As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the days grow shorter and the holidays approach, public libraries will be looking to schedule winter programs and activities that not only engage members of their communities, but also keep them safe. With some states still placing limitations on indoor gatherings, it’s important for libraries to explore other locations for their enrichment programs, including the great outdoors.

The Massachusetts Library System recently surveyed public libraries to analyze outdoor library use during the pandemic. Spaces used for library programs included “library patios, porches, courtyards, gazebos, local playgrounds, the town common, schools, the beach, church lawns and trails.” As a result, community members developed a new appreciation for the outdoors.

The library programming calendar always has room for traditional winter activities, and take and make crafts kits allow patrons to bring many of those activities home. But for libraries looking to include more “outside the box” programs, here are six other ideas to consider:

1. Host a “snowga” program.

To promote physical literacy, Alberta Canada’s Be Fit for Life campaign asks citizens of all ages to move and play throughout the winter. Libraries in cities and towns that experience snow during the winter months can schedule snowga sessions (yoga in the snow). Need inspiration? Flipster® subscribers can add Yoga Journal to their digital magazine collection. (Additional winter-themed digital magazines include Ski, Ski Canada, Cross Country Skier and Snowboarder.)

2. Create a sidewalk obstacle course for kids.

No snow? No problem! While great for all seasons, this activity is especially useful in winter when fewer daylight hours limit opportunities for outdoor exercise. The Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County in Alabama created a chalk obstacle course in the parking lot. It’s a great way to entertain children on their way in or out of the library ― and squeeze in a bit of cardio. Even a few adults may join in the fun. Just be sure to check the forecast so rain won’t wash away the chalk too quickly!

3. Reintroduce patrons to orienteering and geocaching.

These hobbies were popular a decade ago, but what’s old is sometimes new again. The lure of an adventure is one way to get people outside during the winter months. Orienteering involves using a map and compass to navigate, while geocaching combines geography with caching, which is the act of hiding a treasure. Geocaching is essentially a cross between an outdoor hike and a scavenger hunt. Direct patrons to hobby profiles in Hobbies & Crafts Source to learn more about these outdoor activities. Find a collection of geocaches hidden inside public libraries here.

4. Schedule a series of hybrid meditation workshops.

The holiday season can be stressful. Practicing mindfulness can alleviate the pressures associated with shopping for gifts, preparing elaborate meals, and hosting out-of-town guests. Recruit a local meditation guru to lead workshops in person and/or via Zoom and help participants of all ages find their Zen. If it’s not too cold, you can host the events outside ― just remind patrons to dress in warm clothes! Flipster digital magazine subscribers might consider adding Mindful to their collection. Mindful offers news, information and insights to help readers reduce stress, increase focus, improve relationships and appreciate the here and now.

5. Hold a curbside food drive.

Libraries are uniquely positioned to support food access and food literacy in their communities by working with food banks to collect and distribute non-perishables and household items. During the pandemic, library parking lots around the world turned into food distribution hubs, handing out grab-and-go meals and groceries to those in need. In some neighborhoods, little free pantries, modeled after little free libraries, have emerged (see a map). By holding curbside food drives, libraries can help reduce food insecurity in their communities and support Goal 2 of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.