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Cures for Cabin Fever

Creative ideas for housebound parents and children.

Winter brings frigid temperatures, icy roads, snow and often school closures. While sledding and building snowmen are fun, hazardous weather conditions mean much of the time is spent indoors, and soon the novelty of time off can become cabin fever. Local child education experts offer activity suggestions for filling those long winter days.

Susan Friedman, executive editor for digital content at the National Association for the Education of Young Children and a Bethesda resident, suggests parents encourage a child’s natural curiosity. "In the same way that school classrooms have activity centers, parents can create boxes that focus on different activities like playing dress up with clothes, hats and neckties," she said. "You can create a box with art supplies and a box with games or puzzles."

"Try cooking and really let the children cook," said Bethesda-based psychotherapist Katie Cogan. "At least let them do the majority of it like crack the eggs and you do the dangerous stuff that involves the oven."

Cogan recalls a time when she tried this with her own children. "One of my daughters is 23 and she still remembers it," she said. "When my daughters were five-and-a-half, we spent a full 45 minutes learning to crack an egg without getting the shells in the bowl. We went through a dozen eggs and they were laughing so hard."

Make use of gift packing from holidays or birthdays. "Using leftover boxes, tape and ribbon, build and decorate skyscrapers," said Shannon Melideo, Ph.D., associate dean, School of Education and Human Services at Marymount University in Arlington. "Yes, they may play with the boxes from the holiday gifts longer than the actual gift. We just need to admit it and feel good about reusing all those cardboard boxes, paper and ribbons one more time before we throw them all away. It’s math, patience and creativity rolled in to one."

Create games using items already in your home. "There are all sorts of bowling or tossing in a cup games using soft balls," said Melideo. "Bowling is great because it requires the ball to be tossed low across the ground. It is a physical activity and requires some concentration and some physics. The distance and the objects being ‘bowled over’ can be personalized by age and skill level. It’s extra fun to put pictures of family members or cartoon characters on the pins to knock over."

"Using cube-shaped boxes and self-adhesive vinyl pockets make dice," said Melideo. "Write words, names, letters pictures on sheets of paper that can be exchanged in and out of the clear pockets to personalize a dice game for various ages and skills sets."

Young children may be able to spell a word with three rolls of dice says Melideo. "‘A-C-T,’ those letters can spell cat," she said.

Friedman says National Association for the Education of Young Children's For Families website (http://families.naeyc.org) is a good resource for parents. "The website offers families lots of ideas for at-home activities that support children’s learning and development, many of which would be great ways to engage children during the winter months when school might be cancelled or the weather makes it hard to go outside," she said.

One example, said Friedman, is to "make and play with musical instruments. To make a simple shaker, put dried beans between two paper plates and staple the plates together. Find rhythm sticks outdoors. Use pan lids as cymbals and march around the house."

Puppet shows incorporate creativity and imagination as well. "Family members can take turns performing their original puppet shows with bought or made puppets behind a bought or made puppet theater," said Melideo. "For those who have a hard time making up a story, a favorite story can be read as the puppets act it out."