With the chill as fall turns to winter often comes the desire to cozy up in front of the television, tangled up in blankets with hot chocolate at the ready. While that sounds tempting, remember that winter is also a prime time for energizing— and often educational— family activities and travel opportunities. After all, when the temperature drops, there are no Little League practices to rush off to, no drop-offs at summer camp and no beach bags to pack.
But if you’re not running through sprinklers and frequenting ice cream shops, just what are you to do with the kids? Try these local travel-related ideas to make winter the new hot season.
Visit an aquarium.
You may not be able to splash around in the neighborhood pool, but your family can dive into a deep-sea adventure by exploring the marine life at a nearby aquarium. After exercising their sea legs and learning about ocean conservation, children can draw pictures of their favorite ocean creatures.
Take a culinary trip to a destination.
Whether you go on an actual day trip and return home to prepare dishes from the locale or you opt to taste the delicacies from an exotic location by creating them in your kitchen, cooking with your children brings great rewards. As you’ll read in “Cook With Me,” this issue’s article on cooking with toddlers, meal preparation is delightful when done as a family and it multiplies children’s math skills as they measure out ingredients. Try making something to eat together that represents the culture or an aspect of a place near or far. Another suggestion is to let your kids mold homemade bread dough into a ski mountain or another shape evocative of an East Coast attraction. Let the dough rise after molding (about 30-45 minutes), pop their creations into the oven and enjoy a masterpiece of a meal.
Let books be the gateway to another place or time.
Librarians do much more than help visitors decipher the Dewey Decimal system. Stop by your local library and check its event calendar for children’s programs and author visits. If nothing on the library’s calendar caters to your children’s age groups or interests, encourage all of your kids to choose books at the library that transport them to regions through engaging pictures and text. Every library and bookstore stocks children’s literature on travel, along with guidebooks to different places your kids might want to investigate.
Go camping inside.
Speak to friends and use the Internet to find a place, such as in the Poconos or Upstate, where you can stay at a log cabin with the clan. If a weekend trip isn’t in your budget or it conflicts with the calendar, merely drag your sleeping bags out of storage and set up camp on your living room floor. Enjoy some microwave-made S’mores while strengthening your kids’ storytelling skills. Start a story with one wacky sentence, and go around the circle with each person being responsible for the next few phrases until everyone’s giggling at the crazy story created.
Go wild with wildlife.
We humans may insist on wearing layers of fleece before going outside, but some animals are perfectly content wearing just their fur in the cold of winter. See if a zoo near your home has a heated shuttle. If so— or there are exhibits open that cover the animals roaming the outdoor and indoor terrain— go enjoy the entertainment that animals provide. Once back in the warmth of your home, play your own version of Charades by acting like the animals seen that day.
Bundle up, head outdoors and attempt building snow replicas of book characters, movie scenes, maybe even landmarks. Let kids pick a topic and get busy building. Ensure you have a camera to snap great pictures of the winter wonderland as the kids use their imaginations and guess each other’s snowy images. Afterward, warm up over hot chocolate and a mini-lesson about where snow comes from.
Picture the possibilities with puzzles.
Never underestimate the power of puzzles. Inexpensive and labor intensive in the most fun way, puzzles capture children’s attention for hours as they piece together what a babbling brook looks like— or anything for that matter. Mix it up by letting the kids make their own puzzles out of magazine pictures to places they would like to visit. After kids glue their creations onto card stock and cut them into puzzle-like pieces, children can trade their puzzles with siblings and neighbors, enticing everyone to piece back together the different scenes.
Indulge in a winter sport or activity.
Does your son like hockey? Introduce him to ice hockey! Does your daughter miss waterskiing? Motivate her to try snow skiing by traveling to a mountain that has children’s lessons and a welcoming bunny slope. Ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding—snowy sports abound in winter. Enjoy them all.
Last but not least, read!
Children are never too old to listen to stories read aloud. And listening to books that are above children’s reading levels is a surefire vocabulary booster. For beginning readers, alternate between you reading a page and having your child read a page to you. Maybe each week you read about a distinct country or state.