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Indoor Madness: Easing Cabin Fever

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After my daughter Anna was born, we took her out for a stroll on her second day home. But then the Montana winter arrived  -- virtually overnight  -- bringing screaming winds, arctic temperatures, and foot after foot of snow. A few days inside quickly started to feel like a week, and when a week passed, I was sure I hadn't gone anywhere in a month. On particularly grim days, I can remember feeling as if my daughter had become my unwitting jailer.

Three long winters later, we've stored up plenty of tactics for being inside together for days on end. Our annual winter cold snap in January has afforded us some of our greatest family memories. Here, five basic strategies we keep in mind whenever we find ourselves housebound:

Barbara Rowley is writing a book about activities for babies and toddlers.

1. BREAK THE RULES

When the weather is already ruling your family's life, you might as well loosen the restrictions inside to compensate. Nothing cheers a child like the prospect of eating dinner on the floor, using every pillow in the house to make a cushiony mountain, or getting really messy  -- on purpose.

THE HUMAN CANVAS

There's a reason your kids are always drawing on themselves. They really, really like it. You'll be the family hero if you cheer up the day with a designated body-painting session, scheduled, not coincidentally, right before bath time. Babies younger than 18 months  -- who already cover themselves with food  -- don't usually appreciate the novelty of this activity.

MATERIALS

  • Face or washable paints
  • Soft brushes and sponges

HOW TO DO IT

Cover the bathroom floor with towels, get out your paints, and strip down to your bathing suits or diapers. Now decorate each other's bodies using brushes and sponges dipped in paint. Instruct the kids not to paint their own or each other's faces  -- you'll help them with these finishing touches to make sure that no paint or paintbrush gets near the eyes. (If you don't have face or washable paints, you can make your own: Mix together a few drops of food coloring and a mild body lotion or cream, for instance.) Fill the bath while your kids paint, and then, when their masterpieces are complete, take a photograph and hit the tub.

THE SNOWBOX

Kids (even babies and toddlers) love snow. So when it's just too cold and nasty to go out and play, why not bring some snow in the house?

MATERIALS

  • Large bath or beach towela
  • Plastic baby bath or dish tub
  • Snow
  • Plastic spoons and measuring cups
  • Cookie cutters
  • Paintbrushes
  • Washable paint

     

HOW TO DO IT

First cover the kitchen floor with beach towels; then step outside and fill your plastic tub with as much clean snow as you can quickly scoop up. Place the full tub on the towels. Babies as young as 9 months will enjoy stirring, scooping, dumping, and making shapes with the snow in and out of the tub. They'll also like painting the snow with paintbrushes and washable paint, a messy, mix-it-up experience that allows them to learn about color firsthand. At 2, Anna painted snow with great concentration. After she colored and mixed it sufficiently, she spent an equal amount of time slicing up the painted snow with a plastic knife. The point? Who knows? But she thought it was fun.

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