By Dalaney Sotolongo
Winter brings lots of opportunities to learn and explore outdoors, but frigid temperatures often mean kids are stuck inside—often for days on end! To keep boredom at bay, check out these terrific ideas to make the most of kids’ time indoors while also exercising creativity, encouraging scientific discoveries and more!
- Discover Gingerbread Geometry: Help your child build a gingerbread house using graham crackers and icing! For young children, precut the crackers into various shapes, including squares, rectangles and triangles. Invite your child to identify the shapes as you stick them together. Challenge older children to figure out the surface area of the house by calculating the area of each cracker and adding them together! (Hint: To find the area of a triangle, multiply the base and height and divide by two. To find the area of a square or rectangle, multiply the length and width.) As you build, encourage your child to choose where to place each piece to develop problem-solving skills. When you’re done, work together to make a simple graph to show how many of each shape you used.
- Enjoy a Marshmallow STEM Challenge! After sipping some hot cocoa, rally the family to build constructions with marshmallows and toothpicks! For added fun, provide challenges for the whole family to try. Who can build the tallest skyscraper using the same number of pieces? Who can include the most shapes? Whose structure can withstand being blown by a fan? STEM activities like these draw upon children’s natural curiosity, stimulate their creativity and encourage problem solving in a super-exciting way.
- Try a Cinnamon Sugar Word Search: Fill a bowl with sugar and cinnamon to create a sweet and spicy mixture. Write winter-themed words on pieces of construction paper, using simple words like “hat” and “yam” for younger children and multisyllable words like “snowman” and “cinnamon” for older kids. Hide the words in the wintry mixture and invite your child to find and read each one. The multisensory experience of sight, touch and smell actually helps your child make connections that support the learning process! To boost even more skills, have your child trace the letters in each word; this strengthens fine motor control and provides printing practice, too.
- Upcycle Holiday Wrapping Paper Rolls: Save the rolls from holiday gift wrap and use them to create fun characters! Provide your child with basic art supplies like construction paper, markers, glue, collage materials and scissors to create winter-themed characters like a snowman and penguin…or their favorite storybook characters. Display the finished characters as wintertime décor—or use them to act out a scene from a story!
- Capture Holiday Memories:Gather up photos, drawings, cards and other mementos from family festivities. Provide your child with a blank scrapbook or make your own using thick construction paper. Invite your child to arrange the mementos in the order they happened and then write captions for each one. In addition to preserving cherished memories for years to come, children also develop sequencing and writing skills—and exercise their creativity!
- Construct a Cozy Fort: Building a blanket fort is not only fun, but it also promotes creative problem solving! Encourage your child to sketch a plan for a fort and then try to build it. There’s a good chance the fort won’t be perfect at first, which encourages kids to troubleshoot and revise their design—just like real engineers! If your child runs into problems, avoid offering direct solutions. Instead, ask leading questions that inspire critical thinking and perseverance. For example, I noticed the sides keep falling down. How could you make the fort stronger? Is there another material that might work better? The completed fort will make the perfect setting for imaginative play, and the small, enclosed space can also have a calming, regulatory effect on some children. Want to double the learning fun? Put some books inside for a private reading corner!
- Create a Winter Sensory Bin! Grab a variety of textured objects, put them in a tub—and you’ve got a sensory bin! Sensory bins allow kids to explore their sense of touch, which is a key component to cognitive growth. Infants and children use their senses to process information and understand the world, but people of all ages can benefit from sensory stimulation. Engaging the senses actually boosts brain activity, making it easier to learn and remember information. For this activity, gather a variety of winter-themed tactile materials such as Speedy Snow or white rice, natural objects like twigs and pinecones, plus animal figurines and play vehicles. Arrange them in a shallow bin to create a winter scene—and let your child explore! In addition to free play, you can also encourage your child to act out a scene, describe textures and compare objects, boosting language development, social-emotional skills, fine motor control and more!
Finally, here’s one more bonus tip: Be sure to get in on the fun! Your time is the most important gift you can give your child, so set aside a short block of time each day to enjoy these activities together. You’re guaranteed to have just as much fun as your child!
Dalaney Sotolongo is Senior Product Developer at Lakeshore Learning Materials