Get busy this winter with these projects, activities and ideas. Learn how to use your imagination with ice and snow, find out about creating outdoor land art, and discover ways to make your outdoor spaces more inviting. You can even join an on-line snow sculpture club!

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 Back Yard Maple Syrup Taffy

Have you ever been to a maple syrup harvesting event where the sap is collected from the trees and boiled down to make the syrup? Every late winter once things start to warm up a bit you can see the sap lines on the trees and sugar shacks busy with work. The best part is when they pour some of the syrup on fresh snow so you can enjoy eating maple taffy!kid eating maple taffy

You can recreate this sweet experience on a winter’s day - here’s how: 

  1. Prepare the snow to pour the syrup on – pack down a rectangular container (baking dish, roasting pan or similar) with fresh, clean snow. Leave outside on table.  
  2. Using your barbeque or a portable, outdoor stove, pour about 1 and 1/4 cups of pure maple syrup into a large saucepan, bring it to a boil, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a candy thermometer reads between 235 and 245 F (112 to 118 C), or a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a firm ball.  
  3. Pour about 2-3 tablespoons of syrup per piece over the snow in thin lines about 5 inches long. Be careful as the syrup is very hot! Let the syrup strips cool and become firm for at least 5 seconds. Wind around the end of a wooden popsicle stick to make a taffy lollipop. Eat while still a little warm.

Of course, you could just do this all in the kitchen, but then you couldn’t pretend you are running your own sugar shack and it wouldn’t be as much winter fun!

 Create Your Own Land Art
 land art photo land art photo 2

Some artists make wonderful temporary artwork on site, outdoors, with natural materials. Even in the winter! This is known as ‘land art’, ‘earth art’ or ‘environmental art’. Have a look at photographs of this kind of art in books or on-line. Then get outside and start using your gathering skills and imagination! Play and experiment outdoors with what you can find to make your own land art. 

Artists to explore for inspiration: Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Shilling, Nils Udo, Patrick Dougherty, Rebecca Lewis Law, Agnes Denes 

Use sticks, twigs, branches, bark, leaves, vines, berries, seeds, nuts, rocks, stones – whatever natural materials are available. Even snow and ice! 

  • Arrange items on the ground into a line, circle, spiral, pattern, image, shapes
  • Weave longer items together and hang from a tree
  • Poke sticks into the ground in a row, patterns, circles, curves, zig zags
  • Stack or assemble items into a sculpture – make an animal, person or abstract shape
  • Use nature’s palette! Sort items into separate colours, textures, patterns and forms then use them to create an image or sculpture. It can be ‘realistic’ or an abstract idea.
  • Stack/arrange items in a tree – find a spot that can hold your creation
  • Make it on top of a fence or other structure, maybe it can drape down, or stick up high!
  • See how light shines through leaves and other items when hung
  • Take photos of your artwork to share 

"I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and "found" tools--a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn."

—Andy Goldsworthy

 Fireside Conversation Starter Ideas

Once you’ve followed our tips for making your outdoor deck, patio or balcony more inviting this winter try jump starting some interesting family conversation with these thought-provoking questions brought to you by the Cambridge Fire Department. Gather around the outdoor propane heater or campfire and start talking! (Please see below for required fire permit and safety guidelines).

You can print and cut individual questions for conversation starter selection.  Each person would take turns selecting a question from a hat, bowl, box etc. If you have dice these could also be used to select a conversation starter.  You could pick some questions to be discussed and number them according to the dice available. 

Example fireside questions  

Another favorite conversation starter!

Another great conversation starter is ‘did you know?’.  You can access an electronic copy of our local newspaper the Cambridge Times. Pick a news article to discuss.  Did you know this just happened…..?

Safety First

Make sure to follow all product directions and safety regulations if using an outdoor propane heater. Use in a well-ventilated area away from any flammable items. If your family is planning on gathering by a campfire you must first apply for a permit from the Fire Department and follow all safety precautions including locating the fire at least 150 metres away from any buildings.  The City of Cambridge’s fire prevention codes and standards are a good resource, as is Close Up Check which outlines the benefits and what to look for in a propane heat source.  

