Entertaining toddlers in cold weather
January 3, 2010 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Surviving the winter with toddlers: What are your top tips for entertaining kids indoors or outdoors when subzero temps are in effect?

Winter is in full effect up here in the great white north and so is cabin fever for our 3 and 1 year old kids. We wrap the kids up but it is not safe to be outside for too long when it is -15 deg C (+ wind chill).
Indoors, we have done arts (painting, coloring, playdough), cooking (muffins etc - obviously only 3 yr old helps with this), fort building with cusions etc and even a movie or two. this leaves us with 3 more months to fill. any new ideas greatly appreciated.
posted by SueDenim to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
It's obvious but go about your chores and allow your three-year-old to help. Dusting, making beds, picking up, putting away clothes, simple folding, wiping out the bathtub, making lunch together, brushing the dog, etc.

Play music and dance. Download Rafi and other kid music and non-kid music, like the Beatles. Buy some tambourines and maracas or make you won instruments.

Tell stories. Pretend.

Large cardboard boxes are fun. (You can carve doors and windows and decorate with paint and stickers.) So are cardboard blocks.

Invite friends over. Arrange play dates if it is safe to travel. Go to indoor playgrounds (malls, Little Gym) if they are available.

Allow them to entertain themselves as much as possible.
posted by Fairchild at 1:09 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The library could be good for one of the rare excursions. New books with things to do, and new movies with educational value can help the boredom. Ask your librarian for activity books in that age range, you may be surprised what you can find.

I used to take the kids to the mall at that age and let them run in front of me as I did walking laps pushing the stroller. I'm sure it was annoying to other shoppers, but I would go first thing when there were few people there. It really helped get some of that energy out. When it's that cold you have to be creative!

This recipe for play dough is really great, it's fun to make and it is easy to clean up. If you don't want to make your own, Crayola Model Magic is expensive but worth the price.

Try to get your hands on a very large box. Washing Machine size is good (call your local appliance store.) A box can be an airplane, a spaceship, or a fort. If you give your 3 year old some washable markers they can even decorate it. My kids went nuts for boxes at that age. We would set a big box on its side and put a blanket over about 3/4 of the opening. My daughter would drag her blanket and a few toys in there and stay for hours. If you give them a flashlight or glow sticks they may stay longer.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:12 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Baby Zizzle, who believes with all his heart that he is a year older than he is, enjoys going out to other indoor places. A local store has a children's play area that we spend sooo many hours of rainy, snowy, and other inclement weather days in (as well as soooo many dollars). We also head off to a coffee shop that has a ton of room. He's earned himself a reputation there actually, as I learned today after not being around for a couple of weekends since we were out of town and an older man said, "So this is the famous redhead everyone talks about!" . *sheepish look*

Mostly we go to other places because Baby Zizzle can't stand to stay in our tiny apartment for very long after he's awake. So, we have the choice of lots of screaming or the choice of coming up with some other place to go.

My parents (grew up in Maine) were fond of taking us to the area mall and letting us run in this wide corridor near the mall's entrance, as opposed to a store's entrance, on weeknights when there were few shoppers. I always thought that was strange until I worked retail in high school and saw parents with young kids doing the same thing.

Is there a children's theater group relatively nearby? Those are usually inexpensive entertainment options. Baby Zizzle enjoys a puppet theatre we have nearby.
posted by zizzle at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2010

I see someone already invoked the play dough - had so many good times making things with that stuff - my mom had our "ornaments" for years (even the one painted black by my then very little brother).
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:21 PM on January 3, 2010

Funny...I have a 3.5 year old daughter and we live at 53N in Western Canada. I wish I could tell if you were close because my kid could use someone to play with.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 1:25 PM on January 3, 2010

the toddler and i dance. a lot. seconding the idea of going about your regular chores and allowing three yr old to "help"
last winter, the girl was either in the moby wrap or snuggli, attached to me. it was good for both of us. you can wear the 1 yr old and dance/work with the 3 yr old.
this is a good question and i'm curious to see other responses too.
posted by ms.jones at 1:31 PM on January 3, 2010

These things work/have worked for us indoors, here in TO (our'n is now almost six):
(with apologies for the cheap links, because my own kid is right at my elbow and I'm on the bad browser and I have to go make soup)

Birdfeeders/Birdwatching. Which if you're not careful become squirrelfeeders/squirrelwatching.

Yoga (We're not really 'yoga people', but popping in a video and doing it really works for us, and she loves it. She took a class when she was almost three, and it's remained one of "her things".)

The Toymaker! http://www.thetoymaker.com/

Printables: http://www.teas2dine4.com/4printable.html (Fresh off the press colouring pages are somehow WAAAAY better than the twenty colouring books we have.)

