Ways To Keep The Kids From Going Stir-crazy Over Winter Break

School entertains our children all fall long, keeping their minds and bodies active. Winter break can be a welcome respite from such a structured existence, but eventually our children start bouncing off the walls and driving us crazy. Here are 10 ways to make the holiday season a memorable and enjoyable time for the whole family.


Rough-and-tumble play is valuable for young children, particularly little boys. Think of yourself as a coach in allowing your child to test strength and delight in the notion of being powerful, while modeling fairness, self-control, and empathy. Animal studies show roughhousing stimulates neuron growth in the cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, which aids in memory, language, learning, and logic. You can try a gentle “pillow fight” on a carpeted surface, allowing your child to lead the play session and “win.” You might pretend you’re dinosaurs, superheroes, or classic movie monsters for added fun.

Plan a Treasure Hunt.

Keep your child’s analytical problem-solving skills sharp by creating a simple Treasure Hunt. Place the first clue somewhere easy to find – like in a cereal bowl or on the bathroom sink. Each riddle should describe a place to check for the next clue. Instead of giving your child a prize at the end, you may consider leaving coins at each location for your child to put into a piggy bank at the end. Another option is to make a list of items for your child to find in the house.

Play with Stuffed Animals.

Every household with children ends up with dozens of stuffed animals. But what to do with them all? Winter break is the perfect chance to get these “friends” involved in the family’s affairs. Just 10-15 minutes a day of solo play with a stuffed animal boosts confidence in toddlers. Or you may want an excuse to join in the fun. Options include:

  • Set the timer and hide a group of stuffed animals for your kids to find.
  • Place the animals in “perilous” locations to have your child “rescue” them.
  • Get out play jewelry, doll clothes, and Halloween costumes for a pet fashion show.
  • Let your child put together a fancy tea party or a casual picnic.
  • Play “nurse,” while your child runs a pet hospital to cure the sick or injured.
  • Have your child take his or her plush camping – with tents, singalongs, and s’mores.
  • Get in the holiday spirit by “wrapping presents” for the stuffed animals.

Play Balloon Games.

You’ll be amazed at how long a game of “Don’t Let The Balloon Touch The Ground” can continue. You might want more than one balloon to challenge older kids. For two or more kids, you can set up a “net” with a string attached to two chairs for a game of Balloon Volleyball. The physical activity burns off excess energy, while improving arm strength and hand-eye coordination.

Make Cardboard Box Cars.

This time of year, there’s bound to be a few child-sized boxes around the house. In fact, a particularly large box can be more fun than what’s inside it! Parenting Magazine offers an easy tutorial on fashioning a box into a car. Give your child markers or paints for decorating to keep them busy a while. Later on, your kids can take their cars to “the drive-in” for a family holiday movie. (In a pinch, laundry basket cars will do!)

Check Your Local Library

Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the house for a minute. The library is a classic place to find free entertainment. You can make a game of it for older children by asking them to find: a nonfiction book about winter holidays; a magazine of winter crafts; a book about a snowman; and a funny holiday book. Many libraries have puzzles and other quiet toys for kids to explore. Some host events. This month, the Hampton Library is hosting a number of free activities, including Minecraft building clubs, toddler story time, play-a-palooza, winter decoration making, and slime science experiments.

Give Them A Job To Do

We tend to think of kids and chores as mutually exclusive, but giving your children a meaningful way to participate means they are no longer competing for your attention. You know that madness that takes hold just before dinner? Have your kids help you cook and marvel at how you’ve avoided the chaos. It might take you twice as long to fold the laundry or sweep the floor, but you’re teaching a valuable skill and boosting their confidence. Research shows that young children who routinely do chores are more responsible, better able to deal with frustration, and delay gratification – all of which contribute to greater academic success.

Send Them Outside

Children are safe to play outside as long as the wind-chill is 32 degrees and above. In temperatures 13 to 31 degrees, indoor breaks should happen every 30 minutes. Once the kids are bundled, you can suggest one of the following activities to them:

  • Use Mr. Potato Head accessories to make your snowman.
  • Bring baking supplies and dishes outside for a “Snow Ice Cream Parlor” or kitchen.
  • Have a good old-fashioned snowball fight.
  • Build a snow fort or igloo.
  • Fill plastic spray bottles with cold water and food coloring for “snow painting.”
  • Use criss-cross sticks and pine cones to play Tic Tac Toe in the snow.
  • Make snow angels or bring your cookie cutters outside to make tiny snow prints.
  • Take a snowy hike to appreciate the beauty of winter, topped with hot cocoa.

Let Imaginations Run Wild With Clothespin Animal Crafts

You won’t need much artistic ability to create an adorable plaything. Have your child draw an animal, alien, dinosaur, or favorite TV/movie character on a piece of construction paper or card stock. Cut out the image. Cut off legs if they’re drawn in and replace with clothespin legs. You can also design a scene for the creatures to interact with using a large piece of cardboard. Paper bag puppets are always a big hit, too, if you’re short on clothespins.

Bake A New Holiday Tradition

Some kids look forward to making a gingerbread house each year. If you’re really ambitious you can do it from scratch using a dozen ingredients and icing, gumdrops, licorice, and peppermints for the decorating. You can also purchase pre-made gingerbread house kits if you’re just into the assembling and decorating part. If you want a more edible annual tradition, try Kris Kringle cut-outs. Add a couple drops of anise to the dough and the frosting for a hint of unique holiday flavor. Invite cousins or friends over for a frosting and sprinkle decorating party.

Still not satisfied? Get more winter break ideas here or stop by and see us at the Children’s Museum of the East End for winter camp activities geared toward ages 3-6.

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