We usually spend our winters here in Ann Arbor enjoying the city, celebrating at community events and festivals, visiting family and friends, or traveling across the globe on vacation. However, the winter of 2020/2021 is shaping up to be different than usual with the pandemic and social distancing rules in effect.
But while this season might not be exactly like the rest, there are still plenty of ways to maximize your family’s time spent socially distancing this winter. We rounded up a list of some of the best local—and safe—activities you can do with kids throughout the next few months, from checking out books at the library to attending a virtual cooking class. Plus, some of these ideas include ways you can support your community during this difficult time without having to leave the comfort of your home!
We love snow and all the winter activities that come with it—snowshoeing, snowball fights, skiing, oh my! But while we love throwing a snowball as much as anyone, our favorite activity by far is sledding. In the Ann Arbor area, we are graced with a large number of hills that, when coated with just the right amount of snow, are perfect for slipping, sliding and racing. Some of our favorites include hills in Leslie Park, Mushroom Park, Buhr Park and Rolling Hills County Park in Ypsilanti.
Get hot chocolate
Is there a drink kids love more than hot chocolate topped with tons of whipped cream? We think not! This season, don’t miss this opportunity to indulge in a winter classic. There are several places in Ann Arbor that have amazing hot cocoa—including Zingerman’s Coffee, Sweetwaters, lab, RoosRoast and Afternoon Delight. We recommend calling ahead and picking your order curbside to avoid social contact.
Many people are using this social distancing time to learn a new skill—and we can’t think of a better one to hone than cooking! Zingerman’s Bake is hosting a virtual kids’ class on January 20th, focused on making homemade fettuccine alfredo. This class is geared towards kids cooking solo aged 12 and up, or for younger kids with an adult assistant. Click here to register! If you miss this one, be sure to keep an eye out for more child-geared classes at Zingerman’s this season. Click here for their full calendar.
Located in downtown Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Art Center is our local headquarters for enjoying art exhibitions, connecting with local artists, and learning new art skills all year long. Their virtual education experiences are available for all ages and topics range from painting and ceramics to jewelry making and metalsmithing! Depending on how deep your little one wants to delve, you can choose a class that lasts just a few hours, a full day or four weeks. To see upcoming topics and classes, click here.
There’s nothing we love more on a cold day than a stack of great books full of new adventures. If you have a bookworm in your family, stop by The Ann Arbor District Library for a few new titles. Right now, they are offering curbside pickup for holds so you don’t even have to go inside. If you want to keep your reading local, here’s a list of incredible children’s books set in Michigan!
Build a snowman
There’s nothing wrong with the classics! Building a snowman after a heavy snowfall is a tradition. All you’ll need is a scarf, some buttons for eyes and a mouth and, of course, an orange carrot for the nose! For more visibility, consider building your snow sculpture at one of A2’s many parks or even Nichols Arboretum, where the trails are currently open to the public. Show off your masterpiece by posting a picture on Instagram (and be sure to tag us at @CharlesReinhart so we can see and maybe even share!).
Speaking of incredible, cold sculptures, don’t miss Dexter’s annual Ice Fest! On January 23rd, head to downtown Dexter to explore intricate ice sculptures in a variety of shapes and sizes sponsored by local businesses lined up all across the area. Please wear masks and social distance when visiting.
Photo courtesy ofAAHOM/LSNC staff
While the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still providing you and your family with bundles of kid-friendly fun! They’ve partnered with Leslie Science and Nature Center to provide you with fun, educational videos, DIYs and other virtual learning programs that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Most programs are completely free! Click here to explore their current offerings.
Just like the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum, Yankee Air Museum is offering fun, educational programming online! Their Creativity Hanger is full of virtual storytimes, games, crafts, coloring pages, puzzles, oral histories and more so that you and your children can learn all about aviation no matter where you are. And the best part? It’s all completely free!
Go on a winter hike
A beloved Michigan pastime, winter hiking and snowshoeing are great ways to get outside and explore during the winter. We recommend heading to the Waterloo Recreation Area, which offers more than 20,000 acres of outdoor paradise just minutes from Ann Arbor in Chelsea. All the trails within Waterloo are open throughout the winter. Though they’re not groomed, this offers more than 40 miles of snowy trekking if you have the proper footwear.
Play a board game
It may not be the most original idea in the book, but board games are a classic family indoor activity that we just couldn’t leave off the list. You can’t go wrong with Hungry Hungry Hippos for little ones or Monopoly for the older kids. If you want to keep your board game shopping local, Vault of Midnight is offering curbside pickup and $5 flat rate shipping! Or, for a new puzzle, head to Rock Paper Scissors to check out their ever-changing collection.
If you’ve never heard of Geocaching, it’s basically a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (or container) hidden at that location. Usually the geocache includes small items like tiny toys, stamps or stickers! If you and your family want to try it for yourselves this winter, just download the Geocaching app on your phone and navigate to a geocache in your neighborhood! The treasures can be hidden in tree trunks, under rocks, behind signs and more. Just don’t forget to bring along a goodie to include in the cache once you’ve found it!
The Creature Conservatory is a nonprofit organization that is home to a wide variety of animals, most of whom were abandoned, injured and non-releasable, or surrendered exotic pets. Their conservation through education mission allows our community to meet these animals, learn about wildlife and nature, attend educational programs and camps, and more. They are currently closed due to the pandemic, but you can still book a virtual visit with the animals online! Perfect for birthday parties or special events at home, The Creature Conservancy brings the zoo to you, delivering an engaging and educational program and introducing two of their animals virtually. Choose a pair of guests from an armadillo, axolotl, hedgehog, opossum, indigo snake or sloth! You can call (734) 929-9324 for pricing and scheduling.
Participate in a drive-in escape room
Photo courtesy of Decode
As Michigan’s top escape game, Decode in Ypsilanti offers some of the most interesting and complex escape rooms in the state. And even though you can’t visit them physically right now, Decode is still offering some fun escape experiences for you to enjoy around town! They are currently offering a couple different outdoor, contactless adventures in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that will give you a fun, safe winter afternoon enjoying everything our beautiful area has to offer. The newest is a Drive-In Spectacular! We don’t know much about this escape adventure yet because Decode doesn’t want to spoil all the surprises, but you can follow them on Facebook for a sneak peek before you go.
Go “out” to dinner
Due to local restaurant closures, you might not be able to go out to eat with the family for a while. So why not bring a little of that magic to your home? Order takeout from your favorite local restaurant (these are some of our favorites in Ann Arbor!), don a special outfit (which could be anything from a dress to a superhero costume) and make a big deal out of dinner at home. This gives you a break from cooking and supports a local restaurant at the same time—talk about a win-win!
Winter is coming!
Even though it will be different than ever before, we hope you still have a fantastic season! Let us know what you plan to do this season with your family in the comments below.