Crafts from here: http://belladia.typepad.com/crafty_crow/ (I use many of these for leading crafts when I volunteer in kindergarten.)

Making things to do (Aside from playdough and muffins, you can bake "crayon cookies" and salt doughs and make cinnamon clay and gak and we also make birdseed-covered pinecones and bagels and such.)

Another site for inspiration (love the subversive chore chart): http://tryhandmade.com/category/crafting-with-lotta/

Books, books, books books books. (Set out book traps - leave a picture book open in the middle of the floor from time to time. They are SO much more interesting when it's not what you're supposed to be doing. We started chapter books early on, and she loves them still.

The three-year old might be ready for some online games (like starfall.com) (Which our daughter's kindergarten teacher uses, and so does the daycare in her school - so three could be fine for many things on it.)
(previous thread: http://ask.metafilter.com/127280/Websites-for-Elementary-Kids_
Other websites we use:

Paper dolls: http://tpettit.best.vwh.net/dolls/pd_scans/betsy_mccall/index.html (also at Printables)

Shaving cream is ALWAYS a big fave. This was especially fun: http://sweetsweetlife.typepad.com/sweet_sweet_life/2009/06/keeping-your-kids-busymarbled-paper.html

Baths in the middle of the day, with lots of shaving cream drawing on walls and on selves.

And we can look at Zooborns for hours: http://www.zooborns.com/

Also, anything is better in a tent/fort. We have the Ikea Igloo, and a movie, snack, book, or game in it is exponentially better than in normal spot.

Gotta run, but I hope this helps!
posted by peagood at 1:32 PM on January 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

Take a trip to the thrift shop and stock up on dress up stuff. Costumes are good and tutu's for girls. Scarves are great for all manner of things. Big pieces of fabric can be fun, fleece is stretchy and can be sort of "tailored" just by pulling on it and faux fur is great for make believe animals.
It's never too early to start reading to them and there are lots of interactive books out so they have their job to do too..
Coal gardens are fun. Here is a site with directions and pictures

Here is a page with lots of directions so you can get an idea of what's important and what you can substitute.

posted by BoscosMom at 1:39 PM on January 3, 2010

Oh! And yes, agreed: the chores right along side you. We LOVE dumping sock drawers and such around here.

and I forgot -

Lots of nothing. Benign neglect. Letting her figure out what she wanted to do sometimes, or being forced (gently) to figure out what to do to cure her own boredom early on means that now, at nearly six, our daughter can amuse herself until sometimes I'm begging her to do stuff with me.
posted by peagood at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a 26 month old.

We have a big tub full of dry beans and rice that she can dig in, like a sandbox. That entertains her for a *while*. If you put a big sheet or tablecloth down underneath, it will help minimize the sweeping up you have to do.

Sometimes we go to pet stores to look at the fish/hamsters/lizards/parakeets/puppies/etc. It's like a mini indoor zoo!

Fingerpainting with pudding or yogurt is always fun. It's akin to the shaving cream idea above.

Sometimes we cut pictures out of magazines and glue them onto paper. There isn't much rhyme or reason to choosing the pictures or the arrangement they get glued in, but it's a good time-killer and helps with the fine motor skills.

Building forts with the couch cushions and throw blankets. Or with a sheet and two dining room chairs. (I see you do this already, whoops!)

Books, books and more books. Her attention span is such that we are starting to be able to read some longer stories like the Pooh books or Alice in Wonderland or the Little House books.

Sometimes I pull up a chair up to the kitchen sink and run some warm, soapy water and let her pour/dump with my measuring cups and a couple tupperware pieces. It's how I get dinner cooked, most nights.

Definitely nthing playdates at other people's houses. The change of scenery is always nice.

I'm also not above putting in a movie, occasionally. We have a dvd of ABBA videos that she reeeeeeeally likes to dance to.
posted by fancyoats at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2010

Seconding benign neglect :)

In the UK Blue Peter is something of an institution in 'things for kids to make and do'; a lot of them are aimed at older children and might be a bit difficult for small fingers, but their things to do site is still worth a look. There's even some of the old ones in the archive.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:30 PM on January 3, 2010

Lentil trays. A rimmed cookie sheet or similar, with a layer of lentils/beans/etc. A few small (matchbox-car-sized or a little bigger) diggers, measuring cups, egg carton, pill containers. The 1-year-old will need supervision to prevent swallowing but may well be able to participate with that caveat.

Plant some fast-growing seeds together. My kids were checking that silly pot, like, 6 times a day.

I use the sink-and-tupperware trick, too, and in fact I set up my 3-year-old and 1-year-old on the same chair. They don't do any shoving because they know that's the end of the activity if they do.

