Sure, the days are shorter in winter. But to the parent trapped inside from dawn to dusk with a toddler who has enough energy to sustain a small hydroelectric plant, those cold-weather days can seem long indeed. Yes, to occupy your little ones you could help them craft a model of the CN Tower out of used gum wrappers. Or you could steal these real-world, sanity-saving ideas from parents who’ve learned how to keep kids entertained on days too chilly to head outside.
With two toddlers and a husband who was constantly on the road, Toronto mom Anna Ross had her plate full—especially when the cold weather hit. Instead of fighting to get her girls, now 7 and 10, to eat properly and sit through supper, her solution was to put on a fancy dinner party. They’d dress up in their best duds (this alone could burn 45 minutes), use cloth napkins and drink juice out of wineglasses. The finery made supper a cinch.
Bridget O’Hara, a mother of two boys in North Vancouver, used to bring the sandbox in for the winter when the kids were toddlers. Gating it off in a contained, tiled area in the basement made tidying up easy, and the kids would play for hours. But a word of caution: Ignore that thing you heard about replacing the sand with rice for easier cleaning. O’Hara tried this, and with great success—until a visiting child decided to add water. A week later she had a fermenting, smelly mess.
To help her girls get their ya-yas out before bed, Ross holds dance parties after dinner. They blast tunes the whole family loves from the boom box, and bop around the living room. Then, a soothing bath helps calm the girls down for a smooth bedtime routine.
On poor weather days near B.C.’s 100 Mile House, Susan Edwards would run to the dollar store for some cheap watercolour paint sets and paper to keep the little grandchildren in her blended family occupied. The mother of three would ask the kids to paint a picture of their favourite pastime at the lake, and then tell a story about it. Creativity was rewarded with loonies to spend at a little country store down the road, and of course, each of the little ones got a prize.
Not every activity has to be active. Audio books are a great way for kids to have some downtime without turning on the tv. Garage sales and second-hand stores often sell sweet, old-fashioned stories for a dollar or two. You can go online and download them directly to your iPod, but there’s something about the crackle of an old-school record or the hiss of a tape, combined with the melodic voice of a great narrator, that will take you right back to your own childhood.
To make this a success, use an easy, tried-and-true recipe, have all of the ingredients on hand and set out some strict rules about listening (“Fingers away from the beaters!”). Not only will you keep the kids busy, you’ll fill the house with a smell that’ll make being stuck inside a treat. Measure all of the messy stuff like flour and sugar ahead of time. The kids can add it to the bowl, drive the Mixmaster and, of course, taste the batter. [Editor’s note: we’ve got plenty of cookie recipes to choose from!]
You don’t need to know how to sew to transform your munchkin into a superhero who leaps over tall couches with a single bound. To make an easy cape, take an old T-shirt, and keeping the collar, cut the front and sleeves off (supervised play only—as with scarves, there’s a strangulation hazard). For a mask, cut the legs off an old pair of tights and make eye holes where the tush would be. The waistband sits just above your child’s nose, keeping it in place.