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How a Magical Day of Building Snow Shelters Also Builds Character Strength in Kids

How can you reap the most benefits of getting your kids outdoors? The following guest post by Debbie Steinberg Kuntz—founder and editor of and a licensed marriage and family therapist—offers some useful ideas for busy parents.

It’s not every day you know you’re giving your kids a magical day in their childhood. But on a recent Sunday, my family and 4 others from the Seattle area headed out for a day of fun in the snow, and that’s exactly what happened. Here’s how.

Blog author Debbie Steinberg Kuntz

Have Kids, Will Adventure

The 5 families—with kids ages 2 through 13—formed our own outdoor adventure group about a year ago through The idea: Meet monthly, enjoy the outdoors in every season, and develop character strengths in our kids. It’s sort of like Boy Scouts for the whole family.

Carving Out Family Time in a
Crazy World

The idea for Odyssey Outdoors first came to me while working as a family therapist in private practice. I had previously organized outdoor summer camps for youth-at-risk and social/emotional outdoor programs for kindergarteners.

Odyssey Outdoors adventure group

Now that I was working with whole families, I was hearing many themes that resonated for my own family. Namely, life with young kids is crazy, we’re all going in a million directions, and there isn’t time to plan all the family time and adventures we would like.

Families wanted a helping hand, to not only get all their fun on the calendar but also to take advantage of the latest research and guidance on raising healthy, well-adjusted kids. 

Developing Character Strength through Outdoor Fun

Odyssey Outdoors helps families carve out time from the rat race, relish the magic of childhood, and empower their kids to develop character strength through fun outdoor adventures.  

The adventure group philosophy is based on the work of Martin Seligman, Ph.D., and his well-researched list of the top 24 character strengths (such as creativity, curiosity, courage and persistence) for success. The groups try to incorporate as many of the strengths they can into each outdoor activity.

Learn more about the 24 character strengths kids need.

Today’s Challenge: Build Your Own Snow Shelter

The mission on this snowy day was to split into teams and build 1 of 3 snow shelters from the classic mountaineering text, Freedom of the Hills. The teams were formed to encourage bonding and friendship among families, and were not competitive in any way.

The kids would earn points by answering yes to some of the following character-building questions.  They would rate themselves at the end of the outing. Some sample questions:

  • Did you show conscientiousness by helping to pack everything on the packing list? 
  • Did you show curiosity by asking questions about building the snow fort?
  • Did you use grit/perseverance by continuing despite setbacks and obstacles such as cold, dark, and disagreements?

See the full checklist of character-building questions.

FYI: Parents, you can alter these questions to fit any outdoor adventure, like sledding or building snowmen. Our adventure group has merged character building with camping, hiking, clam digging, geocaching and rock climbing so far.

By using character strengths and earning enough points, kids would earn a charm at the end of the day.  


The Day's Packing List

Families were asked to let the kids play a big role in gathering necessary items beforehand at home:

  • The Ten Essentials 
  • Sleds
  • Hand/foot warmers
  • Tarp (large enough to cover snow trench)
  • Backcountry snow shovel (ideally 1 per family member)
  • Snow saw, if available
  • Snow brick molds, if you have them
  • Lunch and insulated bottle of hot chocolate

The Adventure


The families met up at Snoqualmie Pass, Wash., on a sledding hill near the ski area.


The kids first enjoyed some sledding and general horsing around.


We split into 5 teams of kids and non-parent adults, decided what structure each would build and came up with a team name. The first team chose "Rainbow January Snowflake." They built an impressive snow trench with a yellow tarp roof.


The next group, team "Fire Brothers," created a cozy snow cave (see video) that was enjoyed by all.


The next team, "Toren Powers Unite," labored intensely to create a stout igloo.


Team "Snow Digging Maniacs" built another impressive snow cave.


Team "Snow Dogs" built a snow cave with a sturdy wind-blocking entry.


Next came a child-led tour of the cool and awesome snow shelters.


Then came a debriefing of the character strength checklist in adult-child pairs. Everyone earned their snowflake charm!


You can form your own outdoor family adventure group, or simply revise the questions list and introduce them to your family the next time you go outdoors. Remember that the character building starts before you even leave home, with gathering the Ten Essentials and other items for a successful outdoor adventure.

Let us know what snowy adventures you like to do with your kids!

Posted on at 10:30 AM

Tagged: OdysseyOutdoors, family, snow shelters and snowsports

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So fun! Great for building strong and healthy families!!

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What a great day and kids were such good diggers!!


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