By Jean Ann Berkenpas

Dressing up in funny hats provides some entertainment.

With the mercury dropping down to -40C last week, many families were stuck indoors. My family is one that spends a big part of our day outside, so we were strained everyday to find things to keep entertained and active in the house. Here are a few fun things our family does to keep occupied with a toddler during those cold winter days.

When a snow fort or tree fort is inaccessible due to cold, build a fort or camp out indoors. Sure, the living room will get turned inside out, but the entertainment value is high enough to justify it. Couch cushions, chairs, and blankets all provide good building materials. Alternatively, pull out the backpacking gear and set up the tent indoors.

Being housebound can impact parents as much as children, and finding a way to move together can do wonders to reduce conflict. Putting on a yoga or indoor workout video can provide a movement break for everyone, but be prepared to improvise a little. Airplane rides might have to do double duty as acroyoga moves.

Family dance parties are also a great outlet for built up energy. Crank up the music, and get moving! Kids might even want to drum along. Any drum will do, the Tupperware and cooking utensils seem to do the job well.

Cooking together is also a lot of fun, albeit a bit messy. Cookies are a favourite in our house, but anything with shared jobs and the potential for taste testing or a spoon to lick will likely be a hit.

An alternative to baking is to make play dough together. Use food colouring to make a rainbow of colours. Then have fun shaping, rolling, and mashing it. It will keep for many uses in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Older kids might prefer to play with oven bake polymer clay, which comes in vivid colours and will harden like ceramic when baked in a conventional oven.

Arts and crafts can be a big hit. Finger paints and crayons can entertain little ones, and watercolour paints or a good colouring book will satisfy artsy older kids. Papier-mâché is messier and more involved, but kids might be excited about making a piñata for their next birthday party.

If regular hide and seek is no longer a thrill, turn off all the lights and arm children with flashlights. Hide-and-seek-in-the-dark can be played almost anywhere, and it makes all the old hiding places new again.

Inside days are one good reason to hang on to those Halloween disguises, wedding outfits and Christmas concert costumes. Dressing up is one way for kids to engage their imaginations. My child has also taught me that the best costumes are sometimes found in the closets we use everyday. Parents’ sports wear, dress shoes, and hats are just as much fun as a puppy costume or monster mask.

How did your family survive the cold snap? Write in or send photos of your favourite ways to stave off cabin fever.

Play Dough Recipe:

Mashing, cutting and shaping play-dough to pass time indoors.

(shared by Lisa Feldman)

1 cup water
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon oil (olive works best – or coconut)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar (or lemon juice)
2-4 drops essential oil of your choice, if desired

Mix the dry ingredients together, and separately mix the wet ingredients together. Then combine all ingredients in a pot and stir over low heat. Adjust the amount of water to make the play dough softer or harder. Stir over low heat until it all comes together, and then remove from heat and knead until the consistency is smooth and uniform. It comes out better with the essential oil and the cream of tartar. Have fun with it!