Every season, I like to put together a list of things I want to accomplish with my family, but I find it especially important to put together a family winter bucket list to keep us occupied when the weather is at its worst and we struggle to find things to do. (Check out my winter bucket list from last year and my spring 2019 bucket list here.) These seasonal family bucket lists started as a way to ensure I was making the most of these precious days with my littles. As a working mom, the weeks are so crazy that by the time the weekends come, I have so little brainpower left to figure out what we should do. Then we end up wasting the day, rather than making the most of our precious couple of days with the kids. I also know how fast these days are fleeting, and it’s important to me that we make memories as a family. I wanted to make a bucket list — really a list of activities to do as a family —as a way to ensure that we were making the most of our time together without the stress of having to think something up and plan it each week.
Plus, as any mom knows, the key to surviving the weekends and holidays is to get out of the house, especially in winter. Kids needs fresh air and change of scenery. As annoying and hard as it can be to get out the door, it’s always better than allowing everyone to go stir crazy inside. So I actually find a winter bucket list to be the most crucial. It’s a lot more work to get out of the house, because the weather often means you need to find a place to go or indoor activity to do, and it’s easy to just default to cozying up and watching a movie. And that’s totally fine sometimes, but movies are only a couple hours, and my kids are up at 6am, weekend or not, so it’s important for us to have some other activities planned. That’s why I love plotting out a family winter bucket list.
In the past, I was more ambitious with my family bucket lists. I thought each weekend needed to be spent doing something really elaborate or crazy, but I’m realizing that just going to the store is an adventure for James (and Charlotte, really — she just loves looking around), and if I don’t overload our schedule, we can make that the activity and everyone can win, even if it takes a lot longer than I’d like. So this year, I’m planning to make our family winter bucket list actually doable in a way that leaves us with happy memories, not traumatized.
I also read from another mom that she plans adventures for the kids, knowing that they may not last long, but she still considers them worth the effort. She’ll pack all the kids in the car and drive for over an hour just to go hiking for 15 minutes. When she realizes it’s time to pull the rip cord before everyone has meltdowns, she’ll call it without feeling bad or forcing everyone to stay out longer because they drove all that way there. That way, she (mostly) avoids the tantrums that comes when you stretch an adventure longer than everyone can handle and everyone comes away with a good memory of the trip, even if it was a short one. She considers the drive there and all that went into it part of the adventure, but most importantly, so do the kids.
I hadn’t really thought of things that way. I’ll decide we shouldn’t bother going skiing or to a museum in the city or to explore a new lunch spot that’s 45 minutes away, because by the time we’ll get there, we’ll only have a little bit of time before the kids will be tired and hungry, and we’ll have to come home. But after reading that, I’m going to embrace where we’re at in terms of parenting and our kids’ ages, and go for the adventures, remembering that, oftentimes, the journey is just as important as the destination. And that an hour with both kids strapped into their carseats and both my hands free to do as I please is pretty nice. So yes, I’ll keep some ambitious things on the family winter bucket list, but without any high expectations for how they’ll turn out.
Winter is always tricky because it’s cold and the weather often makes you want to stay inside, but my kids need their fresh air and I need to get out of the house. It’s also our first winter in the burbs, so I want to make the most of our time exploring and getting to know our new ‘hood. And as that wise mom reminded me, we can always just stay for 15 minutes and turn around and come back. Honestly, in 15 years, I’ll remember taking him to the zoo and showing him the lions for the first time. What I probably won’t remember? That we spent $100, spent 15 minutes finding parking, 10 minutes sitting in the car while I nursed Charlotte and James screamed, another 20 minutes trying to bribe him to use the potty before we went in, and only 30 minutes inside the actual zoo.
Here are all the winter activities I plan to do with my kids this year.
1. Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens
Did we miss it already? Is there ever a time it’s not insanely crowded and cold?
2. Bronx Zoo
We missed the holiday light show, but I hear it’s a must see, so will add that next year. But this year, I am looking forwarding to spending some of the not-too-freezing days walking around the zoo. It’s not a far drive from our house, and it’s not that crowded in winter so it’s the perfect time to visit.
3. Ice Skating
We took James skating for the first time and he had so much fun. I can’t wait to take him more.
