In the small Northern Michigan town of Cheboygan, Katie Mallory’s two children wait eagerly for the snow to fall. They love the winter season and so does their mom.
“It’s a time to feel cozy and comfortable,” she says. Some may bemoan the falling snow, but Mallory has a different attitude: “It’s going to come whether you like it or not — so like it.”
While some parts of the country remain warm and dry year-round, families in northern climates are faced with the challenge of what to do when the weather turns cold in the winter months. Rather than wish the months away, many parents find creative ways to pass the time.
“As a dad, it’s something I’ve had to embrace,” says Andy Hill, family finance coach at Marriage Kids and Money.
If you are looking for some inspiration, here are 12 ideas for winter activities that the whole family can enjoy.
— Snowballs and snow forts.
— Look for free activities.
— Visit the library.
— Stop by your community center.
— Play board games.
— Check Pinterest.
— Try YouTube karaoke.
— Make chores fun.
— Host a toy swap.
Snowballs and Snow Forts
When the snow starts to fly, the easiest way to embrace the season is to put on your winter gear and head outdoors.
“Just go outside and play,” Mallory says. “If you have kids, they will lead the way.”
Making snowballs and snow forts is a time-honored winter activity for kids, and Mallory notes that parents can buy inexpensive snowball shapers and block makers to use in the snow. Snowball shapers look like large plastic scissors with cups on both ends, while block makers resemble the plastic containers used to make sandcastles at the beach.
You’ll need heavy packing snow for this activity — light-and-fluffy snow won’t cut it. However, if you have the wrong snow outside, you could try another Mallory family activity which involves filling spray or squeeze bottles with colored water to decorate the snow.
For another cheap winter-fun activity, look for local sledding hills. Kids — and their parents — get a thrill from whizzing down a snowy hill.
“Sledding is a great free winter activity,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com. “Sleds are inexpensive, and most sledding hills are free.”
If you aren’t sure where to sled, search online for sledding hills near you and read reviews, if available. Look for hills that are free of trees and make sure you aren’t sledding in the direction of any potential hazards, such as a roadway.
Going for a walk in the woods is a great winter activity, and snowshoes make it easier. You may not even have to buy them.
Mallory says the parks and recreation department of her small town has snowshoes available for residents to rent for free. A local state park also offers snowshoes as well as lessons on how to use them.
If you don’t have a free resource for snowshoes nearby, you may be able to purchase them secondhand from some sporting goods stores.
Downhill skiing can be pricey once you factor in equipment, ski lift passes and other expenses. However, Mallory says the school in her area has a downhill ski program that makes it affordable for students. Plus, parents can sign on as chaperones and ski at a reduced rate, as well.
Cross-country skiing is cheaper and isn’t dependent on having ski hills nearby. Inexpensive cross-country skis may be found secondhand at thrift stores or some sporting goods stores. Mallory has also found ski swaps in her area which have helped outfit her children for the skiing season.
Look for Free Activities
There is often no shortage of free activities offered in the winter months by organizations such as chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus, parks and recreation departments and arts councils. Do a search to see what is available in your area.
“You may find concerts, charity volunteer opportunities, parades, ice skating and more,” Dvorkin says. “Some retail stores also offer free crafts and workshops for children all year long.” Home Depot and Hobby Lobby are two stores to try for free kids’ activities, he suggests.
Visit the Library
Not everyone wants to be outside in the winter and, in that case, your local library can help pass the time.
“I think people dismiss the library a little too much,” according to Hill. He says that many libraries have indoor programs, children’s areas and more than just books to borrow.
Mallory echoes the advice to head to the library. Her local branch has a “library of things” to borrow, including bread machines, 3D pens, stamping sets and more. “And you can rent it for free,” she adds. Those items can all help pass the time during winter days spent at home.
Stop By Your Community Center
Although not available in all areas, community centers can be another option for wintertime fun
, Hill notes. They may have gymnasiums, pools or other indoor equipment that can be used by residents for free or at an affordable cost. They may also plan winter activities for families, particularly during school breaks.
Play Board Games
When the weather turns cold and you don’t want to go outside, it might be time to break out the board games. “That can help kill a lot of time when you have kids,” Hill says.
If you can’t bear another marathon session of Monopoly, see if your library has other games that can be checked out. Or puzzles can be a nice break for those who are weary of playing the same board games.
Pinterest can be hit or miss, but it offers no shortage of ideas for winter fun. A search for winter activities brings up a mix of suggestions including arts and crafts, science experiments and outdoor bucket lists.
“I’ve tried some things (off Pinterest) and they’ve worked really well,” Mallory says, “and I’ve tried other things and they’ve been utter failures.”
While her kids aren’t too interested in coloring, they love to make collages out of old magazines. Mallory also keeps a garbage bag full of items such as textured cardboard used as packing material and old, clean bottle caps. Sometimes, she pours out the contents so kids can make their own creations with the odds and ends. Perhaps the best part of these craft sessions: “It takes them hours,” she explains.
Try YouTube Karaoke
If you are looking for something other than a movie night, search YouTube for a karaoke channel.
“We’re a big karaoke family here,” Hill says. While not all his kids like singing, it still ends up being an enjoyable activity that helps pass the time, especially during the winter months.
Make Chores Fun
Chores still need to get done in the winter, and kids can surprisingly be on board if properly motivated.
“I think kids just like to be around their parents,” according to Hill. He recommends putting on some upbeat music to clean with kids or making a game of who can complete certain chores the fastest.
Hill may pay his children a small amount for completing certain tasks. Then, when the work is done, they head to the dollar store or the discount retailer Five Below so the kids can spend some of their riches.
Host a Toy Swap
Another option for free winter fun is to exchange toys with another parent who has a similarly aged child.
“If you know another family that has a lot of toys in their home, host a toy swap,” Dvorkin says. “This is a great chance to get together with friends while the children play.”
Then, kids can head home with some new-to-them toys that will hopefully hold their interest longer than the old items they no longer used.
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