A virtual PSD art teacher shares fun ways to keep the kids occupied during winter break.

By Laurel Thompson

The last month of 2020 is finally upon us, bringing a sense of relief from what has been a taxing year, to say the least. But while many of us are busy coming up with New Year’s Resolutions and making post-holiday plans, parents still have one major obstacle to overcome before popping the champagne: finding new ways to entertain the kids over winter break.

Let us begin by giving kudos to every parent who has made it this far in the era of virtual learning, social distancing and business shutdowns. Maybe you’ve had to send your child to daycare in a mask, or you’re doing the teaching yourself while working from home. And we’re betting you’ve found reason after reason to say no to playdates, sleepovers, birthday parties—the list goes on.

Rest assured parents, you’re certainly not alone. Sara Harris, 14-year Poudre High School art teacher turned PSD virtual instructor, is one of many who have been juggling the new roles of parenthood and she has plenty of advice to share:

“I feel for parents because I myself have been working through the pandemic at home, teaching virtual classes while my two kids are running around in the background,” she explains. “You really have to get creative about how you adapt and find ways to occupy your kids without dismissing them or making them feel like a burden. It’s unrealistic to have the same work structure as before the pandemic, so we have to find time in our day to give them the attention they need.”

So, what will parents do to entertain their kids when virtual school is out, playdates are (mostly) off-limits and holiday travel is a no-go? Harris has a few tricks up her sleeve if you’re running out of ideas—and want to limit your kids’ screen time—this winter break.

If you’ve been doing most of your shopping online since the early days of the pandemic (let’s be real, who hasn’t?), odds are you have tons of Amazon boxes lying around, just waiting to be recycled. Instead of taking up all the space in the recycle bin, Harris recommends hanging on to those boxes for your kids’ ‘boredom moments.’

“I’m always really impressed with what my kids can do with an empty cardboard box, some markers and a pair of scissors,” she says. “My son is really into cars, airplanes and rocketships lately, so we’ve been looking up examples online of how to make them with the boxes we already have at home. My daughter also likes to make little houses for her stuffed animals using the smaller cardboard boxes, so there really is a use for any shipping materials you have lying around from online orders. It’s also not just a one-time thing—you’d be surprised how many hours your child will spend playing even after they’re done making their cardboard creation.”

Many families are experiencing heightened levels of financial stress this year, but with more time at home to learn new skills and create handmade gifts, Harris says you shouldn’t feel obligated to spend tons of money on store-bought items this season.

“Now is a great time to get in touch with your creative side, and with so many free YouTube tutorials out there, you can really do anything if you have the time and materials at home,” she says. “That being said, you don’t have to be a total ‘Pinterest mom’ to try new things, because what working parent really has the time to create entire inspiration boards to pull ideas from right now? Just use what you already have, or head to the dollar store to stock up on cheap craft supplies.”

Not sure where to start?
Here are a few fun DIY gift ideas for your family to make together during winter break:

■ Hot Chocolate Jars: Layer with dry cocoa, crushed candy canes, chocolate chunks, marshmallows, cinnamon, sprinkles, etc. Just add hot water and enjoy!

■ Bath Bombs: Kids love science experiments! Mix baking soda, citric acid, Epsom salt, cornstarch, coconut oil, essential oils, etc. and fill holiday-shaped molds to dry.

■ Ornaments: Paint wooden ornaments displaying your kids’ school picture, fill clear glass ornaments with glue and glitter, create snowmen with pompoms and pipe cleaners, etc.

During the winter, Harris’ kids love filling balloons with water and adding small miscellaneous objects (think animal-shaped erasers and plastic spiders leftover from Halloween), putting them outside to freeze, then cutting off the balloons and smashing out all the frozen items. You can also brighten up a dreary winter day by filling a spray bottle with water and food coloring and spraying the snow outside to create colored snowballs, snow forts and snowmen.

But what about traditional winter activities, like going sledding or ice skating at an outdoor rink? If her kids wear a face covering and gloves and keep their distance from others, Harris says these are low-risk social activities she is comfortable with if they are with friends and neighbors she knows haven’t been around lots of other people. At the end of the day, it really comes down to what you’re comfortable with as a parent, so Harris recommends setting those expectations early and finding creative workarounds for things they can’t do for the time-being.

“The main thing I’ve learned in all of this is that kids are much more adaptable than adults are, and they don’t seem to be as bothered by these changes as us,” she says. “As parents we hold ourselves to incredibly high standards in terms of what we provide for our families, when in reality our kids don’t need the newest toys or expensive vacations in order to feel loved and cared for. All they need is a bit of your time, attention and some simple materials to promote their own sense of creativity and self-exploration.”

Laurel Thompson is a Fort Collins native and CSU alum. When she isn’t writing for local lifestyle publications, you’ll find her soaking up the sun, cooking something delicious, or reading a good book while sipping an iced coffee. To comment on this article, email letters@nocostyle.com.