Cabin Fever? Beat the Winter Doldrums
“I’m bored.” In the middle of winter, this phrase can make any mom or dad break out in a sweat. And a snowy winter day with children who cannot find anything to do may seem to last centuries. A long day at home or a lengthy winter vacation is the perfect time for children to participate in fun activities that will build their skills, as well as put a stop to the classic complaints of boredom. Coming up with creative ideas in a variety of skill areas, along with ideas for adaptations for children with special needs, can be a daunting task for parents as well. Consider the child’s age and/or developmental level, safety, needs, and preferences to help you select appropriate activities to bust those cries of boredom!
To avoid being put on the spot in coming up with a fun activity when the famous “I’m bored…” complaint erupts, put together a “boredom box” with ideas from which the children can select. Assist your child with coming up with his or her own ideas of what to include. This can be a good strategy to use whenever your child has more ideas of things to do than time. Include skill building activities that are developmentally appropriate and are “just the right challenge” with a fun twist so that the activity is not viewed as work. To avoid having to scramble for materials for activities at the last minute, organize an additional “supply box” with basic craft supplies (e.g., construction paper, crayons or markers, cardboard tubes, paper plates and bags, glue, glitter or other decorations). Consider including small craft sets with instructions, puzzles, and small travel games that are new or seldom-used. Examine the skill categories below and adapt the following activities to your child’s skill level and safety needs.
Make Dressing and Self-Care Fun!
Winter break, snow days, and weekends afford plenty of opportunities for children to master the art of getting dressed, due to the extra time to get ready, and the extra seasonal clothing, such as snowsuits and boots. If your child needs additional practice mastering fasteners, or resists getting dressed without assistance, incorporate fasteners and dressing into a game. When multiple children are present, have a suitcase race where children don clothes (over their own clothing) as quickly as they can to win a prize—this can be done as a relay race for more than two children. Institute a fashion show where the children can practice putting together their own outfits from old clothes (including parents’ clothing), or a doll or stuffed animal fashion show.
Visual and Fine Motor Skills
As visual and fine motor skills are an integral part of the school day from an early age, incorporating some of the fun activities below at home will help to boost skills
- Make some homemade Valentines or birthday cards.
- Write letters to family or friends on personalized letterhead.
- Design scrapbook pages from a recent vacation or holiday to incorporate cutting, coloring, and handwriting.
- Dust off the jigsaw puzzles, legos, lincoln logs, or travel editions of games (these have smaller parts).
- Encourage building from a model made by a parent or older sibling, or if appropriate, building from instructions on the box. In addition to visual motor skills, word finds or crossword puzzles build vocabulary, and your child can design his or her own puzzle for someone else to solve.
- For imaginary play, set up a pretend office with supplies such as paper clips, binder clips, old folders, or junk mail to practice manipulating common items. Get messy with squirt bottles (to spray a window or shower), hole punches, or clay tools and presses to strengthen fingers.
- You can make handwriting fun by designing a secret code to write with fun squiggly pens, bathtub or window markers, or invisible ink markers.
- Institute a “no-talking, only writing” time to communicate for fifteen minutes or so to encourage writing (this also might help to calm a noisy household).
Gross Motor Skills
After spending too much time indoors due to inclement weather, children will need to find a safe way to move around and expend some energy.
- In a large, open area (basement, family room), provide your children with common household items, such as chairs, plastic juice bottles, a broom handle, hula hoops, or jump rope to design an obstacle course (with adult supervision for safety).
- Hang up an over-the-door basketball hoop, or design one from a box with the top and bottom cut out to play rag basketball (from knotted up towels or t-shirts), or use a lightweight sponge ball. Using these homemade toys or games can be more fun than purchased ones, and this will encourage their creative development.
- If your child enjoys dance or aerobic exercise, consider renting or purchasing an inexpensive exercise or dance video for kids, use a dance pad video game, or have your own dance choreography contest.
- Consider games from birthday parties or gym class, such as “Twister,” hopscotch (many toy stores offer foam mats), hula hoops, jump rope, “Simon Says,” or “charades” to encourage development of certain movement skills and physical activity. By playing these games in a fun, friendly atmosphere, rather than being graded in gym class, or being concerned with winning a prize in sports, children who have difficulties with coordination may become more comfortable with motor planning.
Cognitive and Social Skills
We all continue to build our cognitive and social skills throughout life, establishing systems to do things and how we appear to other people; therefore, these are very important skills to practice.
- If your child has difficulties interpreting emotions from facial expressions and body language, try body language charades (what is this person telling you?) or making an emotions collage of people from magazines with a designated facial expression or body language.
- Practice teamwork by building something together or use an obstacle course as a relay race.
- Work on sequencing via the oldie but goodie “follow directions game” by having children write down the directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then have someone else make the sandwich following the directions exactly (use your *clean* hands if the directions don’t specify a knife)!
For children who have difficulties interpreting and processing sensory information, winter may be a difficult time to get used to seasonal changes in sensory input, and less access to outdoors (where many calming strategies might be located).
- You can put clean snow in a dishpan or large plastic container for some table play inside to adjust to the sensation and temperature of snow prior to immersing the child in snow outside.
- For a slightly easier to clean up sensory experience, place rice, beans, flax, or popcorn kernels into a bowl/bin/container with some of those summer sand toys!
- Also, pull out the summer mini child’s pool, and fill with lightweight plastic balls (available at many toy stores) to create your own ball pit.
- To create an indoor quiet area, your children may enjoy draping old sheets or blankets over two chairs to create a tent or use a large (appliance) box for a calming space with cushions or pillows for resting.
- Children may enjoy spending a day inside making pretzels, kneading bread dough, rolling out cookie dough, or making “slime” as a tactile sensory experience.
- Some household heavy work can be calming to children with “cabin fever,” such as pushing or pulling a vacuum, pushing a shopping cart, shoveling snow, pushing a wagon or wheelbarrow—all of these should be of appropriate size/weight (toy or regular), depending on the child’s size/abilities.
Seeking Expert Assistance
If your child has significant difficulties with dressing/fasteners, fine motor or handwriting skills, visual motor skills, motor planning, or sensitivity to tactile experiences, he or she may benefit from a physician’s referral for a pediatric therapy evaluation. A pediatric therapist working in an outpatient center can determine if your child could benefit from skilled services and home exercise programs that build on these skills.