As the leaves have fallen and the weather turns into chilly winds and snow, many outdoor activities for our children are curtailed. The great energy release of the outdoors is much more limited, and it becomes important to have indoor activities for the whole family that are stimulating and fun.

Of course, we don’t want to abandon the outdoors completely! Brisk walks, trips to ice skate at Red Arrow Park or Cathedral Square, sledding at Currie Park or Water Tower Hill, skiing cross country or downhill at many parks, and frolicking in the snow are beneficial and fun, especially when followed by a cup of hot chocolate! These are naturally time limited though, so preparing for indoor activities is important.

This provides a great opportunity for family bonding as well as building your child’s capacity to occupy oneself independently without reliance on video games. If at all possible, try to create a space in your home where there are few worries about things breaking – a play room so to speak, with a portable table and chairs but otherwise more open. It doesn’t have to be huge, but rather less damage prone! This opens up use of balloons, Nerf balls and Nerf guns if you’re so inclined. Balloon “volleyball”, with tape or a foam floor designating boundaries for each player, has many cooperative or competitive variations that release energy while building body in space awareness, self-control and teamwork. Similarly, a Nerf ball can be used cooperatively, with the goal of keeping it in the air (while staying in your designated area) or competitively through old-fashioned dodgeball, or used with a racket to bounce off a wall back and forth. With many balls, an indoor version of the game “Get Your Trash Off my Yard” is fun, in which each side has an equal number of balls to start, and then there’s a frenzy to get all he balls on one side.

Board games and activities that promote mutual problem solving and communication can be both fun and beneficial. Starting in the mid-1980’s, a Canadian company called Family Pastimes pioneered the concept of board games that are entirely cooperative in nature. Winning is defined as either everybody wins or nobody wins, or in terms of what was accomplished before the game ended. All feature a combination of luck with strategy and planning between the players. For younger kids, The Sleeping Grump or The Princess Game are favorites. (Don’t worry boys, you get to play as brave knights saving the Princess from a magic spell!) For older kids, Mountaineering involves the actual barriers to climbing Mount Everest with the need to work together and plan to survive. Many games have themes important to us all – cleaning up pollution, enjoying nature without harming the habitat of wild animals or helping out others in need. Their games are mostly available through their website or Amazon. More recently, a company called Peaceable Kingdom has taken up the idea of cooperative games. Hoot Owl Hoot and Dragon Dash are particularly fun for younger kids, while Caldron Quest is great for older children. ALL of these are also fun and engaging for parents!

Despite your best efforts, sometimes kids just can’t think of what to do, and can be underfoot with complaints of “I’m bored!” Some years ago, I developed the idea of a “Bored Box” for just such occasions. Work with your child to make a list of all the various toys, games and activities they can do primarily on their own. It is often amazing at how many toys are “discovered” in this process! Put these on individual pieces of paper and place them all in an old Quaker Oats container or shoebox. Some people also put a few chores in there, just to make it interesting! The rule is, if the child complains that “there’s nothing to do”, they must pick two items out of the box and can choose to do either or both for the next half hour. On the parents’ side, you agree to make every attempt to finish up what you’re doing so that you can then spend some time together with your child doing something fun – baking cookies, having a treasure hunt or…check out the list above! After using this a few times, kids often become better at generating their own ideas or more appropriately asking when their parents will be available to do something together.

Winter can get long, but with some planning it can be a great time for all in the family to have quality time together. Do a little planning, and have a great time!

Looking for a starting point? St. Francis Children’s Center’s Family Activity Center will be open on Saturday, December 9 from 10-11:30 am for an open play for children with special needs. Escape the cold while exploring our many imaginative, sensory and gross motor toys, along with our indoor play areas.

By Dr. Rick Clark, PsyD, Child Psychologist at St. Francis Children’s Center

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