 Get in Touch With Nature

Get in Touch with Nature photo

Just because its winter doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of animal, bird and natural activity happening outside! Explore the beauty and wonder of nature with your family this winter.

Find the Birds 

Many birds stay or arrive in Ontario during the winter including the Blue Jay, Cardinal, Hawks, Owls, Chickadee, Woodpecker, Goldfinch and Nuthatch. Several great Ontario bird identification books are available. You can also visit on-line resources such as GRCA Birding or Birds Canada to learn about birds and identifying species, to get you started before going on your search.                     

ID Animal Tracks

Tracking Down Winter Wildlife from the Canadian Wildlife Federation is a great identification resource. Look for the guide that you can download, then head outdoors and see what tracks you can find and identify. Make a chart or other display at home of the tracks with accompanying images of the animal that all members of the family can view and add to throughout the winter.

Feed the Birds

Birds especially appreciate an extra food source in the harsh winter. Visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation Bird Feeding information resource for some helpful tips on what to keep in mind when choosing a bird feeder and food.

Photograph Nature

Take photos of interesting abstract ice formations, snow patterns; trees can be very sculptural without leaves; photograph winter animals and birds. Shoot extreme close ups and then wider scenes, experiment with different angles, photograph from above and below, try black and white photography. Take photos early in the morning or just before the sun goes down. Incorporate the long shadows on a sunny winter’s day. Capture the beauty of winter clouds. Be creative and see what you can do with your camera!

Homemade Bird Feeders

homemade bird feederEnjoy bird watching this winter with these easy homemade bird feeders. 

 

 

 Get There Together

Get there together photo

Here’s a fun way to share a group experience from a distance, keep fit and get outside this winter! 

  • Identify a destination that you and your family, or you and a group of friends would normally have been planning to travel to this winter. Maybe you had hoped to all go to Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, a grandparent’s home in London, Disney in Florida or a resort in Mexico. Any destination goes! 
  • Find out the number of kilometers the trip to that destination would have been. 
  • Now it’s time to ‘Get There Together’! You each have to walk, bike, or run (preferably outside if possible) to collectively ‘complete’ the trip. You could even try cross country skiing – so long as the activity keeps you moving forward on the journey. Do this on your own or with members of your immediate family/household.                       
  • Use pedometers and fitness tracker apps or other methods to keep track of your distances and a running tally of the group’s total kilometers.   
  • Think about sharing your ‘traveling’ activities by posting on social media with a #gettheretogether hashtag 
  • Once you have accumulated enough total kilometers to ‘arrive’ at your location celebrate by taking an online, virtual tour of the destination together, or holding an on-line party dressing up and enjoying food, drinks and music from that place. Destination was a resort in Mexico? Then think sun glasses, drinks with little umbrellas and delicious Mexican food! Use your imagination and have fun after all that exercise!
 Hot Chocolate Flavour Boosts

Hot Chocolate flavour Boosts photoAlmost everyone loves hot chocolate to warm them up while engaging in outdoor winter activities. Try adding some of these ingredients for a unique flavour hit or to spice things up!

As a special treat set up an outdoor DIY hot chocolate bar so family members can have fun mixing their own fancy hot chocolates.                       

  • Almond or Vanilla extract 
  • Peanut Butter or Peanut Butter chips 
  • Maple Syrup 
  • Peppermint extract or crushed candy 
  • Ginger and Nutmeg 
  • Chili Powder and Cinnamon – known as a Mexican hot chocolate! 
  • Coconut or Almond milk 
  • Raspberry Jam 
  • Pumpkin puree and spices 
  • Coffee 
  • Butterscotch or Caramel – crushed candies or syrup 
  • Cinnamon, Cloves and Allspice 
  • Hazelnut paste 
  • Orange zest or extract 
  • Chocolate Truffles 
  • Ice Cream – make sure the hot chocolate is still good and hot before adding! 
  • Chocolate chips or crushed chocolate bar
How to make your own Winter Ice Lanterns

Instead of lighting up your house and lawn with lights, mark this special occasion with ice lanterns with candles inside.  Your ice lanterns can be as simple or fancy as you would like.

ice lantern

Step 1 – Fill your angel food cake pan with water, but a bucket, bowl works too.

