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Winter Nights At Home

Playing a BoardgameThe short days of January invite us to "hunker down" and enjoy a cozy evening at home. The calendar seems less hectic after the holidays, and perhaps the children don't have as many after-school activities. This is a good time to schedule a special evening with the whole family. I have fond memories of those winter nights when we would gather around to hear my dad read aloud the latest chapter of one of the Little House on the Prairie books.

It might come with some groans of resistance when your children realize this means no electronics, but it's well worth the effort. In order to get in the spirit, you could pretend that the power is out—and that you have turned back the clock to the early pioneer days when there were no cell phones, television, or electronic games. Before you settle in for your "long winter's nap," gather with your family members—maybe even by candlelight.

First, have a quick, simple dinner. You might all prepare it together, or just have everyone pitch in to serve and eat. It's fun to have a picnic on the floor in the living room—that makes clean up quick and easy, too. Then it's time for fun together!

Ideas for Indoor Fun

Include all the children, and be sure the activities are enjoyable for all ages. Just an hour or two is more than enough time to have a memorable evening. Here are a few ideas:

  • Play some games. Active games such as Twister, Ring Toss, or Charades for Kids are fun for all ages. Board games and card games help children learn rules, take turns, count, etc. Young children often do better playing cooperative rather than competitive games; Seeds for the Birds and Orchard Game are both good choices. Young children who are familiar with the song Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes will love the game by the same name. We all have our favorite card games such as Go Fish, Old Maid, or guessing games like 20 Questions or I Spy.
  • Create something together. Some families have a special recipe they prepare together. There might be a family play or, for the musical family, a new performance piece to practice. You could assemble gift bags for hospitalized children or the homeless shelter. Most important, be sure the project is easy enough to be accomplished in one sitting.
  • Have a theme, such as "backwards" night where everyone walks backwards, wears their clothes backwards, and begins dinner with dessert. Or come as your favorite sports star or actor. Create more options that go along with the theme of the evening.
  • If your family wants a quieter time together, you might choose a classic book to read aloud, such as Winnie the Pooh or The Wizard of Oz. Perhaps you'll get your PJs on first, then gather round the fireplace for the story.

Ideas for Outdoor Fun

Because it's tempting to stay inside and warm during the winter, we often miss the adventure of being outside together in the dark. Try one of these activities to familiarize your children with the delights of the night:

  • Go outside to look at the night sky and identify the constellations. Dress warmly and take a heavy blanket to lie down on, along with binoculars, star maps, etc. If there is not an open space within walking distance of home, drive to a suitable park or field. You needn't be an astronomer—just enjoy the view. Some helpful resources are: Seeing Stars or The Star Finder.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt. Make a simple list of everyday items, some found in nature, others that neighbors will be willing to part with such as a blue button or an empty soup can. Have a time limit and go in pairs or teams.
  • Listen for the sounds of the night, identifying the difference between natural and man-made sounds. (The wind blowing the trees sounds different than the swoosh of a car's tires.) See how quietly you can walk—on the sidewalk and on the grass. How many different night sounds can you recognize?

Ending the Evening

The evening will come to a natural conclusion as the game or activity is complete, hopefully leaving all eager to plan another time together in the future. Finally, if you wish, after the children are tucked into bed, you might turn on the computer or smart phone. However, I'm guessing you might stay unplugged until tomorrow.

"When kids play a board game..., they're watching the other players. They're learning social skills and strategies that can't be learned by computer games."
—David Elkind, Professor of Child Development, Tufts University

— by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

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