Snow may blanket the landscape, and chilly temperatures may require bundling up, but cold weather doesn’t have to turn families into couch potatoes or force them into hibernation.
“Winter’s a real challenge for families because you can’t go boating or spend the day together at a park like you can in the summertime,” says Alexander Kennedy, editorial director for Family Fun magazine. “But there are still plenty of fun things you can do to bring your whole family together even when the weather is less than desirable.”
Whether you’re in the frigid Northeast or the fair weather Southwest, winter and all its trimmings offer opportunities to get creative outdoors, rediscover a new place or activity, or huddle up indoors and spend time together. Consider the following ideas:
Around the hearth
Staying inside needn’t mean sitting in front of computer keyboards and television screens.
“I like to think of ways the whole family can get involved in an activity, and I’m all about celebrating a family’s heritage,” says Donna Erickson, author of Donna Erickson’s Fabulous Funstuff for Families and host of the American Public Television show Donna’s Day. Erickson recommends getting together for nostalgic storytelling. “Have a tape recorder or video camera handy and ask different members of the family to tell their stories about growing up, family vacations, or their accomplishments,” she suggests.
The best thing about this activity is the tape you have 20 or 30 years later, Erickson says. “Something that was a lot of fun one afternoon becomes a priceless family treasure later in life,” she says.
Homemade food still brings families together, especially if it’s around an old-fashioned taffy pull (see recipe opposite page), she says. “There’s something about doing something so traditional that makes it fun,” Erickson says.
An indoor picnic, with a checkered tablecloth, cold fried chicken, potato salad, pickles, and chips, also can beat winter doldrums. “Wear summer shirts and hats and play a beach music CD to set the mood,” Erickson says.
Games also provide hours of entertainment, Kennedy says. “The traditional board games we enjoyed playing when we were kids, like Monopoly, Scrabble, or Boggle, are some of the best ones still,” she says.
Arts and crafts are staple to “stay-inside” days, and everyone can participate, no matter their skill level, Kennedy says. Children can be creative with pipe cleaners, buttons, scissors, glue, and what have you. For adults, winter is a great time to take on projects that can range from building a wooden ship model (fine kits are available at hobby stores) to a homemade table.
Enjoying the great outdoors
When cabin fever sets in, the best solution is to bundle up and get out of the house. A twist on summertime activities such as taking an evening walk with flashlights or blowing bubbles at night is novel and fun, Erickson says. “When it’s cold, the bubbles, will just sort of float around,” she says.
She readily shares her own bubble brew recipe: a cup of dishwashing detergent, 2 cups of warm water, 3-4 tablespoons of glycerin, and a teaspoon of sugar. “You can find different bubble makers, like a six-pack ring for super bubbles or a spice jar lid for tiny ones. It’s something the whole family can get in on.”
State and national parks frequently offer winter programs and events. Participate in a snowmobile ride or ice fishing derby in South Dakota, take a winter safety workshop in Utah, explore South Carolina’s wildlife through winter walks, and cross-country ski in Maryland. Check community newspapers for local activities or see what your local parks have to offer.
While ice and snow rule outdoor fun in Northern winters, relatively mild winter weather in the South enables families to do what it may be too hot or humid to do in summer. This includes backpacking, canoe trips, croquet, fishing, and such. Build an evening campfire and toast marshmallows. A family afternoon spent bowling or at an ice rink can be fun no matter where you are.
But you may have to go no farther than your own yard to have fun. Getting the whole family outside to build a snowman can capture the feeling of togetherness.
“Last year, our family went out and built a snowman for the first time in years,” recalls Shari MacDonald Strong, a writer in Portland, Ore. “I had forgotten how much fun that was to do together.”
Looking for new ideas for snow fun? Kennedy suggests building a snow sculpture, then mixing various food coloring with water in spray bottles to “paint” it. Or “spray paint” a playing field in the snow for a rambunctious game of powder puff football.
Or try a new approach to an old favorite—angels in the snow—and turn it into a family project. Last winter, Jami McClellan, mother to three daughters in Borger, Texas, took various types of birdseed, evergreen branches, and multicolored dried beans and corn, and made a mosaic snow angel. “The girls have already asked if we can do it again this year,” she says.
Off the beaten path
Winter months provide opportunities to discover, or rediscover, activities such as high school basketball games, community theater, or museums.
“The idea of taking a Saturday and exploring that bed and breakfast that’s also a farm is great,” Kennedy says. “It’s something you wouldn’t necessarily think of doing as a family, but it turns out to be a great day of rediscovery.”
Not-so-typical destinations can turn out to be a bonanza of fun. Pam Smith, who oversees the family activities at the 20-acre Hicks Nurseries in Long Island, N.Y., puts together programs in which families build birdhouses together, plant seeds, paint flowerpots, and grow worm farms.
“It’s important to get back to nature and work with living things,” she says. “That’s what we try to encourage here.”
Most independently owned garden centers around the country are family conscious, says Nancy Montgomery, director of industry and public relations for the American Nurseries and Landscaping Association. Discover what’s available in your area by looking in your telephone book under “Nurseries” or “Garden Centers.”
Community theater not only celebrates hometown talent, but attending a play is much more of an “event” than a movie. Check your local newspaper listings, or go to www.americantheaterweb.com for a listing of theaters and review of shows playing throughout the country, including your area.
Consider an activity that’s fun and educational such as visiting a local science museum or art gallery. You just may spark a budding astronomer or painter. And these are the kinds of outings kids will remember.
“One of the best things about these kind of outings is building traditions,” Kennedy says. “Saturday can turn into ‘go to the library day’ as a family. That’s why it’s so important to make the most of the winter months.”