Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Cabin Fever

Winter is tough with little ones.

The Boy is a very intelligent, very active four-year-old, which is to say, he’s uncontainable. He’s bouncing off the walls. It’s a challenge in the warmer months, but it’s exponentially worse in the winter months. It’s too cold outside to run around for very long, and he’s too young for any of the organized sports. Add that The Wife and I aren’t skiers or joggers or anything along those lines, and it’s tough to find ways to burn off his energy between late November and March.

We do what we can, but a distressing amount of our time is spent playing traffic cop, trying to keep The Boy and The Girl apart. She wants to be wherever he is, but his favorite indoor activity is building remarkably elaborate cities out of blocks and matchbox cars. Naturally, being the age she is, her form of participation consists in knocking everything down, which really sets him off.
The only thing (other than blocks) that stops his constant motion is tv, but we don’t like to go to that well too much.

Anybody who has tried to play traffic cop with a four-year-old for more than a few hours knows what I’m talking about. It’s sort of like yelling at the sun.

The Wife has it worst, since she has to deal with it seven days a week. I at least have the relative ‘break’ of a full-time, high-stress job. Long commutes aren’t entirely bad...

Question for other parents of little ones in colder climes: what do you do with them in the winter? It’s only January, and we’re completely out of ideas. And, heaven help us, The Boy gets stronger and faster every day.

Swimming lessons (or just going to an indoor pool at the Y), indoor playgrounds
As someone who grew up in Edmonton I can assure you that there is no such thing as "too cold" for a four year old. Bundle up and get the heck outside! We used to be pushed out the door to run around and taken to the park when it was -30C, as long as we kept moving and were dressed properly we were fine. Rules about yellow snow and not licking metal objects were strictly followed!
Ok, I've got no kids, but going on the experience of having been a kid.... I'm in agreement with both previous comments (played outside my whole childhood in Cleveland). Also, for days when outside and/or lessons are just not possible, one of my favorite things as a kid was to make homemade play-dough and then to play with it. I also seem to remember my mom having a book that was called something like 365 rainy day activities.... Ok, maybe childless me is useless on this question :)
My new trick is jigsaw puzzles. Both my kids (3.5 and almost 6) can do the smaller ones (25 pieces) themselves, and I sit down to help with the larger ones. I don't know how old Girl is, but she might enjoy watching it all come together. And if Boy likes to build, he might enjoy these. It's the only activity besides TV that I can get my own boy and girl to do together. And I second the idea of sending them out in the cold. My kids seem totally immune to it and have been known to dash out barefooted on days I'm wrapped in several layers.
How about dressing him up in winter coats enough to make him look like a spaceman, finding one or two other four-year old spacemen, and setting them loose in a yard? You can watch from inside, or at least near a door.

Tell them they're astronauts on a cold planet. He and his wee friends can explore the alien terrain. Tell them to "Look out for the Bug-Eyed Booger Beast!" and stand clear.

Swimming is a good idea. Ice skating is another possibility if you're feeling adventurous. (Given the family predisposition for poor balance, that may be a bad idea.)
Another Canadian voice chiming in to say it's never too cold to play outside - and there is something about the cold that is has a miraculous effect on hyperactive preschoolers; it only takes a few minutes to burn off a LOT of energy!

Other ideas:
- the library
- the mall (oh how I love the mall)
- children's museums
- Toys R Us or other toy stores that have train tables set up (these are Tristan's favourite destinations, used as a carrot to cajole a week of good behaviour)
- drop in playgroups (in Ontario, we have the Early Years Centres, a gift from benevolent government gods)
- as mentioned, indoor pools are great!
- gym and swim classes
- gymnastics
- music/dance lessons
- reciprocal drop-off playdates - you leave the boy with a friend at friend's house for the morning, and friend comes to your house the next week. Bonus = one-on-one time with mum for The Girl
- we have grocery stores with either free kid drop-off or $5 drop off. Not only is it great to shop without the kids, but they love the change of scenery and new toys and interaction with the other kids. Maybe you have something similar?

I could go on - on the days when I am not working, I hate to stay in the house all day. We NEED to get out, for all of our sanity!
Been there, done that. My children are young adults now, but I still remember those days....