Finally, just a small note -- I've been on semi-bed-rest the last 3 months with borderline-hyperemesis in my pregnancy with my third, in the hospital a couple of weeks ago for IV fluids. Just starting to turn the corner, at 16 weeks. My 3-year-old has watched a full hour or more of TV/videos every single damn day (the 1-year-old isn't interested, more's the pity), and you know what? Those last few letters I had a hard time teaching him, for whatever reason, Sesame Street taught him instead. He's still very imaginative and fun-loving and self-directed. So if it's not presumptuous, I hereby give you permission to put on Sesame Street and have a cup of tea; it's a long winter!
posted by palliser at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

My preschool granddaughters could cut and glue for hours. I give them baby scissors and glue sticks and they will play and create...a lot of abstract art. We also get the little foam stickers from the hobby shop and make good stuff out of those. An added benefit is to get the tubs of foam alphabet letters and practice spelling their names.

I also collected a handful of mini plastic bottles like you get hotel shampoo in, emptied them, and they play with them in the bathtub for a good long while. You could also look for a sand or water table. While this might seem messy for inside, you could substitute rice or beans for the sand and put a vinyl table cloth under it to help with cleanup.
posted by tamitang at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2010

A friend of mine has a great website going that e-mails you daily activities and games free
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:17 PM on January 3, 2010

FWIW, my own toddler entertainment q

My best doldrum-busting bit is to spend an entire day downtown -- museum, shopping, lunch with a friend, nap in the stroller, breeze around the art gallery -- it is completely exhausting, but a day like that does in cabin fever for many days afterwards.
posted by kmennie at 4:29 PM on January 3, 2010

(I checked back in) Tamitang's idea reminded me of another thing that would be great for both, but especially the littlest one.

Take big 2 litre plastic bottles, and stuff a few small toys or objects in them (choking hazard-size) through the neck, and then fill them up a bit more with dried beans or peas or corn, enough to cover them, and tape the lids back on with duct or packing tape so they're very securely shut. My daughter used to spend a long time making noise with them, but also loved to roll them around to expose the toys inside. Also, this was great fun, and I think we'll do it again now that she can do some of the work and while glitter is the thing: http://www.parenting.com/activity-parties-article/Activities-Parties/Crafts/Ocean-in-a-Bottle (or this recipe:

Fill the bottle about 1/2 full of water, add blue (just a few drops) of food coloring, shake to turn water blue, fill the rest of the way with cooking oil. Seal and glue lid! You may also want to add shells, fish, glitter, etc before sealing.)

A similar idea is to make an "ocean in a bag" Place a small amount of blue toothpaste (and GLITTER!) in a snack bag (or like me, a whole tubeful in a freezer bag) seal it (tape it with packing tape too, if you're mess-averse like me), and let the child spread the toothpaste out by rubbing the bag, and you can put small rubber fish or other not-too pokey ocean creatures in there. Or put fish stickers on the inside of the bag before the toothpaste, covered with packing tape - though sometimes they'd peel off.

And the three year old might love to spend some quality time with a sheet of bubble wrap.

Also remembered - make ice cream with snow (lots of recipes online! - or look up freezer bag ice cream)! And use coloured water in spray bottles to "paint" the snow. And, one thing we did - "rescue" an injured snow ball from the wild, keep it for a while in the freezer, then let it go to join its friends (depends on temperaments at your house).:

Make butter in a jar. You can make nice flavoured butters too, like honey-butter. http://frugalliving.about.com/od/foodsavings/r/Homemade_Butter.htm

And I just remembered this site that I'd found before the holiday break: http://stepbystepcc.com/snowman.html

And last thing I'll add (tonight) - frosty or foggy windows are great fun to write on. If you have to make it happen with a teakettle, so be it!
posted by peagood at 8:42 PM on January 3, 2010

Once you decide what to do, lay out your calendar with the next 90 days on it, and put those things on it again in about 30 days and then again 30 days after that. You don't need 90 days worth of stuff - repeat the good stuff at intervals and it all seems new again. Or it will start to seem like a tradition for your kids (every winter, we do XXXX and it's really fun).
posted by CathyG at 9:33 PM on January 3, 2010

Kids at that age can be huge fans of familiarity and repetition. Try out the great ideas in this thread and afterwards ask what they'd like to do again. Going out to see things and socialize mixed in with at home activities make for an even balance. Now is also an opportunity to set in good habits such as enjoying reading and doing chores.
posted by beardlace at 3:51 AM on January 4, 2010

thank you so much for all the great replies here - there are some wonderful ideas....too many to list but especially liked the idea for the book traps peagood! there are some useful links listed here too. I think the kids are going to be a lot less bored...
posted by SueDenim at 2:18 PM on January 5, 2010

« Older Beach combing   |   recommend me some sci/tech websites please Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.