The indoor parenting winter survival guide

Shorter days, longer nights, frigid temperatures with just enough ice and snow thrown in to mix things up, has meant a lot of time inside with the kids this winter season. Sure you can just let them sit around all day playing video games, glued to the computer, or watching TV; but that starts to drive them – and you antsy.

Before you know it, everyone is picking on everyone else, and you’re getting more and more angry looking at the dirty dishes piling up in the sink while the refrigerator is emptying out. No one’s happy, and the entire day is wasted.

That’s when it’s time to turn to your Parenting Indoor Survival Guide. Don’t have one?   Start off with some of my go-to activities and projects, and I guarantee that before long you and your kids will be creating your very own personalized versions.  

There’s even no need to leave your warm cozy house and run out to a craft store for expensive supplies. Most of the projects need little more than the items you already have - plus your family’s imagination and creativity.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking these simple activities are just a way to fill some empty hours. They’re much more. They create the perfect opportunities for you to spend quality time together as a family. The end results are much less about a finished work of art or who won or lost a game. These activities are about building loving strong relationships, developing life-long skills, increasing self-esteem, and learning lots of new things through hands-on experiences.  

Homemade Basics

With generations of kids growing up thinking everything worthwhile comes from a store, show them how easy and how much fun it is to make some basic supplies right at home.

Elmer’s white glue and Play-Doh are terrific, but your children will love making these simple classic versions. Plus, they come without any fancy packaging, are all natural, non-toxic, and the kids will be proud of their accomplishments.

Paste - Simple, No cook recipe

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water 

Add more water if too dry.

Mix together until it’s the consistency of thick cake batter.

Store is air tight container, but don’t make more than you’ll need for the day because it will dry out quickly. 

Play dough

  • 3 c. flour
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. oil

Mix flour and salt. Slowly add water, then oil. Knead, store covered

Baking Clay

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3/4 - 1 cup water

In a bowl mix together flour and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, add water and vegetable oil. Make a well in the dry mixture and pour a little of the water-oil in at a time. Mix well after each addition. Continue until all the water/oil is used. Knead dough until smooth and right consistency. The baking dough must be used right away because it loses its elasticity quickly.

*Teaching opportunities: reading, following directions, measurements, states of matter

Edible Collages (Younger children)

These pictures aren’t meant to be eaten, but the materials are so tempting don’t be surprised when more “supplies” end up in your toddler’s mouth than on his creation.

  • Homemade paste

Assorted cold cereals, pretzel bits, mini crackers – anything little children can safely put into their mouths. Paste food bits onto construction paper.

*Teaching opportunities: This can be a purely artistic activity, or you can easily turn it into a math or reading readiness lesson by drawing shapes, letters, or numbers and having  children fill them in like a mosaic.  It’s also a way to teach about different textures, handling an assortment of media, and focusing on task.

Bread basket, breadbasket

  • Homemade baking clay

Roll clay out to a thickness of ½ inch. Cut into strips about 1 inch wide. Turn ovenproof bowl upside down and place on cookie sheet. Coat bowl with vegetable oil. Carefully cover bowl with dough strips, creating a woven effect if you’d like. Cut away excess dough. Pinch and mold remaining dough so that it fits snugly around bowl.

If you want to achieve a bread-like finish, glaze dough with egg white. If you want to paint the finished bowl, bake without glaze.

Bake at 350 degrees until harden. Check often. When done, turn breadbasket right-side up and pop out ovenproof bowl.

Once it’s done, don’t forget to use it! All that’s needed is a cloth napkin, some fresh bread, and you’re all set for company. I kept my kids’ for years. I even used one as a mail basket. Talk about positive reinforcement.  

*Teaching opportunities: Following directions, fine motor skill development, kitchen safety, telling time

Paper bag hand puppets

  • Plain brown paper lunch bags  
  • Crayons, markers, colored pencils
  • Yarn, paper scrape, bits of cloth, etc.

Remove lunch bags from package leaving them flat and unopened. Doing this creates a natural fold that makes the perfect place to draw the puppet’s mouth and create an illusion the competed puppet is moving its lips.  

Depending upon the age of the children, the puppets can range in style from simple creatures with eyes, nose, ears, and mouth, to complicated works of art.

*Teaching opportunities: Younger children develop fine motor skills, learn body parts. With help from you, they can also bring classic stories like Little Red Riding Hood to life.  

Older children can write, produce, and perform their very own puppet productions for the entire family. Add some popcorn, and you’ve got a special event.   

Yogurt your way

People have been eating yogurt and adding their own personal touches for centuries. It’s so easy and so good, there’s no reason to buy that readymade flavored stuff.

  • Good quality Greek low-fat plain yogurt
  • Let your kids take it from there by adding: fresh or frozen fruits, berries, vegetables, sweeteners, spices, vanilla extract, crumbled cereals, whatever’s in your fridge or pantry that looks tempting.

*Teaching opportunities: This is a great hands-on way to learn the scientific method of Plan Do Reflect. Plan - what add-ins might be tasty, Do – add them in, and Reflect – eat the results and decide what worked and what didn’t. And don’t forget the best lesson of all. As Big Bird sings, “everyone makes mistakes”(one of my favorite songs).  Learn from them and try again.

These suggestions are just the beginning. The possibilities are endless - from creating a child-sized “supermarket” stocked with your empty food containers to creating a found object sculpture made from outdoor treasures like twigs, flowers, and acorns.


Oh, one last thing. It’s a long wait till spring, so why not bring a little outdoors inside by cutting off the bottoms of a carrot or celery stalk, sticking them in a little water, putting them near a window and watching them sprout leaves in anticipation of warmer weather and more sunshine.     

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