Agree on the "it's never too cold to play outside, as long as the kid is dressed right." The key to "dressing right" for kids in snowy conditions is "warm, waterproof gloves."

I remember spending 10 minutes bundling my kids up in snowsuits, boots, hats, mittens, scarves, etc. and then sending them outside, only to have them return in five minutes with their mittens soggy, and hands cold and miserable. So I'd give them new mittens (I had lots of cheap ones) and pop the old ones in the dryer. But that got annoying quickly. Waterproof ski gloves worked lots better.

Another indoor idea for burning off energy: a minitramp works wonders. You can probably get a used one cheap on E-bay or someplace like that.
Gym-mastics!!! Says the Girl in our northern clime,
And the others are correct, -20 is just fine!

Now, from the parent point of view, I realize sometimes you just want a few minutes "all to yourself" à la Danny Kaye, so try an obstacle course -- kitchen chairs, cushions, laundry baskets -- takes more time to build than to run through, but furniture is easier to pick up than Playmobil pieces (another time consuming bit of fun), and The Boy can build it for The Girl to try too.

Hang in, or move to Canada! This year anyway, January has been quite delightful!
Benevolent government? Drop-in centers for kids? Canada is sounding better and better...

We have some for-profit indoor playgrounds around, but they're very expensive and closed on the weekends. Lame, lame, lame.

The Boy is mildly pool-phobic, which seems to run in the family. As does poor balance. I'm really hoping that he inherited some key chromosomes from The Wife.

Jigsaw puzzles and the library are both winners.

Lace is exactly right -- one of the goals is to find stuff that both absorbs The Boy (or, better, both The Boy and The Girl) and doesn't require intensive parental supervision. Sometimes a parent just needs a break. When The Girl is napping, sometimes he'll get absorbed in building his block cities for extended periods, which is great.

We don't have any children's museums nearby. Our little nugget of the Northeast is kind of anomalous -- for a high-income, high-cost, well-educated area, the cultural opportunities are remarkably slim. Bummer, but there it is. I'd love to have some of the city amenities nearby, but that's just not in the cards.

Thanks for all the ideas! I love that my readers are so generous!
Chalk up another thumbs-up to the benevolence of Canadian governments which not only provide drop-in play centres/toy libraries, but also have provided my autistic younger child with excellent care and access to special & subsidized services that have been a lifesaver.

Honestly, at -30 my girls don't play outside for too long (one change of mitten's worth of time is about it for them). Gymnastics or gym night at the local Y is fun if your boy doesn't much like pools. Our Y does soccer games and also runs a drop-in obstacle course/play time for preschoolers weekday mornings.

Of course, the old standby of a big blanket draped over the kitchen table worked well, too!
A really excellent snowsuit. Seriously. Now is the time to buy them on sale... not the cheap kind that you need to buy 3 of in a year because of tears and whatnot, but a really expensive one, on sale for 50% off (cuz spring is coming) and large enought to roll up this year, maybe next, and then have at full length in year three. I did this twice for my son from ages 4-10. The suits were never wet, never torn, not bulky, stylish (so he'd be happy in them) and had cool features like clips for mittens etc. They ended up being cheaper than the "cheap ones". He would play for 3-4 hours in them. We'd have to drag him in as the last of the sun was disappearing after school.

As for activities: building snow forts with slides in the walls in the yard.
Flooding the yard (with a rubber liner it's pretty easy) and skidding in boots or skating.
snowball fights.
rebuilding the fort (learnign home maintenance skills: really important)
And that's usually enough to keep the little ones happy.
For toes you can get toe warmers for the boots now. they last about 6-8 hours and some for longer and are re-sealable.

I know how to stay warm in winter. I'm allergic to the cold (yes, it's true) but I love winter sports. So I have all the tricks for warmth.

The rule about getting a really good snowsuit also applies to really good boots. We need to keep our feet forever.

For indoors, it was when he was about 4 that I began to involve my son in little kitchen things. Stirring the egg custrard, learning to make ice-cream (great toy!), making chocolate pudding (Joy of Cooking is still the best).

