Although the 2015-2016 snow season is off to a slow start in these parts, odds are high that local schools will be closed at least one day this year due to snow or other wintry weather.
If a giant delivery of the fluffy stuff drops in the DC area, and your child’s school has to close, there’s hardly any doubt that sledding and snow-figure making (e.g., something active and outdoors) are among the best ways to spend part of the day.
But what to do when faces get cold and fingers get wet? What are some fun and (gasp!) educational activities kids will enjoy when trapped indoors on a snow day?
We’ve assembled a few ideas below. Most require only a few household supplies and imagination, but some need or would benefit from an advance purchase or two.
Be a Chef
Bake cookies: Pretty classic stuff here! Simple sugar cookies need only seven ingredients, most of which you probably already have. Here’s a good recipe for a basic sugar cookie dough, as well as links to other easy cookies. Or, easiest of all: include a roll or two of cookie dough on your next shopping list and stick it in the freezer as snow-day insurance!
Make flavored popcorn: So many possibilities, from Brown Butter-Lemon to Za’atar! Just keep some unflavored popcorn (microwave or heat cooked) on hand and pick from one of these FIFTY recipes or others on the web. Bonus: your kids can package some up to deliver to housebound neighbors.
Build a gingerbread house: This is a more involved project needing more ingredients, but lets older kids use a bunch of different skills. And, it can be a great cooperative activity among older and younger siblings. Here’s one recipe for a gingerbread house, but there are many others out there.
Build Coding Skills
Hour of Code: Almost anyone can learn the fundamentals of coding using code.org’s awesome selection of drag-and-drop courses, several of which build a basic approach to coding in just an hour! Themes include Star Wars, Frozen, and MineCraft, all of which are appropriate for kids ages six (6) and up.
Hopscotch/PocketCode/Scratch: Do your kids want to take their drag-and-drop coding skills to the next level? Two free apps and an MIT website offer really neat opportunities. For the iPad, Hopscotch is the place to go. For Android, try PocketCode. And, for a web-only option, check out Scratch. All offer many options for making ever more sophisticated projects.
MineCraft: This is the granddaddy of them all. Build whole interactive worlds using MineCraft, for mobile, desktop, and game consoles. And, depending on what version you have, kids can interact over the internet with each other in the same MineCraft world. (Prices start at $6.99)
STEM Activities for a Snow Day
Robot kits: Pre-purchase required, but you can do some pretty wild things combining these kits with objects usually found in your house. A place to start is 4M’s Soda Can Robug: it’s a simple “robot” project for kids eight (8) and up that uses a recycled soda can for the robot body. This is definitely something to buy ahead (along with required batteries and maybe a can or two) and keep in the closet. Many other kits are available.
Geology kit: Likewise, there are some incredible geology kits available to have on hand just in case. You’ll have no problem finding a good one, but another 4M option that is popular is the Crystal Mining Kit. Kids five (5) and up use simplified tools to “dig” for crystals in a plaster “rock.”
Kitchen chemistry: Who wouldn’t want to marry chemistry and food? In fact, most of our best cooking is completely reliant on chemistry! Help your kids learn more about science through food items in your house: there are tons of great ideas on this site, including something as simple as a Rainbow Density Column that needs only sugar, water, food coloring, and a glass.
Start Some Art
Paper snowflakes: This is a Lowell School favorite! We have lots of these all over our house. And, if there are snowflakes outside, you need (paper) snowflakes inside! The variations are endless, but here are instructions for a “3D Paper Snowflake in Four Easy Steps!” Just make sure you have paper, tape, scissors, and a stapler on hand.
Build a sculpture from household items: This one is more interactive and can be team- or competition-oriented! Send everyone on a foraging hunt for 10 minutes in different rooms. Then have them use whatever they bring back to create a story or a sculpture.
Build a house of cards (not that kind, the OTHER kind): This works best with a few decks of some well-worn playing cards, but (with determination and maybe some Vaseline applied to the edges) it can work with a brand new set of cards too. Card house building teaches a variety of planning and engineering skills, can be appropriate for almost any age, and can be cooperative or competitive. Check out this step-by-step guide for building a card house.
Become an Author
Write a fortunately/unfortunately story together: Build a story using actions and reactions. For example: "Fortunately, there was snow last night. Unfortunately, school was cancelled, so we went sledding. Fortunately, we found a large hill to sled on. Unfortunately, it was covered with ice and we slipped and rocketed off course into the air. Fortunately, our sled sprouted wings and we flew into the sky. Unfortunately, we lost control as we flew higher. Fortunately, we landed in a tree. Unfortunately, the branch started to break . . ." You get the idea. Let young imaginations run wild!
Graphic Novel: Watch out, Stan Lee! Cut out pictures from magazines and have your children use them to create their own graphic novels. Or, cut out words or phrases from magazines and newspapers and put them together to create found word poems. Requires magazines, glue or tape, paper, and some imagination!
Change the World
Start a petition: Honestly, I’m about to start one of these, and there’s no reason your kids can’t too! Ask your kids about a social wrong or inequity they think should be changed, have them craft the case for change, and then visit change.org or standunited.org to start a petition. You never know where it might go.
Write an Op Ed: Aside from creative writing, there is probably no greater skill in writing than persuasive writing—and the op ed is king here! Maybe it won’t get published in the Washington Post, but ask your kids what issues they care about, get them to do some research, and make a case in writing for why the world should change. Submit it to the Washington Post or the Washington Times and see what happens!
Make Some Music
Tune the Glasses: Playing various notes with wine glasses, each filled with different amounts of water, is an amazingly cool way to make some music. This is best for older children, but young children can do it, too, with some adult supervision to make sure the glasses don’t get tipped over. For guidance, check out this link to “Making music with wine glasses.” An alternative is to fill some water glasses with different levels of water and tap on them with table spoons!
Play in a Band: For those of you with iPhones, iPads, or Apple computers, you probably have access to GarageBand, a digital music kit with all kinds of instruments. For Android, try Walk Band. Challenge your housebound kids to put together a song that sounds like snow or skating or a snowstorm!
We hope these ideas help you make the most of the next snow day. And, if you have more ideas, please add them to the list below!