it Baby branch. All that hiking only made her crew wilder, but in a good way. Before kids she enjoyed reading, knitting and baking, but now she enjoys making it to bedtime.

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