Oh... and some parents paint a wall with greenboard paint and let their kids have at it with chalk. They feel very liberated, and you can always paint over it later. It's so very "Simon in the land of Chalk Drawings".

I also learned to love hearing the same damnable songs from Disney movies OVER and OVER again. O00da-lolly-oooDA-lolly-ooodalolly-ay.

Only had one kid, so not sure baout how to keep the younger one from wanting to "help".
Thanks to all who responded with the great ideas. Of course, I've tried sending him outside to play, but what do you do when he's pounding at the door 5 minutes later to come in??? He usually won't go outside unless someone is with him. And I have no desire to go outside.
My girls are 1.5 and 3.5; YMMV. On a decent-weather day, the older one will ride her bike (w/training wheels), while I accompany with younger in backpack or stroller. Mom, you might find that bundling yourself up is worth it for the relative peace of taking them outside. (Speaking as a native New Englander; again, YMMV.)

Kitchen cooking or just futzing around. One day they each sat at the table and got a baking sheet and I squirted ketchup and mustard on (and eventually yogurt etc.), and gave them veggies sticks for finger/painting.

Play-Doh; drawing/writing/stickers/stencils; my older loves to cut, glue, and tape .... ?

BATH time! Our favorite way to use almost an hour in the house. Bath-able crayons to write on bodies and bathtub walls; throw in rotating toys (from kitchen etc.).

One day I set up a "safari:" put a stuffed animal in every room of the house, gave each kid a box/laundry basket with a string for pulling it, called them the Animal Carts, and binoculars made from a pair of toilet paper rolls taped together. You can figure out the script, I guess.

"Print and Color" from or about a hundred other websites catering to housebound families. There are lots of other ideas online too, e.g. [something to the effect of]

Hide And Seek: even the 1.5yo gets it, more or less.

Ditto for the internet: I have to give props to the Teletubbies section of for navigation intuitive enough for toddlers.

library; Dunkin Donuts; pet stores, just to browse; supermarket; secondhand kids-stuff stores; Building 19/Job Lot for amusements on the cheap; hit the drive-thru car-wash to extend the outing. Also McDonald's with PlayLand/PlaySpace, and I guess BK has that too. Swim, skate, children's museum, I know I am repeating.

I know that all this is easier said than done, and I'm feelin ya. Hang in there with me 'til Spring!
One more vote for bundle him up and send him outside... you could make a party out of it by inviting some other kids and their parents.. you all have a drink and chat while looking out the windows at them running of the energy.

Snow is better for all of this because it takes a lot out of them to run around in a foot of snow. Good boots, warm hat and something waterproof for the rest...
When I was a kid, my folks got me a refridger box and helped me cut windows in it. Then I took crayons to it and decorated. Some days it was a car, other days, a spaceship. Sometimes with a sheet over it, it would be a house, or a tent, or an igloo, or a tepee...

Total cost? zero.

Of course, we had to trip over the thing in the middle of the living room...
Terminal - my brother used to sleep in a fridge box! After he'd exhausted the artistic possibilities of the box he dragged his mattress into in and slept inside it for almost a year.
Here in Norway the culture is harsh: kids have to play outside. That's it. Not all day long, but at least a few hours every day. All kids have waterproof snowsuits - the $100 variety - and any adult who works in a daycare centre and many full-time parents will own an adult version. Alternatively, because Bergen is very rainy, you dress the kid in wool and polar fleece layers with a $100 reinforced rainsuit on the outside. (here's photos of what all the kids have here)

I know this is unheard of and considered cruel not to mention unpleasant for adults in most civilised countries.

It sure keeps em busy, though. And if all the parents are doing it, and you're warmly dressed, it can be quite pleasant even for adults...
I meant to add that yes, playsuits for kids are a major investment for most families with young kids. The cheaper sorts tear in a few weeks, though... Oh, you also need warm boots.
The Boy likes to build stuff, so how about building play forts inside the house? Our kids use couch cushions, card tables, sheets & blankets for ceilings and doors, and clothespins and binder clips to hold things together. The older ones do the building and the younger ones who normally like tearing things apart amazingly leave the forts intact and join in the fun. They pretend they're camping, or going to school, etc. The fun usually lasts an entire afternoon.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?