On the coldest of days, there is a special stillness in the air and I love the way that the snow squeaks and crunches beneath our feet and tires. I feel a thrill and a frisson of fear, all at the same time. The coldest days mean we are trapped inside. What should we do? What are some cheap activities to pass the time?
My kids also love winter weather, but when temperatures dip too low, we can’t spend too much time out in it, especially when my kids are 2-year-old twins and a three year old. What to do when a cold front settles in and seems in no hurry to move along? What are some cheap ways to keep kids busy and active on these coldest of days?
We live in Canada – above the 49th Parallel. It gets cold in the winter – no way around that. In the cooler weather, we spend much of our time outdoors anyway and just bundle up. We snow shoe and go sledding, downhill and cross-country ski. We skate and have bonfires with hot chocolate. We rub our hands together and blow on them for warmth as we stand on the street waiting for the Santa Claus Parade to start. We walk in the woods breaking ground in silence of the newly fallen snow. It is magical!
We want to pass our love of the outdoors to our three young kids. As our toddlers get older, not much can keep us indoors for too long, as they need to burn off some of that wild energy and our house just can’t contain the chaos! I’m sure many of you can identify. Trips to the mountains, to a park or to a favourite outdoor venue are wonderful. Even in cooler weather these activities can be fun.
However, when the thermometer dips down too low (below -20 degrees celsius or -4 degrees Fahrenheit) and the wind starts to howl, bringing a lowered windchill, the outdoor options become very limited. If you are like us, however, there is not a lot of extra cash to pay for admission to recreation centres or movies, etc. and cheap or budget is the name of the game. Before you throw in the towel in the middle of a freezing week, consider incorporating some of the following cheap activities into your coldest days to preserve sanity and harmony!
1. Get Outside Anyway!
Even if you can only be out for a few moments, it is worth the effort to get everyone dressed to play outdoors. Even if you don’t go further than the end of the block or even your front lawn, it will be worth it for everyone to have a change of scene or get a breath of fresh air. Bonus if it has recently snowed! You can:
- make snow angels
- build a snowman
- shovel off your walk and that of the neighbours (can be quick and burn lots of energy!)
- use your snow brush to clean the windows of cars parked nearby (if you know whose they are!)
- throw snowballs
- leap through the deeper snow
- build a small snow cave
Even if you can only stay outside a few minutes, you can come back later or the next day to finish your activity (snowman, snowball war, snow cave, shovelling, etc.). I promise, it is worth it to brave the elements for a change of scene.
2. Go to the Library
I love that many libraries have intentionally incorporated stimulating activities and areas for children into new designs. Many of our local libraries have puppets, theatres, activity centres, play structures and manipulatives, etc. right there for all kids to use.
- take your kids and let them explore/play in the kids’ area for awhile. Challenge them to put on a puppet show, etc.
- check the website for your local library to see when the next drop-in story time is and take the kiddos. Most story times include actions, dances, and other ways to get kids up and moving as well as listening to great stories.
- teach them (or ask the librarian) to use the database to look up books of interest or let your kids browse for new books/DVDs/CDs, etc. to sign out and take home
3. Community Play Groups
Many of the community centres, churches and other family organizations where we live host open play groups where you can drop in without registering, often at very minimal or no cost. An added bonus is potential social interaction of you as the adult, too! Most of these play groups have lots of toys, play structures and equipment for kids of varying age levels. Your kids can make new friends, burn off some energy and have fun with new activities and it will burn through a few hours of your day! Search online or look at community newsletters/websites/parent group bulletins for more information and days/hours.
4. Arrange a Play Date
Is there anyone you know with kids close to the ages of yours that you have been meaning to have over? Now is the time to arrange that play date! Invite a neighbour family over or call that long lost friend. The kids will have fun with new faces and new ways to play with their toys and you can have time for a great visit to catch up with a pal or learn more about an acquaintance. For the cost of coffee and a few snacks, you have broken the monotony of a solitary inside day!
5. Quiet Activities – crafts, puzzles, reading
Mostly self-explanatory, but some guided introduction to these activities are wonderful! Get a theme going – if you can’t beat the cold, focus on it!
E.g. For crafts and puzzles, have kids focus on the snowy outdoors as a theme – make it a challenge!:
- use coloured paper and white paint to create a snowy scene
- use an empty plastic jar (clear) or glass baby food jar, etc. to create a snow globe using water, corn syrup or hair gel (for thickness), glitter, etc. There are many how-to videos giving instructions
- fold paper and cut out paper snowflakes to hang or put on the window
- draw a winter outdoor scene and cut into puzzle pieces for another child to put together
For great kids books about reading, try these (order, borrow, or source at the library):
- The Snowy Day* -Ezra Jack Keats
- The Mitten* – Jan Brett
- Stella, Queen of the Snow* – Maria Louise Gay
- There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow* – Lucille Colandro
- It’s Winter* (celebrate the season!) – Linda Glaser
6. Get Moving!
Here are a few ideas for indoor activities that will help burn some energy and keep kids occupied. All can be modified depending on age of your kids:
- Dance Party: download or play (YouTube, etc.) some action songs for kids and get up and get dancing!
- ideas for songs include: A Ram Sam Sam, Baby Shark, Hi My name is Joe, The Hokey Pokey, etc.
- put on some 50’s music and have your own sock hop! You could add to the fun by dressing up 50s style, too!
- do some jazzercise or zumba to music on your play list
- challenge your kids to come up with a dance routine to a favourite song – award prizes for the best one
- Fitness Routine – use a DVD or internet video of an age-appropriate physical work out for kids (aerobics, yoga, etc.)
- Play a game of Simon Says – or other movement games such as
- animal charades
- bean bag toss
- create an obstacle course
- catch with a soft ball
- tag (if enough room)
- balloon toss (keep it up)
If you do have a bit of money to invest into some kids’ indoor fitness equipment, consider things like this – we have all but the Gorilla Gym, and it is next on our list!:
- Little tikes 3′ trampoline (great for smaller spaces) – our kids jump for hours on this (taking turns). It was the best money I’ve ever spent for an indoor physical activity toy. Buy from Amazon or Amazon.ca*
- Gymnastic mats – for tumbles and hand stands, etc. It also works to create mini tunnels when folded, so great for an obstacle course!
*Denotes Affilate links – see disclosure page