Winter is here, and with that many kids will be home for a long break. While snow games are fun, there's a limit to how much time little ones and their grown ups want to spend outside. And let's face it, freezing temps aren't ideal for anyone. With two-or-so weeks inside, what's a family to do with their children while also trying to get some work done?
Luckily, the house can become a warm winter wonderland with the right kind of preparation and attitude. From adventure baths to science experiments to good old kitchen projects and tidying tasks, get through the break in the funnest way possible.
Make Bath Time Anytime
Baths aren't just for getting clean, they can entertain and contain messes too. Plus, it's a way to be naked and free when the weather outside is freezing cold. Bonus, if your kid is old enough to be in the tub alone this gives mom and/or dad a break to do other things, such as dishes, writing letters, or staring at the wall enjoying the silence. Just keep in mind what Dr. Ari Brown, author of the “Baby 411” books series, recommends. She says that many children may be able to bathe unsupervised by kindergarten, but parents should stay nearby and check in often until the kids are around 6- or 7-years-old.
Now for the types of baths. A sensory bath is one option, and often no extra supplies are needed. The simplest thing to do is to add some dye to the water (Honeysticks makes non-toxic tablets that work well) green or blue and give the kids a host of plastic dinosaurs or sea creatures. Feel free to throw in some leaves or bits of the Christmas tree in the tub too for added foliage. Or, try water paints, which allow little ones to work creatively in a way they don't often get to, naked, using their whole bodies, and drawing on the walls.
The bathtub can be used water-free as well. It's amazing how much fun a can of shaving cream can muster as children play in the "snow" and build soft, foamy creatures. Vinegar and baking soda can be great for older kids who want to experiment, with or without a volcano. Then, just wash the mess off the tub and kids when they are done.
If you have a baby bathtub this can be put in the larger bath for little kids to play in or with. It can also act as a toy-storage spot and barrier between a toddler and preschooler who are sharing the space.
Build New Spaces
One of the most difficult things about being home for winter break is boredom with the setting. Break those doldrums by creating new spaces for kids to play in. This can include epic blanket forts made with Crazy Forts poles and/or the couch, chairs and anything else around. Turn bunk beds into bear dens or wolf caves. Simple pop-up tents work well for that special tea party or to give your little one their own solitary space. Add on a play tunnel to any of these for an extra layer to the fun, and let your kids hide out and pretend to be in a different world while you go about your day, working, cleaning, organizing or what have you.
Create Art With a Purpose
Unless your child is the creative type that can sit and make art all day long, many kids need a little push and guidance. Along this vein, plan a craft that serves a purpose so both the parent and child feel like the art is going somewhere besides that overstuffed folder or in the trash. And for those times children just need to be entertained, craft kits are key during winter break, and it's good to have a cache on hand for when you need them. Even better, get things that work both as an art project and gift for grandma and grandpa, such as flower pots, wind chimes to paint, bird houses, light boxes and so on.
Since winter break falls during the holidays, it's a good time to have kids make their own festive cards, especially thank you cards. Either cut paper to fit in an envelope and let them design the front, or use pre-made cards and have them add pictures and/or words to the inside. Let stickers be part of the fun as they seal the note in an envelope with a host of sticky bright pictures.
Decorating also serves a purpose, whether it's in the living room, playroom, kitchen or kid's bedroom. Cut stripes of construction paper to make colorful chains that can be draped about. String popcorn and dried fruit to create a garland for the tree. Let them take out sidewalk chalk if the weather is nice and draw pictures and write kind words to the delivery people.
Older kids can do a lot of this one their own, which gives the parents time to work at home. Little kids may need more guidance, but there's nothing wrong with breaking out a bunch of coloring books, cardboard boxes, markers and crayons and letting them go at it on the kitchen floor while you take in that Zoom meeting.
Bring Books Into the Picture
Books are great for any age. Let older kids escape into the world of Tom Sawyer, Harry Potter and Miss. Peregrine. Children learning to read and just getting into chapter books will love the tales of Dog Man and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And for those not quite there yet, picture books, search-and-find books and lift-the-flap books are perfect. Not only does reading open the mind and spur imagination, but it's a great way for parents to get some work done at home at the same time.
Purchase a bundle of gently used books for them to peruse over the winter break. Or, make the library part of the adventure with scheduled visits where the kids can wander the stacks and decide what they want to dive into next.
There's screen time and then there's a planned movie party. When it's the latter the television doesn't feel like the bad guy, and it can actually be fun for everyone in the house. Or, a good way for adults to score downtime and/or get space to concentrate on their job. The first step is picking the film. For houses with multiple kids who can't agree on what to see, pick a movie from a hat, or let them each screen their choice on separate occasions over winter break. Parents too can weigh in, sometimes surprising the kids with something they have never seen before.
Once the film is decided, give everyone their own space. Younger kids like fluffing their spot out with stuffies, cozy blankets and pillows, which also work well as dividers on the couch. Turn off the lights for a real theater-like atmosphere, make some popcorn, dole out juice boxes and let the next 90 minutes go by with ease.
After, add to the experience by having them do a craft, draw a picture or or write something about what they saw. For example, if Disney's Aladdin was featured, let the kids talk about their three wishes, design their own genie lamp and create dance moves for the songs. Robot City is a great catalyst for having little ones create robots out of discarded cardboard boxes, stickers, "trash," and other bits and pieces. There is at least one fun thing to do with any movie, no matter the age of your kids.
With all these ideas on occupying children during winter break, the time is sure to breeze by. Keep in mind that kids don't have to be entertained all the time. Giving them space to explore, play solo or with a sibling, and learn to be a little bored is just as healthy as spending time with the family.