Step 2 – You can leave it with just water, or add in branches, holly, greenery or anything to make it fancy. 

Step 3 – Let the water freeze, but not completely so the container cracks. If you are using a bucket or bowl  you want it to freeze less so you have a middle hole or you can use a plastic cup to make a middle.

Step 4 – Flip the container upside down and pour hot water on it, just enough to release the ice not melt it.

Step 5 – Gently lift the container off the lantern taking care to not bump it too much. 

Step 6 - Step 6 – Pour out any remaining water, If the lantern froze correctly it’ll still have a lot of water inside and a thin layer of ice on top (what was the bottom of the bucket). Carefully crack a hole in the top and pour out the remaining water so the lantern is nice and dry.

Step 7 – Place a Candle in the Lantern and Enjoy!

 How To Create An Amazing Snow Maze

How to create an amazing snow mazeInstead of snow forts or a snowman, try designing, making and enjoying a snow maze. It will keep you, the kids and even the dog busy for days! Wait for a good snowfall and then use these tips and ideas to get you started.

Design Your Maze

If you are really ambitious first design your maze on paper. Involve your children in this activity, they will come up with some fabulous ideas. Include dead ends, twists and curves and other surprises. Scale the drawing up to fit your space. Using the design as a guide, trace out the maze in the snow by walking it and doing some preliminary shoveling. Or you can go free form and just start digging out the maze and see where that takes you!

Snow Removal/Snow Packing

If the snow is deep you will have to carve out the maze and its walls by shoveling. Walls may have to be shorn up by packing the snow. If the snow is dry, spray the walls with water so they will solidify. Tamp down the floor of the maze with your feet, the kids will love doing this. Add extra height to the walls with snow blocks if desired.

Special Features   

Use your imagination to make your maze unique with extras such as:

  • Changing elevations
  • Tunnels, slides
  • Square, rectangle or round ‘rooms’
  • Items embedded in the walls
  • Snow people or creatures
  • Patterns, designs, faces carved in the walls
  • Arches over the maze
  • Coloured snow and ice designs
  • Ice ‘windows’
  • Extra thin and extra wide passageways
  • Zig zags, sharp turns
  • Pocket alcoves in the walls
  • Snow seats and benches
  • Glow sticks
  • Battery powered lights

How To Make Ice For Your Family Backyard Rink

Tips from City of Cambridge Parks & Recreation Operations 

Flooding natural ice rinks is not difficult although it does take time and it can be a very cold job.

 

1. Wait until the frost is into the ground at least two inches and the weather will remain below -30 C for several days before attempting to flood.

 

2. Remove lumps of soil or prominent ridges before flooding.  Be sure there are no gaps under the rink perimeter barrier (boards or whatever you have chosen to contain the ice) where water can escape.  Seal any gaps with loose soil or packed snow.

 

3. you are about to flood over a snow covered surface, pack the snow firmly and evenly throughout the rink.  Flooding over excessive snow (5cm or more unpacked) will result in soft, lumpy ice, collapsing sections and a rapid melting during warm spells.

 

4. Start flooding at the furthest point from the water supply and move across the rink applying light fogs or sprays over the entire surface until wet.  Never direct the force of the water downward at the ice.  Instead, always spray up and outward.  Do not apply more water until the first coat is completely frozen.

 

5. Large amounts of water will draw the frost out of the ground, causing the water to soak into the ground which could mean a delay of several days until the ground re-freezes.


6. Naturally, if the temperature dips below -10 degrees C. you may apply more water to each coat, but if it takes more than 15 - 20 minutes to freeze, you have put too much water on and should reduce the amount on the next flooding.

 

7. On extremely cold nights (-20 to -25 degrees C below zero or colder), it is not advisable to flood a good ice surface because the warmer water will crack the ice badly and could ruin your efforts.

 

8. Please do not flood from an open hose (without a nozzle).  Water cannot be easily removed, thus destroying your efforts.

