Indoor fun for everyone

Sleigh bells are no longer ringing, snow is well past glistening and the mere suggestion of walking through a winter wonderland forces you to rethink refinancing your home so you can book that Bahamas vacation. Enter February: The month synonymous with groundhogs, valentines and, of course, the moment you’ve reached the end of your cold-weather rope.

But before you call the bank (a week in the sun sounds divine, we know), consider transforming your home into a unique retreat—a place where you and your tots can eat, drink and be merry while staying warm and, most important, not bored.

These games, activities and ideas will help relieve your family’s indoor agita from now through spring break.

Be mine

‘Tis the season to make valentines—for friends, classmates, neighbors and family members. Rather than buying the boxed variety this year, nurture your own little artist. Our advice: Make this activity a two-part game. First, organize an outing to your local arts/crafts store to stock up on supplies (paper, crayons, glue, glitter, tiny candies, etc). Next, start designing! Help your tot create unique valentines, personalized for each person. Engage him in talk and thought about each person—likes, dislikes, qualities and characteristics—then help him put those words into play.

Tiny chefs

Kids can cook. In fact, most enjoy it even more than we do (sigh!). With that in mind, why not indulge your babe’s creative energy by conceptualizing, creating, then dining on a full-blown, full-scale four-course meal? But don’t fret: when you have a child chef in tow, anything is possible. First course: cut up fresh veggies and arrange them on a plate with two delicious dips (we suggest ranch dressing and hummus, or bean dip and guacamole). Second course: grab a box of your tot’s favorite crackers (we recommend Melba Snacks or Wheat Thins), then add cheese to each square and top the delight with a small dollop of tomato sauce. Third course: boil noodles (let your kid choose the variety, from penne to elbows, spaghetti to bow ties; you handle the stove) in water. Drain them and add fresh veggies (broccoli, peas, green beans, corn, carrots) and a drizzling of olive oil. Top with cubed grilled chicken (use the already-prepared, packaged type available in the produce or dairy section of your grocery store). Fourth course: slice and bake oatmeal cookies—but add raisins or dried cranberries before baking. Then sit down as a family to dish on the goods—and your day. (Note: depending on the age of your children, divide jobs based on skills and safety).

Camp in

S’mores. Reading in the dark. Singing songs. Sipping cocoa around the fire. Lovely, indeed, but when temps drop too low to make this vision viable, bring the excitement of an outdoor adventure inside instead. Make your own tent using a sheet and dining chairs (these double as a sheath to drape the sheet and a way to hold the tent in place, too). Once the tent is built, turn out the lights and fill your new abode with camping essentials: a flashlight, books, puzzles, canteens filled with cocoa and graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate to build your own sweets. Music, such as a guitar or sound makers, is encouraged. Sing, sip, s’mores! (Guaranteed to keep the kids occupied for a good few hours, maybe even as an overnight sleepover, too.)

Book worms

Help your kindergartener (and older) become her very own author: it’s an amazing afternoon activity for kids old enough to write. All you need: colored construction paper, pens, stickers, hole punch and string (which will be a binder in the end). Brainstorm together to create a theme or topic for the book. Encourage your child to tap into her"outside the box” side; nothing is off limits. Then begin writing. Use different colored paper for each page and add stickers here and there for fun. When the book is finished, use the hole puncher and string to make a whimsical binder. Your child will be so proud. Bonus idea: make a special bookmark for the keepsake.

Halloween in February

Dressing up is always fun for boys and girls alike. Why not host a dress-up party with neighborhood tots or school friends? Ask every guest to bring his or her favorite"storybook,” character-themed outfit (think: Disney, Dora, SpongeBob, Bob the Builder, Backyardigans). Also, suggest that each partygoer bring along a snack that follows the theme with the chosen costume. Then, when everyone arrives, play games the characters themselves would play (for example, Elmo might sing songs and dance; Dora might take another pal on an adventure). Moms can take cute snapshots, kids will delight in the day (and memories).

Robin Immerman Gruen is a freelance writer in Chicago, who plans to spend her February inside playing with her daughter, Charlotte.

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