By Heidi Joline
Cold winter days, snow falling and early darkening nights. The long winter months are perfect for fun indoor activities. I will start by saying I do normal monthly themes with my charge, but I like to go past the same old activities and add an additional level of learning and education. With that said, I will share a few winter activities that my charge and I work on in the winter months.
In the winter months, one of the activities I like to do with my charge is light/dark and shadows. With the sun going down earlier than the summer months, doing light/dark and shadow activities seems to go hand in hand. One fun activity we do, is getting multiple flashlights of different shapes and strengths, go into a darkened room and look at the different light beam shapes. This is a good time to ask open-ended questions like, which light is bigger or brighter? What happens when we cover a light? And so on. Slowly turning each one on and then off. It is even fun letting them dance across the ceiling and walls (put on some great holiday music and just dance with the lights). While flashlights are on, find shadows. Hands and fingers make great shadows, of course. But what about our own bodies, favorite toys, blocks, and even family pets. Again, this makes a great time to discuss open-ended questions such as, which shadow is bigger? Is one flashlight beam better at making shadows? Does holding the light closer or farther away change the shadow shape?
Another great activity that deals with light/dark and shadows is a lightbox (better yet a DIY one). Lightboxes are an excellent way to foster imagination and creativity, as well as math and science. A super easy way to make a DIY lightbox is to get a clear Tupper made bin (large enough to have a work surface), cover the bottom or top (some bins have opaque tops) with a white tissue paper and white Christmas tree lights. Of course, the plug will need to stick out, unless you can find bright white battery lights. If you have younger charges, this will need to be supervised. Tada, you now have a light box. For the colored pieces you can use colored glass rocks or magna-tiles even tissue paper cut into shapes and laminated. During the winter months, I make winter shapes like snowmen, trees, and presents out of tissue paper, tape and contact paper. The best part, besides all the learning and fun, clean up is easy! Pack everything in the Tupper made bin and store away till you take it out again.
Another easy activity for those indoor winter days is wall activities. I make mine, so I know what I am getting and really, isn’t it always better handmade? Wall activities can be helpful in transition times of the day and encourage independent play and creativity. With my charge I like to attach clear contact paper to the wall, sticky side out. In a small bin I will put cotton balls and cotton rounds. Leaving this out for my charge to use this activity when she feels the need. My charge can stick the balls and cotton rounds, take them off and try to reattach. Felt is another great medium for wall activities. For my charge, I make winter wall activities. A nice tree that can be decorated as they see fit (all felt ornaments and shapes for the tree). They can even create a large snowman with felt buttons, boots and hat. Like I said earlier, these activities are great for independent play by just attaching to a wall or door. Make sure to have a bin, basket or bucket for the felt pieces (or cotton pieces). This helps encourage clean up and keeping the pieces in the proper place.
Still stuck indoors due to the winter months? How about stacking activities. Boxes are coming in left and right (sometimes multiple times a day at my nanny house). Use those boxes! Re-tape them (heck even wrap them), and you’ll have large sized blocks that are perfect for stacking, building and using lots of gross motor skills. You’ll be able to build a fort, a tall tower, or even a wall to knock over. While this can be an excellent independent activity, you can easily turn this into a counting, measurement, or shapes activity. My charge loves to put items in order by size. With so many different shaped boxes, this helps her mind run as she figures out which box is big or little or medium. We try to stack big to little and also little too big. I find stacking is a great winter activity because we are stacking snowmen (well ours are art ones because we don’t have snow), but my charge knows that a snowman has a big circle, a medium circle, and a small circle. So, building and stacking boxes (and blocks) is an expansion of the snowman.
How can we expand on the big, medium and small shapes even more? How about cooking! With my charge, we cook together daily. I try to have one or two big cooks or bakes each month, if not more. Cookies are an easy, no fuss way to create small, medium and large. It can be homemade or store-bought (though I prefer the homemade, so my charge can see the process of cooking). Rolling the dough into balls helps with fine and large motor skills, hand coordination and sensory. Some of these cookies may end up inedible, but it’s all the learning process. If there are edible ones left, then your charge will see a skill from start to finish. Art, of course, can play a big part in big, medium and small. Gluing circles for snowmen or triangles for trees. Will your charge start with a big one or a small one, it really doesn’t matter? The result is whatever they create, upside down tree and all.
Like I said earlier, I create a monthly theme for my charge and within that theme, I add developmental skills she will need later. One such skill we work on is reading left from right. My charge is just 3, so while she recognizes words, reading is not yet there. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t work on it. I started this activity with my charge when she was about 18 months. I place 2 small bowls on a tray the left one full of cotton balls (we call them snowballs in the winter months). For this activity, the right bowl is empty. She has to move one cotton ball at a time from left to right. I leave certain tools on the tray, spoons of all sizes, pinchers, and forks. She can use her fingers too. Once all the snowballs are moved left to right, she turns the tray, so the full bowl is on the left again, and the process repeats itself. While this seems like a boring task, it is really helping her learn to go left to right (as we do in reading), discovering tools can be used to aid a process and using fine motor (especially with the pincer tool). Some days this activity can be 25 minutes while other days it can be 5 minutes. No matter what there is learning, even in the shortest of times played.
Sometimes being stuck indoors during the cold, dark, winter months isn’t so bad. Especially with fun activities that get the whole brain and body working, thinking, creating and exploring.