 

9. When you stop flooding for any reason, do not shut off the nozzle and leave the hose lying outside for you will certainly freeze your hose.  A frozen hose often takes several hours to thaw so we advise you to shut off the water supply and roll the hose up with the nozzle open to allow drainage of the hose.

 

10. Never flood a rink when the temperature is above -3 degrees C. because experience indicates that the water will not freeze quickly enough to warrant such efforts.

 

IMPORTANT:  Never leave a hose running outside, especially into a ditch.  The build-up of ice in a ditch can cause serious flooding during warm spells and cause considerable damage. 

  

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS AND CAUSES: 

Shell Ice: 

A layer of ice with an air pocket underneath is caused from too much water and not allowing previous coat of water to freeze solid. 

Frost Boils: 

A large bump on the ice and not frozen in centre is caused from too much water.  Holes of all kinds should be packed with snow and a litter water and let freeze overnight.  Frost boils result in the frost coming out of the ground and can be a serious nuisance.  

It is hoped by everyone that by following these helpful hints it will be easier to obtain volunteers and harder for people to get discouraged and say it can’t be done. 

BACKYARD RINKS AND COVID 19: 

Please follow all COVID 19 public health guidelines, including limiting use of your skating rink to immediate household family members. 

 Ice Activities

Backyard Ice Sculptures 

Useful Items 

Items to create a mould - this can range from baking pans to balloons! Whatever can hold water.

Items to create a unique ice sculpture – such as items from the yard (berries and branches), food colouring, sparkles and beads, small toys.  If you are planning to hang the ice sculpture or are looking to create a sun catcher remember to use a loop of ribbon for hanging. 

Creating your ice sculpture or sun catcher 

Place the objects of choice and food colouring in the mould first.  Then fill the remainder with snow or water.  Tap water may harden to a clearer ice. 

Either place the item in the freezer or outside (weather permitting)

If leaving outdoors wait for a day and then remove ice from the mold.  If you have challenges removing the item pour hot water on the mould to assist with removal. 

Voila! Enjoy your creation! 

Ice Cube Hunt! 

Items required to create colourful ice cubes:

  • Ice cube trays
  • Water
  • Food colouring 

Creating the ice cube hunt

The evening prior to the planned ice cube hunt fill the ice cube tray with water and add food colouring to each cube. You could even keep one or two clear to make the hunt more difficult.   The next day take the cubes out of the tray and hide around the yard or activity space. Enjoy your ice cube hunt! 

Ice Bubbles

How to create ice bubblesItems required to create ice bubbles: 

  • Water
  • Dish soap
  • Corn syrup
  • An outdoor space without wind and -10 degrees Celsius in temperature (or colder) 

Creating your ice bubble mixture - mix half a cup of water, half a cup of dish soap and one quarter cup of corn syrup.  

You are ready to start creating. Blow bubbles and see what happens! 

Ice Bowling 

Fill these items with water and put outside to freeze. Leave space for water expansion! 

Pins – water bottles    Balls – balloons 

Set up and play on your drive way or create a ‘lane’ in the back yard

 Learn from Matt Morris - Snow Sculptor
Matt Morris Snow Sculptor photoMatt lives in Waterloo and is an accomplished snow sculptor. His larger than life creations turn heads every winter. Matt’s spinning snow sculpture of Raptor’s basketball star Pascal Siakam received a lot of attention, including from the player himself who enthusiastically responded to a photo he saw of it. Matt has also created sculptures of Mick Jagger, Einstein, Moai heads, animated film characters, a variety of animals, as well as abstract designs and ideas.


Matt shares images of his sculptures on-line, as well as tips and techniques on how you can learn to make amazing snow sculptures through tutorials, videos, photographs and even a free virtual snow sculpting club that has members from across the region, Canada and even as far as the United States.

Check it out and then get outside and start snow sculpting!

Find out more about Matt by checking out this website, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube page

 Make Your Outdoor Deck, Patio, Balcony More Inviting
Make your patio more inviting photoCreate spaces where you can put your coat on (maybe even just a sweater!), wear a good scarf, bring a blanket and catch some winter rays, even if there’s snow on the ground!

