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10 fun activities to avoid winter break boredom

December 20, 2016 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Crumpled balls of wrapping paper; delicious holiday fare; and happy kids with new gadgets, games and gizmos.

These are a few of my favorite things.

This year, with Christmas and New Year’s Day both on weekends, there may be many parents who are fortunate to have the full week off at the end of December. I know I am grateful and looking forward to it.

But I also know attention spans have limits. My children, ages 6 and 8, flit from activity to activity and generally do a good job of playing together nicely. But after a few days of no school, there are no guarantees. We’re also a family that likes to be outside as much as possible, however, Upstate New York’s weather in December is a like a box of chocolates…except with more surprises and no chocolate.

I expect after a few days of merriment and recovery, we’ll have to bust through that front door and head out on an adventure or find some fun family activities for foul weather. Our collective sanity may just depend on it.

So what is there to do?

For answers, I turned to some experts (and added a few suggestions of my own).

Ten Tips for Fun Activities over the Holiday Break

1. Don’t try to do too much

This may sound a little counter-intuitive in a discussion about fun activities, but it makes a lot of sense.

Valerie Doliver is the secretary to the superintendent/district clerk at Unadilla Valley Central School, which straddles the border between Otsego and Chenango counties. Doliver is also a mom with some great ideas.

“Many parents are so busy, myself included, we tend to try to fit too much in,” Doliver said. “The day after Christmas we have started a new tradition of having a Pajama Day. That’s right – PJs, movies, snacks and a much needed winter’s nap.”

2. Family game night

There’s a pretty good chance that someone in the family got a new board game or card game as a present. This is a great opportunity to start a new family tradition – Family Game Night, according to Doliver.

“It’s fun and free,” she said.

Board games and card games are also a great way to beat the bad weather blues. Many parents are concerned about screen time and good, old-fashioned games are an alternative for fun and learning. Some of my favorite memories from childhood are marathon games of Yahtzee played with my mother and rounds of gin rummy with my grandmother.

3. Sledding, tubing or ice skating

Doliver’s next tip is one of my personal favorites. Sledding, tubing and ice skating can often be done for free or very little cost.

Sledding parties can be a lot of fun and are best when they involve tasty hot cocoa. All you need is a sled, the pull of gravity and a small camping stove.

When it comes to ice skating, the goal is to avoid the pull of gravity.

For those in or near the Capital Region, one of the premier places that offer free skating is the Empire State Plaza. Skate rentals are just a few dollars. Many other communities also have outdoor skating rinks.

In some areas, tubing at ski resorts can be done for relatively low cost. Depending on where you go, you might be able to avoid the walk back up the hill when you finish your ride.

If you are anywhere near the Catskills, this article has some information on where to go. But there are places large and small throughout the state that offer tubing.

4. Get your body moving

Sometimes the weather is just too nasty to be outside. But Susan Brennan has some ideas on what to do. The kindergarten teacher in Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District is also a busy mom and she suggests finding a family-friendly Zumba or yoga class.

Area YMCAs may be a good place to look. But for something a little closer to home, Brennan has a suggestion.

“There is a website called Go Noodle that encourages dance/movement,” Brennan said. “My students love the brain breaks during the day. They love to move.”

Go Noodle offers “tons of running, stretching, dancing and mindfulness videos” that can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home without having to brave the snow, ice and cold. And you can sign-up for free!

5. Take a cooking class with your children

Cooking and baking seems to be becoming a thing for children. One of my daughter’s favorite TV shows is “Cupcake Wars,” and lately she has mastered scrambled eggs. Brennan said she would love to take her daughter to a cooking class or two over the holiday break.

Even though the holidays are typically filled with food and generate lots of leftovers, families still need to eat and the remains of that scrumptious holiday meal won’t last out the holiday week.

A cooking class may be a good way to get your children out of the house. They can pick up some great knowledge – not just about cooking, but also about math and science. But if you can’t find a class, Pinterest may provide some ideas. In a Thanksgiving-themed Parent Today article in November, we provided some great tips on cooking with kids.

6. Volunteer for a good cause

The holidays are a time for giving. But just because Christmas has passed, doesn’t mean that opportunities to help are over. Brennan said volunteering as a family is a great way to spend some time over the holiday break. She suggested animal shelters, soup kitchens or senior centers.

As the New Year opens, it’s still cold and dark outside and two and four-legged friends may need a helping hand.

7. Go bowling

When I think of bowling, I think of “The Big Lebowski,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Flintstones.” I also think of my parents bowling in weekly leagues, birthday parties for friends and some pretty fun times growing up.

The nostalgia gives me the warm and fuzzies.

Recently, I have seen a few news articles about resurgence in bowling, albeit a small one, particularly among millennials.

My children have never been bowling, but I am willing to bet they would love it just like I did at their age. It may be tricky to find a place to go though. The number of bowling alleys in the United States has declined from a high of about 12,000 in the mid-1960s to about 4,000 in recent years.

8. Swimming

Yes, swimming. But I don’t mean a polar bear challenge where you jump through a hole in the ice. There is something that just feels great about swimming in a nicely heated pool in the winter. Many YMCAs have pools with family swim hours for members and non-members alike. It’s a great way to get some exercise or just soak in the 80-degree water.

But if you do feel up for some icy water, the annual Lake George Polar Bear Plunge is Jan. 1 and the event attracts more than 1,000 people each year, including whole families.

9. Visit local libraries and museums

For this tip, I turned to New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia.

“Looking for something fun and educational to do over winter break? Visit your local libraries and museums,” Elia said. “If you’re in the Albany area, the New York State Museum holds numerous educational programs throughout holiday vacation week, and this year’s theme is the Ice Age. Check out the Museum’s calendar of educational programs and activities for more information.”

How much fun would it be to go ice skating at the Empire State Plaza and then scoot on over to the New York State Museum and learn about wooly mammoths?

If you are near the Capital Region another great bet would be the Museum of Science and Innovation in Schenectady, where winter is a busy time.

Danette Carll is MiSci’s director of education, and she said there is special programming for kindergarten through 8th grade planned for both the holiday and the winter break, Feb. 20 through Feb. 24. More information can be found here.

MiSci also has a planetarium and the Challenger Learning Center.

If you aren’t in or near the Capital Region, don’t fret. Many communities have great public libraries and museums that have programming for children.

10. Get out in the woods

This is my favorite tip. Winter is a great time to be in the woods. There are many places where you can do a short hike with children this time of year without needing snowshoes or skis. It’s nice to pack a backpack with a small camping stove and some hot cocoa.

If you are feeling more adventurous and your children are a little older, there are cross-country ski centers in the Adirondacks that do ski and snowshoe rentals. Closer to home, your local town parks are often a great bet.

There are many winter birds and critters active in the woods this time of year. Finding animal tracks and having your children guess what made them is always fun.

Whatever you choose to do, have fun and build some great memories with your children. This is a great time of year to have an adventure or just relax.


Jake Palmateer is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. He is the father of a 6-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. Their adventures include camping, hiking, metal detecting, painting, stargazing, reading, fishing, soccer, mowing the lawn and baking cupcakes.

Copyright ©2016 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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