The cold temperatures have arrived for those in the northern hemisphere, which means a seemingly endless number of freezing, dark evenings lie ahead (at least here in the Midwest, where winter can quite easily last into April). While my family loves the change of seasons, the gorgeous fall colors and the chill in the air, we do not love being outdoors with young children on cold nights. I, for one, am tempted to curl up with a blanket and a cup of tea on the couch and reach for the remote … every night.
Our default activity on free winter evenings (which are getting scarcer every year as the kids get older) is watching TV. And, in fairness, there are some great shows and movies that are fun to watch and provide a relaxing way to spend an evening together. But I don’t want us always turning to the TV as a first choice when we have a few free hours.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind next time the family is home together for the evening. These options are not only fun, but encourage communication too – something that is often lost in the digital era.
There are so many options in this category that it’s easy to find something appropriate for any age range. Young children love fun, classic games like Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land. Older kids love more challenging games like Monopoly, Battleship, or Sequence. In our family, which includes both older and younger kids, my husband and I find that the younger kids enjoy sitting with us — our 4-year old roles the dice for me – even when we play a game that is “too old” for them.
I did not grow up playing cards, but my husband did, and I’m always a little amused at how much our kids enjoy them. From Go Fish, to UNO, Kings in the Corner, and Cribbage for the older kids, here again there is a game for every age.
Most kids have a natural interest in food and food preparation, and love helping in the kitchen. An evening spent baking cookies or experimenting with a new recipe, especially if it is connected to a holiday, birthday or upcoming event, can be a lot of fun. And, bonus – the kids also develop valuable life skills, becoming adept in the kitchen!
There is something about cold, dark evenings that make some of us want to nurture our reclusive tendencies, and huddle under blankets until spring. But it’s worth it to resist that urge and plan times to get together with family or friends. This includes making it possible for our kids to spend time with their friends. It’s good for them and for us, and time spent interacting with others can help lift wintertime blues. Interestingly, a recent study shows that for people struggling with depression, talk therapy can be as effective as anti-depressant medication for helping lift depressive symptoms.
When’s the last time your family flexed their imaginative muscles by traveling together to a different time and place – mentally? Reading aloud to young children comes easily because they cannot read for themselves, but there are significant benefits to reading to older kids as well. It’s a great activity for family bonding. Being read to helps older kids continue to grow their vocabulary and literacy skills, and it exposes them to authors and genres they may not encounter on their own. Need some reading suggestions? Literacy-promoting websites like https://www.readbrightly.com/ or https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews offer book suggestions and reviews.
I’m not saying you should ask your kids to clean the house this Friday night. But working on a specific project together – say, repainting a bedroom, fixing a broken item, or building something he or she has an interest in (woodworking? a sound system? a forgotten model?) — can be educational as well as help to give them a sense of accomplishment in learning to do something new.
As a busy parent, I know it’s easiest to just turn a movie on when there is free time. And sometimes that’s a great option. But there are other good options too, which offer different benefits on cold winter nights. Whatever family activities you choose, have fun together!
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