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I lived in Houston for six years, where winter is nonexistent. So imagine my surprise when I moved to Milwaukee and discovered that a 35 degree day in February is pleasant!  Heaps of snow and lingering cold temperatures well past March make me want to sit in my house under a blanket and not move.

Unfortunately, my plan for a five month hibernation is thwarted by my two young children. They have tons of energy and keeping them inside day after day for months on end doesn’t do me, my kids or my furniture any favors. Kids need a chance to burn off energy even in cooler temperatures.

Sometimes getting a child with special needs bundled up and out the door can be a challenge. My older son has Autism and a lukewarm relationship to wearing mittens. But I have found that preparing him in advance with a social story or explanation about the winter activity and the gear that needs to be worn to do the activity makes the process of bundling up run much more smoothly. Here are five fun winter activities that will have the whole family smiling and burns tons of energy to boot.

Sledding

The great thing about sledding is that you don’t need a lot of equipment and it’s easy to customize depending on the needs of your children. Bundle up, bring a thermos of hot cocoa and hit the hill that feels right for your family. Milwaukee has terrific public parks, and many of them have safe sledding areas. If you want to try nighttime sledding, check out Humboldt Park at 3000 S. Howell Ave. or Whitnall Park at 5879 S. 92nd Street.

Cross Country Skiing 

This is a terrific workout and can be lots of fun for the family to try. Unlike alpine or downhill skiing, cross country skiing is very easy to pick up. The ground is flat, so falling over is less of an issue. Plus you can rent equipment for free from the Urban Ecology Center if you are a member. Groomed cross county trails are at Brown Deer Park at 7835 N. Green Bay Road and Whitnall Park at 5879 S. 92nd Street.

Ice Skating

Red Arrow Park at 920 N. Water Street is the perfect place for families to spend the afternoon skating. Skates for children and adults can be rented at a very reasonable rate, and there is a warming house with a Starbucks inside. If it has been awhile since you skated or your kids are just learning, there is a wall all alongside the rink to help you out as well. If you or your children need skating lessons, the Pettit National Ice Center at 500 S. 84th St. offers ice skating lessons for all ages and open skate times.

Snowshoeing

This is another family activity that doesn’t require a lot of skill. Just strap on the snowshoes and start walking around. It is great physical activity, and since you can rent snowshoes for children and adults at the Urban Ecology Center, there isn’t a lot of cost involved either. Just make sure there is ample snow since snow shoes can’t be used on concrete. The best parks to snowshoe in are Washington Park at 4145 Lisbon and Wehr Nature Center at 9701 W. College Ave.

Museums and Indoor Playgrounds

While it can fun to go outside on a winter day and try a new activity, sometimes it’s just too cold or your children are too young. In that case, head to a museum or indoor playground. Milwaukee has lots of wonderful museums that welcome families. Betty Brinn Children’s Museum at 929 E. Wisconsin Ave. is of course great for families. My kids can spend hours in the Kohl’s Art Generation Open Studio in the Milwaukee Art Museum at 700 N. Art Museum Drive. The interactive activities at both museums are great for kids with and without special needs.

Southeast Wisconsin is also lucky to have lots of indoor playgrounds like The Big Backyard at 2857 S. 160th St., Flips 4 All at 217 W. Dunwood Road, and Kids in Motion at 14135 W. Greenfield Ave. An added bonus is that each of these indoor playgrounds have lots of experience accommodating children with special needs.

Linnet E. Husi is the Family Activity Center Coordinator at St. Francis Children’s Center. 

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