As a parent living in the part of the country where winter brings cold temperatures, I find keeping my children occupied and engaged this time of year is truly challenging. Ideally, I'd love to compel my kids to get outside from dawn to dusk, exploring and making up their own adventures, but that becomes increasingly difficult this time of year with the colder temperatures and significantly less daylight.
The fact that my children are spending more time indoors during these colder months leads them to be more sedentary and gravitate to screens, video games, and television ... and that worries me! And, of course, laying down the law about screen time limits usually results in "I'm bored!" protests. So what's a parent to do?
I'm a huge believer that boredom is a good thing although clearly difficult to experience! It's in figuring out how to move past the boredom that we develop our imaginations, creativity and discover who we are!
Sometimes all our children need is a little "spark" and gentle nudge away from screens toward some open-ended fun of their own making.
Here are some of my favorite free and simple ways to beat the winter boredom blues. (And psst . . . many of these ideas work year-round...and can be brought outside as well!)
15 Ways to Play Inside
Paper Airplane Challenge
Fold and decorate paper airplanes, then have a contest to see whose planes fly the farthest. We generally say that the first one to "ten" is the winner!
Chopped the Home Game
Using the television show, Chopped, as inspiration, give each child the same four to six ingredients (play food or real!) and have them make the most delicious concoction they can create.
Crafted the Home Game
Not in a cooking mood? Try the same idea as above but with crafting materials. Give each child the same crafting materials (a few pom poms, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, glue, ice cream sticks, cupcake wrappers, etc.) and challenge them to combine them in the most inventive way possible! If your family is as competitive as mine, invite judges into the mix to choose their favorites, but have enough categories so everyone feels like a winner!
Play Target Toss
Try to toss a soft ball (appropriate for indoor play) into any receptacle around the house: sinks, trash cans, bath tubs, etc ... nothing is off limits. First one to 10 wins!
Don't have our Monster Bowling? No worries! Line up approximately 10 plastic cups or water bottles at the end of the hallway, grab a ball, and you're good to go! Each player gets two rolls and like regular bowling, add up the number of pins downed and the highest score after 10 rounds wins! P.S. A family favorite variation on this is "duct tape rolling." We take turns rolling a roll of duct tape down the hall to see how far it gets before falling on its side. First one to score 10 points is the champion!
Role Play Roulette
Gather an assortment of costumes and dress-up clothes and accessories. Put them in a pile. Take turns closing your eyes and picking out a few pieces. Make up a story or play based on the wacky combinations of clothes you end up wearing. Another variation is to choose a theme and have the kids dress up and try to most closely illustrate it. Or put on a fashion show having one child playing the announcer detailing the latest winter fashions! Make sure you video it for posterity!
Puzzle Scavenger Hunt
Take 24 piece jigsaw puzzles (the same number of puzzles as kids playing) and hide their pieces in specific rooms in your house. Give each child one room that is "their" territory. The first child to find all their pieces and complete their puzzle wins!
Arrange blocks or dominoes to set off a chain reaction. How elaborate can you get?
Play Catch - Inside!
Stand in a circle with the whole family and toss the ball to one another. See how many throws/catches you can get without dropping the ball. Our personal family record was over 10,000...although that was over an entire month! We enjoy variations on the basic idea as well . . . like one-handed catches or changing receiver and direction at will!
Treasure Hunt /Organization Project
Pick a messy room, drawer, cabinet, or closet to tackle. For you, it's an organizational project. For your kids, it's a chance to hunt for treasures and trinkets! They can also help you with the sorting, which they love. Make piles to keep, hand down, or donate. My kids also love to make labels, so either make those by hand or use a label maker to clearly highlight all contents.
Do a Jigsaw Puzzle
We often pull out a 500+ piece jigsaw puzzles and keep it out on the table for all to take part in. It's fun to stop by the table throughout the day to put in a piece here and there and watch it come to life!
Here's a fun activity for three people - one person acts as the "director," calling out actions to the two performers ("Pretend you're monkeys in the jungle. Uh-oh, you hear a lion nearby . . . "). We also often have someone start a story improvisational style and then have the next person ad lib and continue it to make an entire quirky skit!
Kids in the Kitchen
Winter is the perfect time to spend some time in the kitchen teaching your kids about cooking. There's so much to learn - measuring, following a recipe, various skills such as whisking, stirring, cutting, and even presentation on the plate! To really get the kids involved, enlist their help in choosing a recipe. Our family loves to make muffins, banana bread, cookies, blondies, and cupcakes, to name a few! We also have fun making omelettes and pizza with the kids choosing and preparing their own toppings. Soups are a good bet, too, since they usually call for lots of ingredients to wash, peel, and cut.
I hope you make the most of this indoor quality time together this winter! And if all goes according to plan ... you'll be having so much fun as you start to notice those first buds opening and robins hopping around your yard!
Melissa Bernstein is a co-founder of Melissa & Doug and is leading a movement to Take Back Childhood. This article is part of a series from Melissa where she shares her thoughts and tips on nurturing the magic and wonder of childhood.