While we put James on skies last year, we’re going to officially start teaching him to ski this year. We’re excited to hit up Thunder Ridge Mountain, which isn’t terribly far from us and where my husband would ski growing up. Any other tri-state area ski spots we should hit up?
5. Muscoot Farms
There’s a farm in upper Westchester open year round that’s open to familiest. I’m excited to see what it’s all about on a weekend when the weather isn’t too bad.
I signed up James for soccer on Saturday mornings, and it’s the best thing ever. Andrew takes him so I get 45 minutes of peace to have my coffee, feed Charlotte and watch HGTV in peace. It also gets our day going and gets some energy out.
7. Swim Lessons
Now that we’ve moved, I’m looking for a new spot for James to take swim lessons. He loved the water this summer, and it’s really important to me that he learn to swim, so I don’t have to worry about him at the pool and on vacation, especially now that we have Charlotte. I also find these sports lessons are great opportunities for James to bond with his dad (who will probably kill me for making him take James swimming on Sunday mornings, but honestly, indoor pools kind of gross me out). But in the interest of fairness, if they have a class we can do as a family with Charlotte too, I’ll suck it up and put my swim cap on and join the team.
There are some hiking and running trails near our house that I’m excited to check out. I love running on a sunny, cold day — the air is crisp and when you’re moving, it’s nice to enjoy the sunlight. I find if I bundle up James, he loves sitting in the jogging stroller and enjoying a snack while I run. We also got a hiking pack for him that we’re excited to use when we go upstate so we can take the kids into the woods and check out some cool scenery.
9. Indoor Tennis
This summer James will go to camp at our club and take tennis and swim lessons, but I want to introduce him to the sport more by taking him out on the court a couple times, even if it’s only for five minutes. My dad gave him a tennis racket for his birthday so all he needs are his tennis whites and he’ll be good to go.
My dad is a huge paddle player, and I love the idea of adding another outdoor winter sport to my roster. It makes winter so much more fun, and it’s a fun way to socialize with other family and friends. We may use a babysitter for this one and let it be our new mommy/daddy date night activity.
11. Natural History Museum
It’s not too far from us and although we’ve taken James to see the dinos last year, I think he’ll really appreciate them this year. He was a little young last year, and now that he’s learning about dinosaurs in school and can name them all, it feels like the perfect time to go again.
Local libraries are such a special part of small suburban towns, and I’m excited to take advantage of story time and other events at ours.
13. LegolandWe now live 15 minutes from a Legoland, and I feel like we need to suck it up and take James on the next super cold or rainy weekend.
This feels like it’s going to be a total production, but I think taking James to the circus would be pretty magical. It’s currently at Lincoln Center, and I’m thinking of doing it. Should I?
15. Sesame Street Live
I am not always a huge fan of these kinds of activities. They’re logistical nightmares and expensive, so if your kid throws a fit and wants to leave after two minutes, which James has been known to do, it is a total eff you. But if it goes well, the joy on his face could be worth it all. People who have gone, do we do it? Maybe we just pick one: Sesame Street or circus?
16. Norwalk Aquarium
File this under not close but a fun adventure. We went once when James was one or so with his cousins and it was a good one, so excited to take him back as a bigger kid.
We have lots of friends and families nearby, so I’m excited to spend more time hanging out. Parenting is so much easier when you do it with friends.
I have only taken James to one movie in his life, and that was when he was two, and we only lasted for 3/4 of it. I would love to take him to another. He’s gone a few times since with our nanny, but I love going to movies, so it’d be fun to do as a family. I’m not sure what we’d do with Charlotte. I got her those headphones that you put on babies at concerts and loud events — would those work? Or should we only do if we can get a sitter? Not sure we would try that hard to see a movie, so maybe we could make our own movie theater setup with popcorn and fun candy and just buy one that just came out and none of us had seen.
19. Explore Local Furniture Shops
We are in the market for lots of furniture still, but I am really loving seeing things in person and investing in old furniture and bringing it back to life. There are lots of fun stores and vintage shops in the surrounding areas. It can be a hike but if we only try to hit up one shop and then take the kids for something to eat, it feels like a worthwhile adventure even if we don’t get anything. Plus, it’s fun for them to walk around a new town we’ve never seen before.
20. Nature Center
Apparently there’s a nature center not far from us and it’s great, so I’m putting that on my list of easy things we can do when we’re in a pinch and don’t feel like doing anything.