Harness the Sun; Block the Wind

According to Environment Canada capturing direct sunlight and blocking wind can make an outdoor space feel up to 10C degrees warmer. Pick areas for seating that have the best sun exposure and are out of the wind. Is there a brick wall that holds the heat? What corner on the deck is wind free? Make a wind barrier out of a trellis, or a frame stretched with weatherproof fabric. Purchase or make outdoor curtains. Consider using a light reflective surface to increase the heating power of the sun. Find or create that warm pocket or sun trap to bask in!

Look and Feel Warm

What we see can affect how cold or warm we feel regardless of the temperature, so work on adding visual elements that encourage a sense of warmth. Try colourful outdoor cushions or a deck rug in warm red or yellow tones. Make sure there are blankets and throws handily available in an outdoor storage unit.                      

Plant Conifers

Coniferous trees and shrubs planted on the north side of your space can act as a wind and snow break as well as providing a sense of protection from the elements. 

Bring the Heat

Portable, outdoor heaters can warm up an outdoor space. How about cordless heated outdoor chairs and cushions? Make sure to keep heaters away from flammable items, maintain air circulation, follow all product directions and be mindful of local bylaws and regulations.

Winter Barbeque

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to stop barbequing! Make sure you set up where there is no wind, but not an enclosed area. See our Winter BBQ guide for more tips.  

Remember Safety! Always de-ice and shovel all snow off any surfaces people will be walking on or using as hand rails. Operate any heating devices with care. The City of Cambridge’s fire prevention codes and standards are a good resource, as is Close Up Check which outlines the benefits and what to look for in a propane heat source. 

 My Winter Story

My Winter Story PhotoThis activity combines getting outside together for some active winter fun AND using your creative skills to tell the story of what you experience!

Winter Inspiration

Cuddle up together under a warm blanket with a cup of cocoa and read a great winter themed book to get you in the spirit! Some possibilities: My Winter City by James Gladstone, illustrated by Gary Clement – A young boy travels through the snowy city with his father and dog to enjoy a day of tobogganing. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by John Schoenherr – A father and daughter venture out on a cold winter’s night under a full moon to find the Great Horned Owl. 

Winter Adventure

Next, go on your own outdoor winter trek together. Walk to your destination so you can soak in all the sights and sounds of what you see, hear and feel. Enjoy running, skating, skiing, snowboarding, climbing or exploring. The sensations and experiences you have are going to be your creative fuel!      

Winter Words

Sit down together and start writing words and sentences about your outdoor, winter experience. Just let it flow out on the page in no particular order. Did you hear the ‘crunch, crunch, crunch’ of the snow under your feet? What words describe how you felt? Were you flying on the ice? Did you see gently floating snowflakes or was it a flurry of white wind in a blowing blizzard!? Maybe you heard the strange ‘honks’ of the geese in the park….

Winter Story

Take some of the words and sentences and create images to go with them. Use whatever you have such as paints, markers, pencil crayons, magazine cut outs, fabric, and paper. Keep writing new words, sentences, even paragraphs to capture what you saw, heard and felt. Make art to go with them. Before you know it, you will have enough pages for your own illustrated winter adventure book. Don’t forget to make a cover for your book out of thicker cardstock or cardboard. You are a book author and illustrator!

 Snow Activities

Creating a Bullseye Target

Items needed to create your bullseye target:

  • Large piece of cardboard
  • Paint or markers (if you are using paint, paint brushes)
  • Various sized round objects from around the house that can be used to create a circular shape (i.e. paper plate, lid of Jar, various bowls…)
  • Scissors
  • Marker

Creating your bullseye target:

  • Start by locating the centre of your cardboard.  Place largest flat circular object in the centre of the cardboard for tracing.  Continue to trace the objects going from largest target range to the smallest.
  • Paint or colour in the target areas using dark and light alternative colours.   
  • Cut the target out.
  • Mount the target to outdoor object of choice (i.e. tree, fence…)

Time to dress warmly and make the snowballs for practicing your pitch! 

Have fun! 

