It can be survived!

Parents don't have to get all flaked out about being stuck in the house with bored children, as long as they keep a few fun ideas at the ready. FOCUS ON FAMILY

January 20, 2002|By Peter Jensen, | Peter Jensen,,Sun Staff

At this time of year, two words can strike fear into the heart of any parent.

Snow Day.

You know what happens. A little frozen precipitation falls, and no sooner can you say "Time to shovel the driveway" than the weatherman is gleefully reporting school cancellations far and wide.

Suddenly, parents of grade-schoolers find themselves cast as cruise directors in their snowbound love boats. Sorry, Julie, but Captain Stubing reports the passengers are bored, bored, bored.

What you need are some new ideas to keep the youngsters happy. The first step is to stock up on some basic supplies long before the snow arrives.

Alexandra Kennedy, editorial director of FamilyFun magazine, suggests parents keep a closet shelf stocked with art supplies, items like pipe cleaners, paints and clay, that their children don't play with regularly.

"It's just smart to put away some fun things you don't hand your kids every day," she says.

Having yeast and flour on hand means breadmaking is one alternative. Sugar and peppermint flavoring can turn your home into a sweet shop.

Even something as ordinary as baking potatoes can be made into art supplies -- if you cut them in half. Let your children carve the exposed, flat surface of the potatoes into dies for stamping out designs. Just supply ink and paper.

"The important thing is to try something unconventional and fun," says Kennedy. "Sometimes, kids just need an inspired idea to get them started."

Not all the play has to take place indoors, of course. Playing in the snow doesn't have to involve the same old snowmen and snowball fights.

Barbara Thomke of Smugglers' Notch Resort in Jeffersonville, Vt., a family-oriented ski resort, suggests keeping a couple of guidebooks around the house and identifying animal tracks in the back yard -- or trees in the neighborhood.

Then there's always "track tag": Participants first run around to make tracks. Then they play tag but can run only in the existing tracks.

Another Smuggler's Notch game worthy of imitation is the "Ididasled" competition. Teams take ordinary materials that can be found in most garages -- old inner tubes, cardboard boxes, plywood and twine -- to create sleds and then send a dummy (or perhaps a doll or stuffed animal in the home version) hurtling down a hill to see whose sled is fastest.

Child development experts say snow-day activities shouldn't be seen as a parental obligation. They are an opportunity for a family to have fun -- and strengthen relationships.

"It can be about rebuilding the strong connection between parent and child, something that can kind of slip away as children get older," says Lawrence J. Cohen, a Boston psychologist and author of Playful Parenting (Ballantine Books, 2001). "You can always catch up on what you miss from school. You can't catch up with what you miss from family."


Still hard-pressed to think of some fun things to do with your children on the next snow day? Here are some more ideas:

* Organize an indoor picnic. Spread out a blanket on the living room floor and invite the stuffed animals to join you.

* Call for a board game championship. Divide the family into teams and compete in a series of games from Twister to Monopoly for ultimate bragging rights.

* Create a seed collage by gluing different colored dried beans, seeds or pasta to a piece of construction paper.

* Keep a box of old dressy clothing, and have the kids dress up and create their own short play to present by dinner time.

* Run out of clay? Here's a recipe for homemade modeling dough: Combine 1 1 / 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1 / 4 cups salt, 1 / 4 cup water and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. When the children finish making their models, stick the results in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. They'll dry rock-hard and can now be painted.

* A spray bottle filled with water and food coloring can turn the snow into a giant canvas for your aspiring artists.

* Rod-shaped pretzels can be used to create wilderness cabins. Just start with a small cardboard box (lunch milk cartons are the ideal size) and stack pretzels around the outside to form a log home. Your "glue" can be made from confectioner's sugar and water.

* Catch and observe snowflakes in their native habitat. You'll need some black fabric or construction paper and a magnifying glass to see the crystals up close. Discover whether it's really true that no two are alike.

* Make treats for the birds. Use cookie cutters to create shapes from old slices of bread. Smear the results with peanut butter and dip in bird seed. Let harden and hang from trees.

* Create a holiday memento box. Just take a box with a lid -- a cigar box is ideal -- and use glue or a glue stick to attach a collage of cutouts made of wrapping paper and ribbon. A helpful hint: Decorative edged scissors, available at most craft stores, will make the job easier.

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