A Countdown For Parents: 10 Ways To Keep Kids Occupied Over Winter Break

Let’s face it: winter break is a mixed bag for families with young kids. While it’s delightful to spend time together enjoying the holiday season without the morning school frenzy of making lunches, tying pigtails, and waiting for the school bus, by the time late December rolls around, everyone begins to get a little bit antsy. The ongoing sugar high doesn’t help. Here are ten ways to curb restlessness during kids’ time off school (and the activities are pretty fun for adults, too.)

10. Get artsy. The possibilities are endless, from a having a coloring contest to making homemade play dough to visiting a museum to check out the paintings. One thing my kids love to do is a “gallery opening.” We each create our own piece of art for the show and hang them up on a wall, or place them on a table. Then we get dressed up, make punch and appetizers, play classical music, and walk around admiring our work. Each artist gets to describe her piece. (Feel free to spike the adult punch.)

9. Go to a library or bookstore. I’m kind of bookish, so the idea of slowing down and wandering around aisles of books, magazines, and literary journals sounds luxurious. Best of all, there are play spaces for kids in many bookstores, and pretty much every library. And often: coffee. If you plan ahead, you could catch a story time, author reading, concert, or other special event.

8. Do a DIY drive-in movie. Even if you’re not crafty (I’m definitely lacking), this is totally do-able. You simply need a large box or Tupperware container that can serve as a “car” for each of your kids. Drive the cars up to the TV, fill them with blankets and pillows and kids, and watch a family favorite. For extra fun, serve hot dogs, popcorn, and drinks. If you find family movies boring, which I often do, you can make out with your partner on the sofa behind the kids’ backs.

7. Plan a camp-out. If you’re not traveling over the holidays, this is a fun way to get away without actually leaving. Pile sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, and camp chairs in your living room and camp there, or in your backyard if you live in a warm place. Add roasted hot dogs, S-mores, a flask of whiskey, and campfire songs (with or without an actual fire) to the mix, and you’ve created a night to remember.

6. Explore your neighborhood. Sometimes it’s amazing to me how much I miss that’s right under my own nose. Take a look at the paths, trails, or parks near your home and pick one with lots of opportunity for discovery. Maybe there’s a winding nature path, or a trail with a vast mountain views, or a walk with a burbling the river along the way. Bundle up, and pack a high-energy winter picnic for extra fun, complete with a Thermos of hot chocolate or cider.

5. Go swimming. Spending an afternoon at the indoor pool and hot tub at a recreation facility near you might seem kind of chaotic (and it is on some level), but it can also be actually relaxing. It’s the perfect way for kids to get the wiggles out. Even better, if there’s a natural hot springs nearby, plan a trip. This is one of my favorite activities with kids. Swimming outdoors in the winter. Novel!

4. Try something new. What’s an activity your family hasn’t tried yet? Perhaps it’s rock climbing, fishing, seeing a play or musical, or ice skating. Well, it’s time to get it scheduled. Come up with a few options, take a family vote, and then go at it together. For first timers, there’s often instruction at indoor rock walls and ice centers, so check online for options before you go.

3. Check out a sporting event. Depending on where you live, this could mean a high school basketball game or a college hockey match. There might even be a broomball tournament in your town, or a figure skating or gymnastics competition. Often, this kind of event inspires my kids to try that activity, so follow up the event with experiential time on the court or ice on one of the following days.

2. Go on a scavenger hunt. Okay, this requires a little bit of brain power, because you need to develop a list in advance so that the kids have something to hunt for. Simple is good, but if you want to elaborate, just search online and you’ll find a lot of variety. If it’s feasible, choose a route you can reach by bike or by walking. Good options include the discovery museum, natural areas, library, lake, or playground. It’s always fun to end on a sweet note, maybe at a bakery. With the items your kids collect during the scavenger hunt, create a scrapbook or box called Winter Break 2014. You’ll have so much fun looking back and saying, “Remember when…?”

1. Hit the road. Maybe there’s not time for something major, but what about a quick overnight? Get spontaneous! Pack up the bikes and head to a neighboring town with popular pedestrian paths, or plan a themed getaway, like a “city adventure” or a “wander in the country.” Add a cooler of grab-and-go snacks and travel games like Bingo or Spot It to the ride, and the fun keeps up while the wheels are rolling. TC mark

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