Snow Painting

Items needed to create your snow paint:

  • A spray bottle (clean)
  • Food colouring
  • Corn starch
  • Water
  • Medium size bowl
  • Utensil for stirring
  • Funnel

Creating Your Snow Paint

Using a medium sized bowl mix together two tablespoons of corn starch, 2 cups water and food colouring (amount of food colouring needed to achieve desired colour).  Using a utensil mix the ingredients.  Transfer the mixture to the spray bottle with the funnel.  You now have paint that is ready to be used.  Please note that the corn starch may settle to the bottom of the spray bottle.  You may need to stir or shake the spray bottle contents before use (please ensure lid is secure and that the nozzle is closed).

Enjoy some creative time outdoors making your masterpieces.  Paint on snow people, snow walls, snow anything! Remember to take pictures of your creations.

You can also use the paint to create target areas on the snow and enjoy a game of snow ball toss. 

Pin the Nose on the Snow Person or a Variation

After creating that perfect snow person play a game of pin the nose on the snow person.   You will nee a winter scarf and a carrot for this fun activity.  Taking turns have one individual wrap another player’s eyes with the scarf.  Spin the person around three times.  After the third spin the player will try in place the nose on the snow person.  Take turns to have a some fun and laughs.  

Making Snow Angels

Remember to dress warmly!  After a fresh snowfall there is fun in creating a snow angel.  One way to make snow angels: explore the area to find an unmarked snow space large enough to lie in; turn away from the space and take a slight jump backward.  Then bring yourself slowly to the ground.  After finding a lying position on your back, move your arms up and down in a jumping jack motion.  Then get up, stand up very carefully and jump forward out of your angel.  Turn to view your snow angel to take a picture!  Do you have a better technique or one that you could share? Share a photo using #WinterCbridge. 

Snow Forts

Snow Forts photo

Snow forts create areas of warmth to be enjoyed in the cooler weather.  Sometime you can find yourself creating snow forts once you have realized that your snowballs meant for a snow person are too heavy to lift! You can take these large snowballs and roll them beside each other creating the perfect space.  Do you have a special snow fort building technique to share? Share a photo using #WinterCbridge. 

Please remember to only create in your back or front yard space.  The curbside snowplowed snow should never be used for the building of snow forts.    

Freeze Tag

A Game of Freeze Tag will warm up players!  Read up on game rules before your game. 

 Tips for Winter Barbecuing

Winter Barbequing PhotoJust because its winter doesn’t mean you can’t fire up the grill!

Clothing

Be prepared with suitable clothing and footwear. Wear shoes or boots that have good traction as well as a warm winter coat and hat. Avoid scarves. Regular mittens or gloves can be difficult to use so consider grilling gloves.

Location

Find a spot that offers the best protection from wind but is at least 3 metres away from the home. Avoid overhangs, porches, balconies. NEVER cook in an enclosed area. Clear away all snow and ice and make sure the walking surfaces are not slippery or hazardous.

Fuel Needs and Safety

Have extra fuel on hand as you will burn more in the winter. Check all fuel lines, connections and the tank for any cracks or leaks. Make sure all vents are free of obstruction and controls turn freely. Keep the barbeque covered when not in use - consider an insulated cover.

Pre-Heating

Every barbeque is different but you’ll need at least 5 additional minutes for it to warm it up. You may want to start warming the grill slower over a longer period of time than usual.

What to Grill and How Long

Thinner or smaller cuts of meat cook quickly over high heat like thin steaks, pork loins, chicken breasts and kabobs. Adjust grilling times accordingly. Use a meat thermometer if cooking thicker cuts of meat.

Maintaining Heat

Leave the hood down as much as possible to preserve the temperature. Ceramic cookware will help to insulate your food and hold the heat.

Remember Safety! Always de-ice and shovel all snow off any surfaces people will be walking on or using as hand rails. Operate barbeque according to instructions. The City of Cambridge’s fire prevention codes and standards are a good resource.

The community is reminded to keep safety top of mind and adhere to pandemic guidelines on gathering and physical distancing. More information on COVID-19 protocols can be found here

Share your photos of your Winter City experiences on social media by using #WinterCbridge or tag us in Twitter or on Facebook