If you were a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books as a child, you might recall “The Long Winter,” which takes place in De Smet, South Dakota, during the winter of 1880-81. Frequent blizzards made it impossible for trains to get to the town with supplies, and food and fuel became scarce. The family survived for weeks on scarce potatoes and brown bread made from wheat ground in the coffee grinder.
The challenges the family faced make us realize how grateful we are to live in a place and time when we are not paralyzed by excessive snowfall – though we admit the polar vortex has made it a bit less enjoyable for us to be outside in recent weeks. Recalling “The Long Winter” also makes us think about simpler times, and how ditching electronics for some old-fashioned fun can add memories to any winter day.
We will confess we used electronics to gather our ideas, but we’re ready to set them aside now for some family fun. Here are some of the ideas we’re going to try to survive our own long winter:
In another of Wilder’s books, “Little House in the Big Woods,” Laura and Mary make snow candy. We found a recipe on the Little House Books website. Check out the “fun and games” tab, which has craft ideas and other recipes to try.
Add a little science to your week with a melting ice experiment. Put an ice cube in each of four bowls. Add one tablespoon of salt to one, a tablespoon of sugar to a second, a tablespoon of water to the third, and nothing to the fourth. Have kids guess how long it will take for the ice cubes to melt, and guess which one will melt fastest. Set a timer and check back in about 10-20 minutes. Talk about what happened to the ice cubes – and explain that’s why plows use salt, not sugar, on icy roads!
Birds need high-fat food to help weather the cold temperatures. Make bird feeders by covering toilet paper rolls with peanut butter and rolling in bird seed. Or, make suet ornaments for the birds. The National Wildlife Foundation has this easy-to-make recipe.
We’re so used to microwave popcorn, we’ve almost forgotten the fun of popping it on the stovetop. You’ll want a tablespoon or two of vegetable or canola oil for a half cup of popcorn. Pour oil into a wide-bottom pan and add a few kernels. Turn stove to medium heat; when the kernels pop, add the remainder and cover the pan. (Some recipes suggest adding popcorn to the oil/popcorn mixture before popping. We haven’t tried this method.)
Shake gently until popping slows significantly. Be sure to remove the pan lid when the popping finishes so the popcorn won’t get moist from the steam’s condensation on the lid. Be careful when removing the lid, as unpopped kernels can shoot out of the pan – and they’re hot! Top your popcorn with ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted; add salt to taste. You can also try other toppings, such as parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning mix. Check out popcorn.org for more recipe suggestions.
Looking for some more indoor fun? Devise a “spy” game and send kids on a mission to decipher secret clues that lead to a prize (maybe those popcorn ingredients?). Seal the clues in envelopes that say “Top Secret.” Create a maze of “laser beams” by running painter’s tape between the walls of a hallway. See if your young spies can make it through without touching any of the beams.
Get creative and have fun! (See below for suggested clues for your spy mission or treasure hunt.)
Finish the day with some hot chocolate. Drink it while reading “Snowmen at Night.”
Try a new twist on an old favorite with white hot chocolate with homemade chocolate marshmallows. We’re going to try this recipe from Parade magazine.
- Wondering how birds survive frigid winter temperatures? Check out How birds keep warm in winter.
- Spoonful.com has fun craft and activity ideas for winter.
ABOUT THAT SPY MISSION IDEA
Here’s a set of six clues we used for a recent mission:
Spies on a mission
Hand clue #1 to your child.
1. The snow started falling, it’s piling high. You want to have fun, and you give a big sigh. You need to get out there, it’ll be a real hoot. If only you could find your snow pants and …
(Clue #2 is hidden in a boot.)
2. You’ve scraped your knee, you’ve scraped your shin! Wow – this is no shape to be in! Cover it up, cover it quick. Colorful or plain, take your pick.
(Clue #3 is hidden in a bandage box.)
3. It’s late at night, everyone’s asleep. Not even the dogs are making a peep. You’re feeling restless, some super characters are calling. This is how you can do some sleep-stalling.
(Clue #4 can be hidden in a book about superheroes.)
4. Feeling hungry? Need something to eat? Here’s where you might find a cool sweet treat.
(Clue #5 is hidden in the freezer.)
5. You’re feeling tired from running around. Your sweaty shirt has got you down. It’s time to cool off and get nice and clean, so here’s a place where you’ll likely be seen. (Well, hopefully not actually seen.)
(Clue #6 is hidden in the shower.)
6. You’ve spilled some water on your shirt oh-so-blue. It’s time to fix this situation, it’s true. Where can you go? What can you do? You’re getting warmer – and your shirt is, too.
(The final prize is hidden in the clothes dryer.)