Winters in the Midwest are mean. These colder months are the only time I question our decision to stay tucked in the middle of the country, especially when my kids begin to break down from cabin fever. For bedtime purposes, I do not mind it getting darker earlier and staying darker later in the morning, but when my kids and I are trapped inside our house due to the cold, we all need a way to keep ourselves entertained. When it is too cold for basketball, kickball, snow forts, and bike riding, we head indoors for a couple of months. As my kids age, the battle of the screen–be it hand-held or on the wall–is constant. If I am not alone, and you are desperately searching for twenty minutes of peace here or there, I’ve collected some fun ideas over the years to keep your family sane.
Water Play/Obstacle Course
Both of these activities go together, because you cannot care about a mess if you decide to let your kids take part. When my middle guy was two or three, I was able to make a meal or two by letting him sit in the middle of the kitchen with three pans filled halfway with water. I gave him big serving utensils and he had a blast. Not only did he stay put, he was an artist with the water. He had seen me cook so often that he believed he was doing the same thing. Yes, I had to dry up some water after he was done, but the giggles and the time to prepare dinner were worth it. One year, we got him a water table for his birthday. I am not ashamed to say that we pulled our water table into our kitchen and let him play in it. We filled it with much less water than on a summer day, but he was entertained for an hour each time. This can be even more fun with siblings, and everyone can bring their barbies or other plastic toys for a good ol’ summer time in the winter.
Much like the dreaded fort, the obstacle course is a bit messy to clean up, but if you have your older children set up the rules and the course for your younger kids, it’s a good hour long activity to get them moving. My kids are restless and active, so I have needed this option many times. Our obstacle courses usually included pillows, couches, blankets, toys, and the occasional chair. Sometimes, we would time each kid to see if they could beat their previous time. Feel free to add in burpees or push-ups if your kids need to get physical. The options for a family obstacle course are endless.
We have been so blessed with hand-me-downs, and one of our most priceless possessions is a giant tub of Legos. Much like cupcake wars or the Apprentice, you can make this a competition as well. Who can build the highest tower in twenty minutes? Who wins for most creative? My daughter likes to include multiple colors, so I throw in a multi-color category as well. The Legos are a gift that keeps on giving. If your family is more relaxed and you don’t need a competition, you could have a Lego station in the corner of your home where you can add to the buildings each day. By the end of the winter, you could really have an impressive structure!
In addition to architecture, my family loves to get artistic. When I was in Michaels the other day, I noticed that you could buy a cardboard box with lines drawn in so that kids could color it. We have an abundance of cardboard boxes due to Christmas, so I decided to let the kids color on those. They love this so much more than coloring books. There is something about a 3D structure that makes it special. Cardboard boxes are also fun to paint, so if you’ve got some budding Picassos, put them in a place that you don’t care if it gets a bit messy, and let your children go wild with creativity. Both Legos and art activities keep the kids entertained for hours, and they’ll have a product to be proud of after the fact. If you need help finding a way to get rid of this “art” when the magic of the moment has passed, I find bigger kids really love to practice cutting with scissors. They can help you get it ready for the recycling bin.
Thanks to my kids’ amazing before and after school program, they are well-versed in checkers and chess. We bought them a multi-game board that boasts the capability of playing thirteen different games. Even my five-year-old enjoys the checkers part of this. She loves Old Maid and War as well. All of these games get the kids problem-solving, strategizing, and critically thinking. We love this option.
Help Mom and Dad
My younger kids love helping me cook, clean, and make grocery lists that they get to check off as we get groceries. If you’ve got patience, this is another option to shake up the routine. We turn on our music and dance as we bake and cook. Sometimes we share with the neighbors, and sometimes it’s just for our family.
Just this week I was scrolling through Pinterest, and I came across the blog Living Life Designed. She has a wonderful list of 16 things that will take twenty minutes for kids to complete, and she’s specifically targeting high energy kids. These ideas are so creative. I recommend taking a look at what she’s compiled.
Finally, if we get creative, we can all make it through winter without our children turning into lunatics. Or, build activities that embrace them being lunatics to wear them out. If you are stuck inside and are tired of the video game/movie concoction, turn off the screens, turn on some tunes, and try one of these activities that will win with your children.