Top Ten Things to Do with a Preschooler in the Dead of Winter

Are you and yours going stir-crazy yet from too many snow days or not enough sunlight? Wish you had some new ideas for getting through the rest of winter with your preschooler?

I know your pain all too well. Here’s a list I brainstormed last winter for stuff to do when you’re all going nuts inside:

10. Clear that driveway

Does your driveway need clearing? If so, rather than shoveling, clear your driveway by rolling a family of snow people to fill up your front yard.

9. Roll with it

Bundle her up sufficiently for the weather and teach your tot to roll down hills. (Like sledding, only more fun and no equipment required.) If you don’t have hills, roll across your backyard – or porch/balcony – or what-have-you. Then, when she’s worn out from that, teach your kiddo how to make snow angels.

8. Warm up with some yummy hot chocolate.

Heat your milk or water in a microwave-safe 2-cup measure, if you have one, then let your child slowly stir in the powder as you gradually add a sprinkle every few minutes. Not only does this involve your kiddo in the process (we’re big on taking ownership in our household), but it also kills time and lets the liquid cool down to a tot-friendly drinking temperature.

7. Finger-paint your next set of holiday cards.

Spread a dropcloth or large plastic trash bag on the floor, then top with sheets of construction paper, newspaper, blank newsprint, or whatever you have lying around. Squirt some glops of washable finger paints, like Crayola Washable Paints, onto an old Styrofoam or plastic grocery tray; choose colors that coordinate with your upcoming holiday. (For example, we’ve done red-and-purple and red-and-yellow for Valentines.) Then let your kiddo go at it; let the paper dry thoroughly when she’s done.

On another winter afternoon when you’re stuck indoors, use cookie cutters to trace shapes onto the backside of your painted sheets (Christmas trees onto green paper, six-sided stars for Chanukah, hearts for Valentines, etc.). Or you can make your own stencil by drawing on a piece of cardboard. After you’ve cut out your shapes, you can glue them onto another piece of paper, or write a message on the front of the shape itself and have the child sign the back, or put the whole message on the back – whatever works best for your kiddos and the size/color of your shapes.

6. Oobleck time!

If your kids are really into tactile experiences, make some Oobleck for them to play with. In a large airtight container, slowly add about ½ cup water to 1 cup cornstarch and let your kiddos play with it. If mess is not your thing, you might want to put art smocks on them first, and consider putting a large tray or sheet of plastic between the container and the table.

Oobleck (which gets its name from the green stuff that rains from the sky in Bartholomew and the Oobleck) is the coolest stuff, if – like me and mine – you go for the whole tactile thing. You can roll it into a ball as if it were solid dough, but once you let it sit still, it melts into liquid puddles that drip through your fingers before congealing into a mass again. While not everyone is into this sort of thing, it’s great fun if you are, and can easily make an hour or more fly by before you know it.

For more on the science behind Oobleck and how it behaves, look here for info on making this fun afternoon activity into a science lesson for your kiddos.

5. Make cookies from scratch.

Rolled cookies are most fun because they provide plenty of opportunities for hands-on help cutting and decorating; just be sure to glance through the recipe ahead of time and factor in time to chill the dough, if needed. For younger kids, you’ll want to prep the dough ahead of time – or get the store-bought tubes of ready-to-cook dough if you’re really pressed for time. For preschoolers and school-aged kids, teach them about fractions, math, and measurements by having them help you measure the ingredients.

4. Change things up.

Escort your kids to a different part of the house than they usually play in; take a few favorite toys with you, if needed. Our basement is colder than the rest of the house, so we don’t spend much time down there in winter; but that makes bundling up for a trip down there all the more fun on those days when the upstairs toys are all “boring” (my 2-year-old’s favorite word) by 10am.

Can you find the two preschoolers hidden under this mountain of laundry?

3. Do laundry.

Especially if you hate folding laundry, as I do, enlisting the aid of your toddler or preschooler is guaranteed to help you complete the project in record time. Get your kids and at least one basket of laundry onto the largest bed in the house (for us, that’s the queen-sized bed in the master bedroom); if your little one is to little to be safely on a bed, a large clean section of floor would work, too. Kids love dumping over the laundry all over the bed, “hiding” in it, and trying on each other’s clothes (or layering on their own). Your job is to snatch pieces out of the fray, fold them, and then either a) put them away or b) move them out of the kids’ reach before they can unfold them.

Even my two-year-old can get an entire basket’s worth of dirty laundry from the second floor to the basement, by tossing and kicking down a few pieces at a time.

As your tots grow older, they can learn how to help with the actual sorting and folding. By age two, a kiddo can learn to sort dirty laundry into “dark” and “light” piles, and can hand items to you to go into the washer. Even two-year-old Essie loves putting wet clothes into the dryer as I hand them to her, and Kimmie now helps me hang line-dry-only items. By the time she was four, Kimmie could neatly stack her sister’s cloth diapers, and fold washcloths and dishtowels. And while they still prefer hiding in Unfolded Laundry Mountain, both girls are now able to put stacks of folded clothes away in their rooms in the correct drawers.

2. Get out (or create) a tent, tunnel, fort, or obstacle course.

We have one of those collapsible play tunnels that I haul out into the living room only when the kids are getting stir-crazy. But a standing parent’s spread legs can be the starting point for a crawling-under-things adventure. Likewise, if you’ve got a couch, coffee table, and pair of grownup legs, you’ve got a bridge for your little monkeys to scramble under and climb over. Add some blankets, pillows, and chairs, and the possibilities are endless.

Think your kids are too big to build a fort? Get them a Crazy Forts kit for their next birthday or holiday, and see if they prove you wrong.

1. Take a nap.

If your kids are still little enough to nap (and over age one), curl up with them for their afternoon snooze. Or snuggle with them on the couch in your living space, and read them lots of stories (if they’ll let you). If naps for them are so last year, you can still lie down for a “nap” on the floor or couch, preferably hidden under a blanket. As I know from experience, nothing makes a more tempting target for crawling-all-over and snuggling-up-to than a parent trying to catch a few zzz’s.

What is your favorite way to amuse your kiddo(s) during the depths of winter? Let us know in the comments!

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