January in Chicago is typically a bit challenging to say the least. It’s not so much the mountains of snow that cause our severe cabin fever, although we definitely get our fair share. No, it’s more the long stretch of Midwestern bitter cold and blustery air that makes a mom want to remain in bed under a heap of blankets or snuggle up by a fire for days on end.
If you have school-aged kids like me, the inability to play outside is a bit more manageable since the troops are out and about during the day and most weeknights are busy with homework and extracurricular activities. But if you’re staring down countless days of being your young child’s main source of indoor entertainment, it makes for a very LONG three or four months. Been there, survived that.
For many of us, this year’s winter blues have been kept at bay by our unseasonably warm weather across the country. But in all likelihood, it’s just a matter of time before ol’ man winter shows us his grumpy side. When my boys were wee, I remember going into stockpiling mode just before the weather turned really bad. I gathered ideas and materials. Having been a classroom teacher, I functioned much better with a lesson plan of sorts when it came to entertaining my kiddos when it was just too darn cold to go outside and play. I was always thankful for my teacher education background and my accumulated files of fun ideas to pull out of my hat when the boys got antsy and were “bored”. There were a few that simply never got old and became my tried-and-true tricks when we were stuck inside. Here are three that I assure you will keep your preschooler happy and creatively occupied when the walls are closing in. And they’re all a snap. Have fun!
- The Inside Sandbox. When I taught preschool, the sand and water table was always the biggest draw in my classroom. Kids LOVE anything tactile. You can create your own version with an under-the-bed storage bin (with lid). Lay down a cheap plastic tablecloth, and fill the bin with rice, beans, fake snow, tiny alphabet noodles, etc. It’s fun to alternate what kids will find inside. Throw in small plastic animals or action figures, funnels, scoops, and other toys for your kids to bury and play with. When they’re done, pop the lid on and store for another day.
- The Sticky Mural. This was another favorite in my pre-K classroom, but 1st through 3rd graders enjoy it, too. Using a long length of clear contact paper, peel off the backing and tape it STICKY SIDE OUT to a wall with masking tape. Next, raid your kids’ craft boxes for all kinds of odds and ends: stickers, felt pieces, foam shapes, fabric swatches, buttons, etc. Put them in muffin tins and place in front of the mural. No glue needed! Simply have kids decorate the mural by pushing items onto the sticky surface. You’ll be surprised at how much they dig this.
- Pipe Cleaners, Tin Foil, and Straws, Oh My. When combined, these three simple materials can transform into the most amazing sculptures and abstract art. Simply lay out containers with a supply of each (cutting the tin foil into various lengths is helpful), and let the kids create as they please. You can show them a few tricks like how sliding a pipe cleaner into a straw makes a more sturdy side for a structure or how to twist tin foil to make it stand up. But for the most part, let kids discover these materials’ magic on their own.