You wake up to a glorious winter wonderland of snow and ice—except it’s the fourth, fifth or ninth day of it this winter and you and the kids are climbing the walls. Not only that but, while the first snow days were fun, you have stuff that needs to get done. Whether it’s work deadlines that won’t wait until spring thaw sets in or the realization that bathrooms can get exceptionally dirty when in constant use, life happens, and snow days have a way of messing with that flow.
That means that you’re caught in the mom-guilt spiral. How do you keep life running smoothly without resorting to massive amounts of screen time (no shame, by the way—my younger son was hooked on a souvenir video from a whale-watching expedition and it got heavy rotation during the snows of 2011) or losing your mind? Here are a few sanity-saving measures that will banish your mom guilt once and for all.
1. Sculpt it out If your kids love tactile activities and you’re sick of homemade play dough, you can step it up and attempt slime (but beware that many slime recipes contain borax and boric acid, which can be dangerous for younger kids if they put it in their mouths). A sheet of Jell-O or pudding, along with a few cookie cutters, can also keep kids busy for longer than you might think (and it doubles as a snack!). Or you can take a page from a teacher’s playbook and hand over a large Tupperware container filled with shaving cream. (Say what?) Shaving cream is a great kinaesthetic tool—not only can it be used for sculpting but kids can also practice writing in it, erasing and starting over with the swipe of a finger. (Look, they’re learning!)
2. Take it to the bank Have a jar of coins you’ve been collecting and wanting to take to the bank? Here’s your chance to get them wrapped for free. Many banks will give you coin wrappers and you can put your budding financial wizards to work counting out nickels and dimes and wrapping them. If your littles are too young to handle coins, just about any sorting activity will do. My kids used to enjoy pairing socks and didn’t realize that I was making them do the laundry. Oh, the good old days.
3. Let it rip Any old magazines you’ve got hanging around will accomplish this activity nicely. For older kids, you might give them a topic or prompt (find all the B-words and tell me a story about your best day ever). Younger kids will just enjoy pretending they’re Animal from The Muppet Show and getting to tear paper up without getting in trouble. Pro tip: Glue sticks are easier to manage than liquid glue, and if you love yourself at all, don’t even think about handing them rubber cement.
4. Gimme structure Do your children like playing school? You can make that happen! Activity pages and other printables give kids a sense of order, which can sometimes feel out of balance on these days that deviate from the normal schedule. Ask your kids what they want to learn about and print those sheets out for them in abundance (you’ve got hours of entertaining to do here). My whale-watching son informed me that he wanted to learn how to write in cursive, so guess what’s waiting for him the next time we’re snowbound? Pro tip: You’ll want to plan ahead for snow days, so ask your kids right now what interests them and print off the sheets. The last thing you’ll want is for a storm to hit and the printer to be out of ink.
5. Embrace family time OK, maybe this one is cheating a little because someone is watching your kids for you, but getting grandparents and other relatives on Skype or FaceTime is a win-win. The kids are occupied and supervised, family members are getting to enjoy some quality interaction, and you’re able to finish that project/put in that load of laundry/use the bathroom.
6. Play around with stop motion Find a short YouTube tutorial on stop-motion animation—like this one—and get ready for some film-making magic. More artistically inclined auteurs can draw their subjects, but this works equally well with dolls, stuffed animals and Lego Minifigures. All it takes is the patience to plot out the movement they want to achieve on a storyboard or list and execute it through many (read time-consuming) individual images, which they will ultimately link in one long sequence. If you have an old digital camera lying around, this is the perfect use for it. Further distraction: Kids can showcase their efforts at an end-of-day screening.
7. Find a penpal Do you remember having a penpal when you were little? Snow days are an excellent time for your kids to start writing to faraway friends. Technology has changed the concept somewhat, but you can still opt for the old-fashioned, handwritten letter—though email works, too. Help your child find a good fit—this site is reputable, but you’ll still want to keep a close eye or maybe choose a family friend or a buddy from camp—and use these suggestions to get started. This activity pairs well with a mug of hot chocolate.
8. Go on a scavenger hunt Kids love the thrill of the hunt, and if you can find the right one, it can keep them occupied for a long time. Outdoor hunts in the backyard are, of course, glorious (find a pine cone, stick, bird in the sky), but if the weather doesn’t permit or if you don’t want to bundle the kids up, you can keep it going inside as well. There are lots of great pre-made scavenger hunts on Pinterest that you just have to print out. A fun hunt for young readers is to have them search for specific quotes from favourite books (no Googling allowed, of course), but this one takes some preliminary prep work on the parent’s end. Or challenge your sports, dinosaur or science enthusiast to find a bunch of fun facts about his or her favourite things and use them for a family trivia challenge later in the day.
9. If it’s going to be a screen… Sometimes you just can’t avoid the screen, so at least make it some quality learning time. The Canadian Museum of History, the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum and the Tate have resources curated just for kids. From activities to virtual tours, you can at least justify that they’re learning while looking and you can enjoy some glorious vacuum time.