Beat the Winter Blahs!

    Surviving the Great Indoors

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    It’s winter and cabin fever can hit before the end of the first week, especially after the twentieth chorus of There’s nothing to do! However, when it comes to beating winter boredom, we Richmond parents are both experienced and creative. Often this requires unplugging the gaming systems and temporarily turning off the TV and the computer – gasp! However, in spite of the protests we get, we all know this is a great opportunity for educational and family activities to take center stage.

    The cold weather months are the perfect time to encourage children to use their imaginations. Terry Byrne, a West End mom of two, suggests allowing children to build large villages and towns in the living room or den. When her girls were young, they erected elaborate Barbie and My Little Pony towns, often using knick-knacks and items from around the house as props. Even the neighborhood kids got involved. Spread out over several days, Terry did admit this activity required patience, saying, “They knew they had to put it all back, and I knew to take a deep breath and get over the temporary chaos.” Other building components might include LEGOs, blocks, shoe boxes, and other cardboard boxes, or parts and pieces from train sets. The options are endless.

    The kitchen is certainly a hub for many Richmond parents and children during these chilly months. Baking with mom or dad helps kids learn their way around the kitchen in a fun and rewarding way, and they can brush up on important math skills in the process.

    For older kids, it might be the opportunity to cook independently. Teenagers may enjoy taking on meal preparation and inviting friends over to help. Terry uses this time to incorporate a little education. She takes her children to the library, researches a country, and prepares a theme dinner. The kids learn about a culture and try new foods, too.

    A popular and age-old activity that most kids love is the indoor fort. Sheets, blankets, sofa cushions, and pillows can all be used to create any indoor structure. Empty cardboard boxes left over from the holidays can also do double duty. As a former teacher and mom of three boys, Marsha Palmer has seen her share of forts. “The children tie blankets to bedposts and tuck the corners into drawers and make a series of chambers and rooms,” she says. “They end up bringing books and flashlights into the tents to read and they often end up eating and sleeping in them.”

    Jena Northen, a mother of three, suggests letting children get their hands dirty by making homemade play-dough or goop. Just start with a box of cornstarch. “Empty it into a bowl, and slowly start to add a little water at a time. It is amazing stuff to feel, see, and play in. And despite what it looks like, it is amazingly easy to clean up. It goes from wet to dry as you squeeze it. You’ve got to try it,” Jena says.

    With homemade play-dough, parents can get out the kitchen tools such as the garlic press, cookie cutters, and the rolling pin. Anything goes. The best part? Because it’s homemade, no one feels guilty throwing it all out afterward. She also recommends saving old soaps and lotions. Kids over six can toss them in a bowl and make a mess. A can of cheap shaving cream can also add a few hours of good, clean fun.

    Rather than renting DVDs, we like to use this time to read to our kids. A good friend of mine will pick a series – anything from Magic Tree House to Harry Potter to Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief, depending on their age and interests, and keep it up as long as possible. February is also a great time for board games that involve the entire family. Many families pick one evening a week to get everyone around the table to play. Teens and tweens may enjoy learning more advanced card games such as Spades, Hearts, or Bridge. Teenagers may want to host a tournament for friends.

    If we get lucky, a little snow can give parents a great excuse to send everyone outside to play. Careful what you wish for, however. Snow also brings school cancellations and an endless trail of wet hats, gloves, and boots. If your house is like mine, the dryer may run continuously and the counter will be covered with hot chocolate spills and sticky marshmallows. But even without snow, many parents like to send the kids out for fresh air. Patricia Hunter, a mom of two teenaged girls, encourages outdoor time, saying, “I bundle everyone up and go out and walk.” Patricia also recommends day trips to break up the winter monotony.

    However, when the weather is just too cold or wet, kids can be inspired to move around indoors. One suggestion is to set up a small-scale indoor version of the Olympics. For example, instead of throwing a javelin, the children throw a straw and measure the distance. For the shot put, they toss a balloon, then measure again. A paper plate makes a great discus. Another idea is to set up an obstacle course using pillows, chairs, or other safe household items.

    Finally, we use this time to encourage arts and crafts including painting, blowing eggs, or sewing. And February does offer Valentine’s Day. Children can create homemade Valentines for grandparents, cousins, and classmates. When kids think they’re too old to exchange Valentines with friends, they might enjoy making cards for men and women in the Armed Services or out-of-town relatives.

    Of course, none of these activities will keep January and February from being cold, windy, or wet. But as winter drags on, they might help reduce the number of times we hear, There’s nothing to do! Even better, memories may be made and the children may be happy and smiling – just the kind of sunshine every family needs in February.