With the start of November, many of us are beginning to think about the upcoming holidays and spending time with friends and family. But what about the winter break days when we will not be travelling or hosting visitors? This year, many schools have anywhere from three to six weeks off for winter break, leaving parents wondering, “What will we do with all of this time off!?” Here is a list of five great ways to keep your young ones’ minds active during their time away from school this winter season.

1.) Set up a Weather Station

Weather is something that is always happening and can affect us all. In the winter, the weather report helps us decide exactly how many layers we need to put on before we go out for the day. To get your child engaged in meteorology and weather, set up a simple weather station right outside your door using just a few tools. Visit a local garden center, such as B.B. Barns Gardens, Gift & Landscape Company, and pick up a thermometer and a rain gauge to observe daily temperature changes and rainfall amounts. If you choose to record your data at home, be sure to sign up for an online weather data recording program, such as the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) or the Citizen Weather Observer Program. By sharing your data with these programs, you can help scientists across the country gather information about how the weather varies in different areas. Learn more about other citizen science programs by reading #4 on the list below.

2.) Get to Know the Great Outdoors at Winter Break Camp at the Arboretum

20141107_132019December weather in Western North Carolina (for the most part) is usually mild enough that we can still enjoy the outdoors. Plus, there’s still a lot going on in nature. Instead of staying home all day, kids can spend the week exploring and learning about the seasonal changes happening around them at The North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Break Camp. This year, the Arboretum is hosting two weeks of Winter Break Camp where kids will learn about winter adaptations for animals and plants, make fun winter-themed crafts and play games with new and old friends. Visit the Discovery Camp webpage for registration details.

If the Winter Break Camp dates don’t fit with your child’s school or holiday schedule, do not worry! The Arboretum will also be hosting a Spring Break Camp April 10-14, 2017. Check back in January for more details.

3.) Visit an Asheville Museum

If indoor learning suits you better, spend some time at one of Asheville’s great museums. The Asheville Art Museum in Pack Square is currently under construction but they will be opening a new pop-up location called Asheville Art Museum on the Slope in December. During that time, they’ll have a special exhibition on display called “Vault Visible,” where visitors can see just how many steps and details go into caring for the many pieces in the museum’s collection. They are also offering the Holiday Arts Extravaganza, December 27 – 29, for students in first through fourth grade.

In addition, be sure to check out the new Asheville Museum of Science (AMOS), which opened this past fall. Formerly the Colburn Earth Science Museum, the organization has relocated and features new exhibits and hands-on experiences. The museum offers daily demonstrations, Super Science Saturdays, and for adults, the Beer City Science Pub. The soft opening of the new location is this Friday, November 11, noon – 5 p.m.

4.) Become a Citizen Scientist

A citizen scientist is an everyday person of any age who makes observations and reports their findings to real scientists. Citizen science programs include indoor and outdoor projects, plant and animal projects, and weather and cloud projects; for anything you and your young learner might be interested in, there’s a citizen science project for it! If you’d like to stay warm and cozy indoors, help the NOVA Cloud Lab by classifying cloud images and investigating the role they play in tropical storms. If you’re more interested in animals, visit Wild Birds Unlimited and pick up a birdwatching field guide and bird feeders to set up outside your window. By identifying and counting the birds that visit, you can help the scientists of Project Feederwatch track the movements of winter bird populations.

ecoEXPLORELogo_Tagline_72dpiIf you need to get moving outside, kids in kindergarten through eighth grade can sign up for the Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE program. This science enrichment program engages children using a combination of nature, technology and incentives. The purpose of ecoEXPLORE is to encourage participants to record observations of plants and animals found in their neighborhoods or places they visit using devices such as smartphones or tablets, while earning prizes and invitations to special events based on the number of observations they record. Once their account is set up on ecoexplore.net, all that is left to do is “See It, Snap It, Share It!” Click here for more information or to sign up.

5.) Come see Winter Lights

Just how many lights can you put on one tree? This year, The North Carolina Arboretum is excited to celebrate the third installment of its Winter Lights exhibit. Nearly 500,000 energy-efficient LED lights are presented throughout WinterLights2016_3DGlasses_webthe gardens in unique displays and landscapes. This is an outdoor walking tour but there also indoor features to the event. Ticket holders can visit the World of Giant Insects exhibit, make a free craft inside the Arboretum’s Education Center, and enjoy a new animatronic program entitled “Storytime at Woodland Cove,” which features true-to-life, animatronic native animals who tell a story about how they prepare for hibernation and the changes of the winter season. This family-friendly program invites children and adults to learn which of our local animals migrate, which stay active during the cold winter months and which ones are true hibernators. Winter Lights opens November 18 and runs through January 1, 2017. More details can be found here.

Don’t let the Winter Break Blues get you down! There’s plenty for you and your children to do during the winter break. We hope this list helps you find some great activities for your family to keep your minds and bodies active.