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Fun Indoor Activities to Crush Cabin Fever

5 fresh ideas for winter break staycation fun

Published on: October 21, 2021

mother and daughter laying on their backs on a rug taking a selfie

By this time in the -ember months, I begin to feel a little like Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining” (but without the axe, of course) — and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. The Pacific Northwest’s dreary weather, when combined with the limitations of socially distanced activities, is a setup for a serious case of cabin fever. 

Instead of waiting out the winter, embrace it with these nifty weather-indifferent activities. I’ve adapted a few of my family’s favorites from my latest book, “50 Fun Staycation Adventures for Kids,” to help shake up your weekend and winter-break routines. Your kids will start to look forward to your offbeat excuses to get out of the house!

1. Get lost

My kids love it when the map app leads us astray. “Siri, you’re fired!” they gleefully yell while my phone tries to reroute. In this get-out-of-the-house adventure, you’ll get lost on purpose. 

Start by ensuring your gas tank is full and your phone is charged. Then pack the kids in the car and head out. Your kids will take turns giving you directions. (Fair warning: Those may include such directives as “Stop at that doughnut shop ahead.”)

You’ll probably find yourself in a neighborhood you’ve never explored before. Treat the trip like a vacation: Pop into a library branch, pause for a photo in front of a cool mural or grab a bite at a local café. You’ll discover you definitely don’t have to travel far to explore someplace new. 

indoor play activities by catherine ryan gregory2. Become a published author

Kids are natural storytellers. (Just ask my 6-year-old, Maxine, who routinely spins tales, like the one in which a ferret pretends to be a rattlesnake to save a lost baby dragon. Where does she come up with this stuff?) This out-of-the-box activity channels and encourages your kids’ troubadour talent. 

While you’re at home, brainstorm a story together. Your kids could be characters, or they might cast their favorite toy or stuffie. Remind your kids that a good story features some sort of conflict, such as learning how to control new magical powers or battling a bad guy. Agree on a rough outline for the plot. Consider if characters will need costumes or props.

Then head out to create photos for your story. Think about what setting makes sense for the story. Together with your kids, pose yourselves or toys to illustrate the narrative. Take pictures with your smartphone.

When you get home, upload pictures to a photo-book site or an app on your phone. Together, write the story by typing in the layout’s caption fields. Don’t forget to credit everyone as the authors. Once you order the book, your kids will be thrilled to see their names and pictures in print!

3. Battle “Iron Chef” style

The secret ingredient is … you have no idea! Go to a farmers market or ethnic grocery store with your kids to pick out one (or several) foods you’ve never cooked with. Once you get home, either look up a recipe that features the ingredient or follow Cat Cora’s example and make a meal on the fly. 

If that feels too adventurous for your dino-nugget-arian, buy an ingredient that’s close to something your kids typically eat. Look for premade empanada shells, pita or spring roll wrappers. 

Taste your meal together. You and your littles may discover how much you love Japanese eggplant or tomatillos. Or — if your “Iron Chef” skills leave something to be desired — order takeout.

4. Take a personal history tour

Chances are that when you show visitors around town, you hit the usual landmarks: the Space Needle, the Fremont Troll, Pike Place Market. With this staycation activity, your family will tour places that are personally significant.

Before you go, brainstorm nearby locations that have played a part in your life. You might jot down the café where you studied for college exams, the park where you and your partner first kissed or the apartment where you lived when your kids were born. 

As you visit each spot, act like those guides on the hop-on, hop-off buses in touristy cities. Narrate why each location is important to your family history. Your kids may be inspired to lead a personal history tour of their own!

5. Stage your own fancy photo shoot

Your kids’ annual school photos have nothing on this budget-friendly activity. You’ll organize a family photo shoot (but without the price tag of a pro session). 

Let your kids direct you for a change. They can pick outfits or a theme — maybe you’ll dress up in evening wear or old Halloween costumes! The point is to say yes to whatever wacky ideas they come up with.

Grab your props, a tripod and your phone or a camera. Try to pick a photo shoot location (an underused park, the steps of a government building on a weekend) that isn’t too busy, so strangers don’t constantly photobomb your portraits. Encourage your kids to go full-on art director by positioning everyone in the shot or even delivering inspiration (“Now look like you just invented a time traveling machine!”). Use your camera’s or phone’s timer setting, or connect a Bluetooth remote, to snap the photos. Don’t forget to order prints when you’re done! 

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