Outdoor family fun for winter break and beyond


This week is winter break for our children, as it is for many other schoolchildren around the Northeast. The winter we’re having here calls to mind a line from New Hampshire poet and essayist Donald Hall: “Sometimes the January thaw comes in February, sometimes it never arrives at all, and on the rarest occasions it starts early and lasts all winter.” Still, it’s mid-winter by the calendar, and the kids are out of school. How to get them outdoors, as well?

Around here, one benefit of the low-snow winter is that outdoor ice-skating has generally been very good. (Occom Pond in Hanover, NH rents skates; Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vermont, maintains the longest skating trail in the Northeast.) Local ski areas have also used the cold nights to make enough snow to cover most of their trails. Maple sugaring started very early this year, and steam is already billowing from nearby sugar shacks. Our plans for school vacation week include skating, a half-day at the closest ski area, and a trip to our favorite maple syrup maker.

Dozens of outdoor and nature programs for children and families that don't rely on snow are being held in city parks, at Audubon centers, and on conservation land around the AMC region. I've listed a sampling here. Even if you don’t see an event nearby, check with local parks and nature centers to see if they offer similar outdoor activities.

I’ve organized the list below by date and then by location. Follow the links for more details about each activity.

I hope you’ll share your ideas for “winter break” activities here, as well.

February 21 – 24

New York City. Kids Week. Several nature centers operating under New York City Parks & Recreation are offering daily (and some twice-daily) nature crafts and activities during vacation week. Park rangers work with children age 12 and under on such activities as building a bird feeder (Brooklyn), following a winter scavenger hunt (Staten Island), learning about geology (Manhattan), outdoor survival skills (Bronx), animal tracking (Queens), and much more. All activities are free.
- Salt Marsh Center at Marine Park, Brooklyn
- Blue Heron Nature Center, Staten Island
- Inwood Hill Nature Center, Manhattan
- Crotona Nature Center, Bronx
- Fort Totten Visitor’s Center, Queens

Woodstock, Vermont. Sleigh Ride Week at Billings Farm and Museum. 10 am – 3:30 pm. Vermont's only National Park will offer wagon rides if sleigh-riding isn’t possible, along with regular tours of the dairy farm and farmhouse. Entrance fee includes admission to “A Place in the Land,” a 30-minute Academy-Award nominated film about Billings Farm.

Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. Coolidge Reservation. The North Shore Trustees of Reservations site offers “eco-splorations” around Coolidge Point for young children accompanied by an adult. Thursday, February 23, 11 am – noon. The activity is offered again on March 1.

Saturday, February 25
Ipswich, Massachusetts. February Flapjack Fling & Sugaring Tours. Ipswich River Audubon Center. Breakfast spots are filling up fast, but space is still available on sugaring tours. Advance registration required.

Gloucester, Massachusetts. Ravenswood Park. Creature Features: Night Animals. 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Discover animals, such as bats, that sleep during the day and are active at night, followed by a guided hike in the park. Children attend for free; fee for adults.

Greenwich, Connecticut. “Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?” Audubon Greenwich will screen this documentary film on bee colony collapse, followed by comments from beekeeper Gunther Hauk, who appears in the film. 6:30 – 9:00 pm. RSVP required.

March 3 and 4

Fairfield, Connecticut. Introduction to Backyard Birding. Connecticut Audubon at Fairfield. Saturday, March 3, 10 – 11 am. Ages 12 and up. Free. Advance registration requested.

Mill Grove, Pennsylvania.
Maple Sugar Festival. John James Audubon Center. The famous American naturalist’s home is the base for a walking tour of maple syrup production, plus a pancake breakfast, on Saturday, March 3. The tour is free; small admission fee for the breakfast.

Canton, Connecticut. Maple Sugaring Demonstration. Roaring Brook Nature Center. An annual demonstration on Sunday, March 4, covers the maple sugaring process from identifying the tree to tasting the final product. 2:00 - 3:00 pm. Small fee.

Saturday, March 10
Boston, Massachusetts. Mayor’s Cup at Boston Common Frog Pond Skating Rink. Watch Boston Skating Club students and local pros in a final performance before the outdoor rink closes for the season.

Fairfield, Connecticut. Mini Monsters. Connecticut Audubon at Fairfield. Learn about scorpions, lizards, cockroaches. Kids have a chance to see these and similar creatures up close, using hand lenses, after the slideshow. Small fee. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

March 17 and 18

Lincoln, Massachusetts. Drumlin Farm. Take a tour of the educational farm’s sugar bush on Saturday, March 17, or Sunday, March 18, before sitting down to its annual sap-to-syrup farmer’s breakfast. The tour includes visits to other spring surprises, such as the first kids — baby goats, in this case — of the season. 9:00 am – 1:00 pm both days. Tickets and reservations required.

Fairfield, Connecticut.
Live Birds of Prey. Connecticut Audubon at Fairfield. Saturday, March 17, 10:30 – 11:30 am. Meet the center’s “bird ambassadors,” hawks, owls, and falcons who came to the center as injured animals. They can’t be released into the wild but can teach us about birds of prey. Small fee.

March 23 to 25

Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. AMC’s Highland Center. An AMC Winter Family Adventure package includes snowshoeing, animal tracking, building a snow shelter, tubing and more. No previous winter experience is needed. Activities are planned for ages 5 and up. The package includes lodging, meals, instruction, use of the lodge’s L.L.Bean gear room, and a cross-country ski ticket to Bretton Woods.

March 30 and 31
Canton, Connecticut. Vernal Pools. Roaring Brook Nature Center. An evening program on Saturday, March 30 explores the coming of spring and the amphibians who inhabit ephemeral woodland ponds. 7:30 - 8:30 pm. Not suitable for very young children. Small fee, advance registration required.

Lincoln, Massachusetts. Woolapalooza at Drumlin Farm, Sunday March 31. The MassAudubon farm’s woolly fundraiser includes border collies herding sheep and demonstrations of traditional sheep shearing. Families can follow a sheep-to-sweater interpretive trail for demonstrations of washing, carding, spinning, and dyeing wool. Local fiber artisans will offer demonstrations and sell their wares. Farm-grown food will be available, too. Tickets are available for advance purchase and at the gate.

Photos courtesy of Boston Common Frog Pond Skating Rink and Roaring Brook Nature Center.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Kristen wrote this post.

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