Q: What are some fun, cheap outdoor things to do with my kids this winter vacation? A ski vacation in Aspen is just not in the cards for us this year (or any year, for that matter). Got any good ideas?

A: Definitely. Most people think of winter as a time to head indoors, stay in pajamas and drink hot cocoa, and for some (like myself), that sounds perfectly divine. But for those of you who are itching to get outside, I’ve got some great ideas.

First, let’s talk about snow. Most of the time, where I come from, it’s perfectly pristine for about an hour after it has fallen. Then, after everyone has driven around in it for a few hours, most sidewalks are gray and slushy and yards are spattered with snow-mud. Not a winter wonderland, to be sure. But once the snow has fallen, there’s lots you can do in it. Right after it has come down, for instance, it’s perfect for making slushies — just scoop some into a cup, and add in a little bit of your favorite juice or soda — yum! (Just steer clear of that "yellow snow" — yuck!) Next, instead of building your classic snowman, why not leave off the head and have your kids pose behind it? Just make sure to top it off before the neighbors start wondering. Of course there’s always a good old-fashioned snowball fight, which, thanks to this snowball maker, can be pretty sophisticated these days.

What if you’re living in a place where it hasn’t snowed yet but it's still plenty cold? Check out local parks or nature preserves. If you’ve got little ones, a playground can be oodles of fun in the winter because they’ve usually got it all to themselves. And sometimes a great hiking trail is right around the corner from home. Check out your local listings here.

If you happen to be in a place that isn’t all that cold, well then you’re in luck! Take advantage of the weather and head outside to your local parks, zoos, botanical gardens or biking and hiking trails.

For those of you who, like me, would rather spend your winter Sundays indoors, there’s plenty to do with the family on the cheap. Try having family game night, with games like Taboo or Pictionary. If you’re really creative, make your own version of Family Feud. Before the game, come up with the family’s top five favorite pizza toppings, movies, most embarrassing moments, you name it. Divide your family into two teams, ask the first question, and let the games begin.

To get in the holiday spirit, you can also get the whole family to volunteer for the day at a local food bank or homeless shelter. You’ll not only be doing good for others, you’ll be doing good for your kids too — helping them appreciate what they have and setting a positive example for them, which is much more effective than simply telling your kids about the right thing to do.

Finally, why not give in to your hermit-like sensibilities, rent a movie from your local library (for free) and stay in? Nothing beats hot chocolate with marshmallows, PJs, and cuddling on the couch in the winter — at least in my book. (But then again, I’d do that any time of the year.) Happy holidays!

— Chanie 

Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.

Inset photo: Spiegel/Flickr
MNN homepage photo: redjar/Flickr