It's no secret that winter break is at once anticipated and dreaded by parents. Meredith Willson admitted that "Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again" when he penned the song It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas in 1951. While you may be looking forward to lots of family time, all that togetherness can become a nightmare of logistics, crowd control and on-the-fly therapy. It pays to do some prep work to keep the holidays happy.
Take the hair-pulling potential out of the equation with fun activities that will keep kids busy and strengthen family bonds with our winter break survival guide. The suggestions on this list of engaging to-do's — many from Gaiam customers and Gaiam Life readers like you — also have "hidden" benefits you'll appreciate, whether it's sneaking in a little education or working in a workout that's disguised as fun
Secret Benefit: Recycling
"Isn't it nice how eco-friendly
and cost-effective often go hand in hand?" asks Gaiam customer Robin Hartman via Facebook. She suggests designing a board game and pieces from empty cereal boxes, cardboard packages or old shoeboxes. Similarly, the kids could create puzzles by drawing pieces on the unprinted side of a carton or box, then cutting out the pieces for a sibling or parent to assemble.
While it may sound counterintuitive, letting your kids decorate their own rooms for the holidays is a great way to channel their energy and exercise decision-making skills. Provide strands of mini lights you'd have otherwise tossed in favor of new energy-saving LED holiday lights, last year's tissue paper and gift wrap scraps, then set them loose for their own merry makeovers.
Gaiam customer Erin Blockhus and her family like to get their rock on. "We take our recyclables and turn them into mini rock band things," Erin says. Pizza boxes and other recyclables become banjos, tin cans are drums and toilet paper rolls with crumpled newspaper in them are microphones. "It keeps the kids busy and then we get to rock out!"
Let there be rock! Blockhus family bandmembers Ashlyn and Gage created their own instruments of recycled materials.
Secret Benefit: Family Time
Sometimes it's not just the kids who need entertaining. When you've got a houseful of relatives
, it can be challenging to find things to do that everyone will enjoy.
Barbara Kelley, another Gaiam fan, has this solution: "My favorite activity is to make a bunch of animal-friendly snacks, hike into the woods and hang them up for the critters." Her family has made pinecones dipped into honey and then rolled in seeds, apple slices coated with peanut butter and raisins, and suet balls mixed with birdseed. The preparation doesn't require a lot of supervision, either. While parents are cooking, let older kids help their younger cousins and siblings, then the whole gang can take a mid-afternoon nature walk together.
Or how about a Not-So-Silent-Night singing contest? Assemble a panel of judges, print out some holiday songs and let the karaoke caroling begin! Points can be awarded for style, flair or sheer volume (just look for a free or inexpensive decibel meter app
for your smartphone).
Had something quieter in mind? "Make gingerbread houses with graham crackers, write a book with pictures, make gifts for kids less fortunate," suggests reader Shelley Sloan. What better way to strengthen family bonds than by sharing simple activities that kids enjoy doing and that grandparents, aunts and uncles can participate in, as well.
When you've just got to get out of the house, try laser tag. A combination of tag and hide 'n' seek, laser tag is truly an all-ages activity. It's easy to play, safe and immensely entertaining — all for about the cost of a movie. Most laser tag facilities take group reservations, so your family can have the whole place to yourselves. It's team building 2.0!
Secret Benefit: Education
Teachers know the key to making learning memorable is to make it fun. Take a page from their book with these kid- and grownup-friendly ideas.
Make a Rube Goldberg machine. You already know what a Rube Goldberg machine is: It's household items — dominoes and balls and cans and plungers — lined up and strung together so that one thing topples another, which makes another roll down a ramp, which bumps another thing. Perfectly useless yet endlessly fascinating. Need inspiration? Watch this amazing video
by Grammy-winning band OK Go.
Turn a visit to the local children's museum, zoo, aquarium or botanical garden into a scavenger hunt. Print out a checklist of things kids might expect to see on your outing; give every child a list and a sheet of stickers to mark their findings. You might even award small prizes for fastest finds, most creative looking technique or best use of an inside voice. In our experience, the cost of a membership paid for itself in just one or two visits, and most memberships include guest passes.
Paper-bead making is recycling, education and family time, all rolled into one! Gaiam customer Carolyn Good suggests this easy craft, which transforms recycle bin–bound newspapers and magazines into jewelry. All you need is school glue, a ruler or scissors, and yarn or thread to string the beads
Secret Benefit: Exercise
"Find a studio that offers family yoga!" says Dawn Curtis, a Gaiam customer and Facebook fan. Yoga is a great way to calm the crabbies and the crazies; it brings focus and relaxation to everyone from the very young to the young at heart. If you can't find a child-friendly yoga studio near you, try Gaiam's award-winning YogaKids® DVDs
Even though it's wintertime
, don't feel limited to indoor activities. Take a look at the forecast and plan a hike for the sunniest day of your children's winter vacation or relatives' visit. Give your hike a theme to make it even more fun, such as, "silly chilly walk-this-way" where everyone has to imitate the leader's wacky walking style.
Allison Bourgeois says her family looks for a Yule log on their walks in the woods. "Find a cool old log with moss and mushrooms growing on it," she says, and gather colorful leaves and other woodsy items. Once you get it home, glue the leaves and things on the log and place it next to the fireplace for display. Another great opportunity for an impromptu scavenger hunt that will help you all sneak in a mini workout.
Winter vacation can be a wonderful time to reconnect with the kids. We hope this list of activities with secret benefits inspires your own crafts and outings ... and the best secret benefit of all: sanity!