Do you tend to lose touch with your friends and neighbors during the cold winter months? Instead of meeting at the park or playing in the backyard, your kids are more likely to be huddled inside in front of the Playstation. Moms and dads are still getting together for book club or card games, but the spontaneity of a pick-up game of basketball is buried under the snow.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Invite your friends and family over for some fun, whether you choose to hibernate inside or glory in seeing your breath on a frosty day.
Live out a holiday song
Take an actual sleigh ride dashing through the snow. On Sundays in January and February, the Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton offers family sleigh rides. If there isn’t enough snow, ride in a horse-drawn wagon and pretend.
"Sleigh rides are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis," says Matt Trynoski, facility manager. "But families who are waiting are served coffee or hot chocolate in our barn and get to observe our volunteers working with the horses."
Cost is $5 per person for ages 12 and up, $2 per person for ages 5-12 and children under 5 are free.
At the Lincolnshire Community Nursery School, teachers collect snow from the outside and bring it in for fun play.
"We put snow in the water table and let the kids get their hands in it to build snowmen," says Pam Volpentesta, director at the school. "We also use it for a science lesson on melting."
Take this great idea and use it in your home. Dump some snow in the bathtub or the sink. Let your kids play without dealing with the biting winds of a Chicago winter.
Are you missing the warm weather while your kids are aching to go outside and play? Try to trick your mind by pulling out the kids’ beach toys. Gather pails, shovels, sand molds and beach balls and bring them all outside for some fun in the snow.
The same toys that give your kids hours of fun in the sand will give their imagination a chance to flourish. While your kids are remembering how much fun their summer toys are, you can sit by a fire pit on your patio, keeping warm.
Not tired of talk of the 2016 Olympics yet? Hold your own Olympics in your house. Mimic your favorite events. Love gymnastics? Hold a somersault competition. Can’t get enough golf? Play pee-wee golf with a broom, cups and balls. Love watching ice skating? Put on some slick socks and glide over hardwood or vinyl floors.
Make your own score cards with computer paper and a black marker. Be liberal with the perfect 10s.
Help your kids channel their inner Michelle Kwan or Wayne Gretzky by donning a pair of figure skates or hockey boots and gliding on the ice.
Make sure to only skate in designated areas and never ever allow your children to skate on ice that isn’t certified as safe. Have fun at rinks all over Chicagoland like the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park in Chicago. Your best bet locally is to contact your local park district, which maintains all information on safe outdoor rinks.
If you’re stuck in Chicago until spring break or summer vacation, spend some time pouring over travel brochures. Pick warm destinations and immerse yourself in information. Let the kids suggest day trips or restaurants or attractions. Slip in a little geography lesson by getting out the road map to plot your trip.
Can’t afford a vacation this year? Envision your dream vacation. Always wanted to go to Bangkok or Paris? Have some fun with your kids by researching the locales on the Web and absorb a little culture along the way.
Feel the need for speed?
Take your older kids out to the nearest sledding hill for a fun afternoon of high speeds and excitement. Nothing is more exciting than a fun afternoon of sledding.
Don’t have a good sledding hill nearby? Not a problem. There are many hills around Chicagoland to quench your thirst for thrills. Or head downtown to Soldier Field for a great view of the lake and the city while sledding on its 33-foot-tall hill.
Older kids might scoff at anything that doesn’t have to do with video games or the Internet. Why not make one of their secret wishes come true? Turn your kid in to a rock star. Download karaoke music for their favorite song and sync it up to their iPod. Set up the video camera and let them rock out to their heart’s content. Your son could be the next Chris Daughtry or your daughter could let her inner Beyoncé shine.
Host a video premiere later that night. Turn off the lights and turn up the stereo.
After a freshly fallen snow, step outside and discover which animals are still active by looking for tracks. A treasure hunt designed for the observant child, tracking can teach them about which animals are running through their backyard or their local forest preserve.
Bethany Storm, mom and environmentalist, loves taking her daughter, Maggie, 2, outside to look for tracks. "We follow bunny tracks around the yard and have looked for deer and coyote tracks in the forest preserves," says this Bolingbrook mom.
If you’re not sure what you’re seeing, take a quick side trip to the library and check out a book on tracks such as Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks.
Why wait for a big party to put on your best clothes? Encourage everyone to choose their favorite outfit and prepare for a walk on the runway. Or, have them put together the silliest outfits they can imagine. Open your closets for them to peruse. Dad’s ties and Mom’s scarves make great accessories.
Lay down a long rug or roll out a long strip of parchment paper on the floor. Let your kids strut their stuff for family and friends. Take pictures of your super models, print them out and pin them up around the house.
Amy Hausman’s family loves to venture outside, even in the cold, to experience nature. Her children, Katarina, 5, and Christian, 3, even encourage their mom and dad to take them to some of their favorite places such as the Red Oak Nature Center in North Aurora, the McDowell Forest Preserve in Naperville and the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
"The kids love going for walks," says this Naperville mom. "We always have encouraged them when outside to learn more about nature, so we seek out things to see—birds, animals, types of trees or flowers to keep their interest and it’s more than just walking. We stop, look and listen around us when we go for walks, especially when we are on a path in the forest preserve or a park."
Snuggle up with books
On those dark, gloomy days when everyone is tired, curl up with some books. "Find a cozy spot or make one out of pillows and gather your family together," Volpentesta says.
Before heading outside, make sure you have the proper gear for each member of the family. Check for hats, gloves, scarves, coats, snow pants and boots. Put on a couple layers of clothes and socks for a start. Make sure younger kids have gone to the bathroom before putting on the snow pants or you may be racing to strip him after only a few minutes outside. It’s best to have outerwear that repels water because your kids will become chilled much faster if they are wet.
"It’s important for kids to be outside in the winter as well as the summer," says Kathy Johnson, Morton Arboretum Children’s Garden manager. "We believe contact with nature is important year round."
Snow’s on the ground and the temperature is unbearable. You wish you were in the tropics, so create them at home.
Run to your nearest discount party store and buy some themed decorations. Turn up the thermostat for a couple of hours while you lounge about in your swimsuits. Lay on beach towels on the floor in the family room while watching a Hawaiian-themed movie like "Lilo and Stitch" or one of Elvis’ family-friendly classics. Cap it off with a cool glass of lemonade.
It won’t take long before you’ve forgotten how cold it is outside.
Want to have a snowball fight, but it’s so cold outside? No problem. At Lincolnshire Community Nursery School, kids can have snowball fights no matter the weather. They simply ball up white socks and let the kids toss them.
"Go to a basement or an open area so nothing gets damaged," Volpentesta says.
Don’t want to use your socks? Crumple up some old newspapers for a gentler version in tighter spaces.
Bundle the kids up and head outdoors for some classic winter fun. When snow is a little damp, it is perfect for making snowballs and forts. If you have a full weekend, schedule some time with your neighbors for a snowball war.
Spend the first few hours building the forts. Later in the afternoon, make the snowballs. Be sure to use them the same day. Snowballs left out overnight may freeze and hurt when they hit your kids.
Host a fun fight and then bring everyone inside for hot chocolate by a warm fire.
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. She loves nothing more than curling up with her kids and a good book on a cold winter day. Visit her on the Web at www.michellesussman.com.