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Blog | 23 January 2020

Fill the gaps in your winter programme

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Plan ahead to make sure your programme’s chock-full of activities and games, whatever the weather.

Whether you’re living in a winter wonderland or curled up by the radiator, winter presents a number of challenges when it comes to planning activities for your young people. While the wind and rain can make indoor time seem attractive, it’s still important for everyone to get outside for some fresh air and to learn more about the season. At the same time, you don’t want anyone catching a cold while they’re capturing the flag! Plan ahead to make sure your programme’s chock-full of activities and games, whatever the weather.

Burns night treats

Here are some ideas of things to do with your Colony or Pack in winter:

Haggis, neeps and tatties (indoors, 1h)

Christina Rossetti’s famous carol describes midwinter as ‘bleak,’ but it’s actually one of the more festive times of the year. On top of Christmas and New Year, Scotland celebrates Burns Night on January 25th, in honour of their most famous poet Rabbie Burns. People across the country traditionally huddle inside by the fire and enjoy a big plate of haggis, neeps and tatties. If you’re stuck for a seasonal session-filler, why don’t you and your group do the same?

You’ll just need to make a quick trip to the shops and have somewhere to cook. However, preparing this meal easily involves the whole group and passes on useful culinary skills. It’s perfect for groups of all ages or mixed groups keen to explore the link between culture and food. Get hold of some Burns poetry or have your young poets come up with some of their own to share as you enjoy this festive feast.

Mindfulness time (indoors/outdoors, 10 mins)

In spite of the festivities, nice-smelling bonfires and presents, winter can be a sad time for some people. Problems with mental health often happen in the winter months, because of the reduced daylight and cold temperatures. The knock-on effect can be that we spend more time indoors and less time socialising with others. A quiet, sensory, neutralising activity like practising mindfulness helps everyone to focus on something other than negative thoughts.

This activity could be run anytime, anywhere and with any age group. In fact, it should be! Get everyone involved in mindfulness sessions wherever possible. It’s a brilliant skill for young people to take away for when they’re feeling upset, angry or anxious. Try running Mindfulness time at the beginning and end of your winter sessions, in different places and with different objects to focus on. It makes a real difference.

Who’s the coolest? (indoors/outdoors, 30 mins)

Young people around the world are being inspired by the climate campaigner Greta Thunberg and others to do more to be sustainable and fight climate change. In the UK alone, winter is changing year on year, affecting everything from the migratory patterns of birds to the flow of the Gulf Stream, and leaving us vulnerable to more extreme weather events. While those of us with runny noses and numb fingers may feel our prayers have been answered by balmy winters, the true consequences of climate change are serious and grave. Our planet needs you!

Knowing is half the battle. Get your group thinking, discussing and learning with this climate change quiz, and help them develop their opinions on the issue. Whether it inspires some people to make small changes, or your whole group to go litter-picking at the weekend, it all adds up. Weather and light permitting, go outdoors to run this one if you can, so that everyone can experience their winter world while they take part.

Disaster stations (indoors/outdoors, 40 mins)

As mentioned above, climate change has made UK winters more dangerous, because of an increased risk of extreme weather. Many parts of the country are vulnerable to severe flooding and in recent years, lots of rivers, like the River Eden in Carlisle, have burst their banks, causing serious damage and endangering people’s lives. Preparing your group by learning about extreme weather is a really good use of indoor time. 

This activity puts Beavers and Cubs into the shoes of flood victims, who must choose the item that helps them deal with a flood situation. A test of teamwork, initiative, imagination and brains; these are skills that might suddenly be needed when extreme weather comes calling! If your group’s already looking at climate change, this activity would make a great extension.

Mud mugs (outdoors, 30 mins)

For most of us, winter means rain, and more rain equals mud. We’re all used to stamping it off our boots without a care, but what creative purpose could mud serve? Some artists use clay, a kind of mud, to make models and sculptures. There’s nothing stopping you from doing the same, while mud is abundant.

It might be best to leave uniforms at home for this one, as your group get their hands dirty turning logs into marvellous mud people. This is great for young people that don’t mind getting a bit mucky and enjoy creative projects. If there’s enough logs for people to make their own, why not have everyone give a name and a special power to their new mud-being?

Fire builders (outdoors, 50 mins)

If you’re outdoors in the winter chill, you won’t need reminding that winter is the coldest month of the year. It’s essential that anyone working, walking or waiting in the cold gets themselves warm as quickly as possible, to prevent hypothermia setting in. But starting a fire can be difficult and dangerous, so finding an effective fire-lighter that lights easily and produces a controlled blaze is really important.

As well as warming you up, having a campfire allows you to cook hot food and gives you somewhere to gather and socialise. This activity helps your group build safe fires from scratch – a skill that will stay with them throughout their journey with Scouts and beyond. It’s perfect in programmes where groups are venturing off bravely for a winter night hike or weekend camp.

Just throwing it out there (indoors, 10 mins)

You and your group may be waiting impatiently for a snow-day, but all the fun of throwing snowballs can be had inside your meeting place. Working as a team in this winter-themed game, players should try to keep the scrunched-up paper balls out of their part of the playing area. On the pieces of paper are ideas for activities suggested by the group.

This activity has the obvious advantage of being an ideas-generating exercise. Young people have the chance to share ideas for games and activities they’ve played or heard about elsewhere, while leaders get a good idea of what everyone’s interested in. These may also be winter versions of games you’ve played before. Have a look through the snowballs for any nuggets of gold that would be suitable for you to squeeze into the programme.

Hi-vis hustle (outdoors, 30 mins)

Dark winter evenings make crossing the street, doing outdoor activities and finding your way more difficult. Many activities, like bike rides and night hikes, may require you to go out on the roads, where you’ll need to make yourself visible to motorists. It’s best to have some hi-vis vests for night-time activities, which reflect car headlights and make you easy to spot in the darkness. Better still, hi-vis are perfect for a classic game of cops and robbers in the dark.

In the game, one set of players are guards with torches and one set are robbers trying to steal hi-vis jewels! When guards shine their torches on the robbers, they’re caught. But the other robbers can use the torch beam to spot the hi-vis treasure. This shows everyone the effectiveness of hi-vis clothing as a safety feature when out and about on a winter night.

These are just a few ideas for winter-themed activities to keep Beavers and Cubs on their toes. It needn’t be a hassle working them (and other new ideas) into your programme. The programme planning tool is designed to make programme adjustments a breeze, whatever stage you’re at. It’s great for short-term planning as well as long-term – for instance, you could use it to plan what to do in the coming weeks, if your next big programme starts in the spring. There are ready-made programmes that fulfill all the badge requirements your group will need, and the flexibility to tailor single sessions or terms that you already have ideas for.

Hopefully, these wintry activities can complement your current programme. Most of them are ideal for filling those troublesome gaps in the schedule. Just remember to remind everyone to wrap up warm before they go outdoors.

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