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Family life

How to Beat Cabin Fever this Winter

The best ways to beat the winter blues and do something fun and hands-on

How to Beat Cabin Fever this Winter

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Cabin fever may not be an “official” disorder or illness, but many experience it. Because of the shorter days and cold temperatures, we feel bored, uninspired, and even a little down. And we parents know that cabin fever is a very real thing: ask any mom or dad of stir-crazy kids who are stuck indoors, and they’ll testify that cabin fever most definitely exists.

I’ve been there. Since becoming a mom, I have racked my brain and scoured the internet for years, looking for the best ways to beat the winter blues and do something fun and hands-on. Here are some ways to keep your sanity during the wintertime.

Activities to do as a family

Snow builds

Gather the whole family, wear that winter gear, and get building. The possibilities are endless:

  • Make a family of snowmen
  • Mould a few snow animals
  • Build a cool fort
  • Use empty square or rectangular containers to fashion bricks and make two huge snow walls for the ultimate snowball fight

You can even put coloured water in squirt or spray bottles to add colour to your creations.

Board game tourney

We all have umpteen board games. Have each family member choose their favourites and hunker with blankets and snacks for the ultimate gaming battle. What will the prize be for the winner?

How to Beat Cabin Fever this Winter

Carnival games

You can try and create actual carnival-like or, to simplify things, look up on the internet “minute to win it games.” You won’t believe how many options there are with simple items that can be found around the house.

Next-level movie night

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Make your next family flick one to remember by watching a great movie in a tent (challenge the kids to make it). Or, one of our favourite movie night pastimes is bringing a mattress into the living room (and who knows – maybe it will lead to a family slumber party, too).

Check out your local library

I’m always amazed by how many kids I meet who have never visited their city library. We love ours – my 10-year-old son has his own library card, and we spend hours poring over our finds afterwards. Don’t just get stories or read books – think about getting a cookbook (to try something new in the kitchen), comic books, craft books, travel books, and more.

Go swimming or skating

My son thinks it’s so fun to go swimming in the wintertime. Most cities have indoor pools as well as skating rinks. They usually have many time options; some even rent the necessary equipment. Pack a lunch and make an afternoon out of it.

Theme days

These days can give some structure and creative guidance on cold, miserable days. The choices are limitless, but we’ve done: “yes” day (proceed with caution and set some ground rules), pirate day, space day, doggy day, explore different countries (so Italy day, for example), or make it summertime in winter (crank the heat, put umbrellas in your drinks, pack a picnic lunch, and play with Kinetic sand, which you can make by using one part olive oil to four parts flour). Ask your kids for theme day suggestions, too – they can get creative!

Food adventures

Go on a shopping trip to a local or even an international market and find a few new things to try together. You or your kids will discover a new favourite food!

Volunteer

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There are lots of organizations that need things that can be made at home. For example, in Montreal, Bread & Beyond collects sandwiches for people experiencing homelessness every day, so we often get an assembly line going at home and commit to making anywhere from 25-75 sandwiches. It’s a great way to pass the time and learn a lesson in gratitude, too.

Cook and bake

Kids love playing in the kitchen. Whether they’re little and you give them some basic pie dough to play with (you can buy ready-made dough in the refrigerator or freezer sections of the grocery store), or they’re a bit older and you task them with chopping and helping prep a dish, everyone will have fun and take great pride in what they make.

Solo activities

Make a map

My son came up with this activity: we got a long sheet of paper and dropped piles of rice on it, then traced around the piles. When we removed the rice, we were left with a cool “map” where kids could name their own countries plus colour and decorate it.

young boy drawing a map and filling it in with rice on a long piece of paper on the floor Credit: Jenn Cox

Book time

Challenge your kids to make their own book. Younger kids can draw or paint a picture book, while older kids can work on their comic books.

Lego challenge

Google “Lego challenges,” and you’ll find loads of inspiration to challenge your kiddos with their favourite building blocks. A few easy suggestions: make a maze, a catapult, or a zipline; try and build certain animals, or create a working balloon car (build a vehicle with a small area at the back to put a balloon, blow it up, and then release it so the air that comes out pushes the car forward – so fun!).

Science play

Make a science lab

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This was, and still is my son’s favourite activity. We do this outside in the summertime, but in winter, you can do it at the kitchen table (cover it with a plastic tablecloth) or in the tub (for easier cleanup). The basic ingredients of any well-stocked science lab are baking soda, vinegar, coloured water, Polident fizzy tabs, and dish soap (the clear green kind looks like slime). Make sure to put out lots of spoons, small cups, bowls, etc.

Make a boat

We did this a few times – the object is to make something from things around the house that can float. Who can build the biggest one?

home made boats sitting on a table Credit: Jenn Cox

Make an egg drop

Remember these from school? They make for a fun family competition: who can create something that will cradle an egg well enough to be dropped and not break it?

Plant something

The whole process can be fun: painting the plant pots, planting the seeds, making garden markers, and maintaining them. Plus, it’s nice to have something alive in the house in the wintertime.

My favourite reads

There are tons of incredible books that kids and parents can enjoy together. Given that I’m a parenting journalist, I’ve read a lot (and I mean a lot) of books over the years. Our favourites are:

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Narwhal and Jelly: This hilarious duo gets into all kinds of antics in this graphic novel-style series of books. I read the Narwhal parts, and my son is always Jelly.

Cross-Section books: These educational books give young readers a comprehensive inside look at everything from the human body to castles, vehicles, and so much more. They have incredible illustrations and are super interesting.

The Disgusting Critters series: Kids love gross things, and this series explores common pests like flies, worms, head lice, toads, spiders, and others. Learn about their disgusting traits while gaining a new appreciation for these critters.

Choose Your Own Adventure books: Remember these from childhood? Whether you read the older ones (which you can often find at a library) or get updated versions (there are some great Scooby Doo-themed ones), these will spark friendly debates and lively discussions.

Guinness Book of World Records: Every year, we get the updated one for my son for Christmas, which can usually be found at the library. They’re cool to flip through with kids of all ages – you’ll learn something new with every read.

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Would you rather or joke books: These are great conversation starters, and everyone loves to laugh at some funny jokes and riddles. These are a must-have in every child’s library.

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Jenn Cox is a freelance journalist in Montreal and the mother of an 11-year-old. She loves crafts, gardening, and spending time with her family, including their doodle, Toby. 

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