Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful…

Dear Mr. Dad: We can’t afford to send our two kids, 5 and 7, to Winter camp, so it’s going to be just me and them for the next two weeks. What are some activities I can plan with the kids so we can stay warm but not spend the whole day in front of the TV?

A: Keeping kids from turning into TV-loving zombies isn’t always easy—especially when it’s cold out. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities that can keep kids of all ages busy during the cold winter months.

If you have a sand or water table that’s collecting puddles of rain in the backyard, bring it inside, fill it up with dried beans, rice, or moon sand (check the Web for inexpensive recipes), and let the kids start sifting. It’s a little messy, but the hours of fun will make it worthwhile. If you don’t have a table, use a hard plastic baby pool.

If your kids like the water, put them in swimsuits and let them play in the tub (but be sure to check on them frequently). Bath time can be about more than getting clean, and the swimsuit will add a little fun to an otherwise mundane activity. Spread out some beach towels, have the kids put on sunglasses and sunscreen, and they’ll think they’re in Hawaii. Well, sort of.

If the same old coloring with crayons and markers has gotten dull, buy a large roll of butcher paper. Spread it on the floor and trace each child’s body. Then, let them make their own life-size paper doll. Afterwards, hang it up in their room so they can admire their handiwork.

Kids love playing with play dough or clay and making your own can be even more fun. You’ll find plenty of edible recipes online so you won’t have a worry about the kids sneaking a taste. Color it with food coloring or Kool-Aid. After making the dough, break out cookie cutters, molds, and dull scissors. If making your own play dough is getting old, switch to Play Foam. It never dries out and is a lot easier to clean up.

While you’re in the kitchen, get the kids involved in a cooking project. Bake cookies, cover them with white frosting that dries hard, and have the kids use fine brushes and food coloring to paint them. Make bread (and talk about why it rises) or make their favorite meals like macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets from scratch.

At some point you’re going to want to get out of the house. Your local library probably has regular story time. If not, check nearby bookstores. Take the kids to a pet store and look at the fish, birds, and bunny-eating snakes. If you’re looking for something to do with a group of kids, call your local fire station and ask for a tour. They’re often quite happy to show small children around and teach them about fire safety. They may even let the kids turn on the siren. If that doesn’t scare then half to death, it’ll be the highlight of their year.

Getting out and exercising is especially important when it’s too cold to play outside. Many gymnastics schools offer low-cost open gym sessions, and even if your kids have no gymnastics experience, they’ll still have a great time and burn off some energy.

The cold weather doesn’t have to mean boring days inside. With just a little planning it’ll be easy to fill your days with fun activities that you and your kids can enjoy.