The Terror of Winter Breaks

I try not to look more than a month ahead in our school calendar. If I do, a panicky terror settles in, because just six weeks after our December break, school's out again for Presidents' Day week. Five weeks after that, it's Spring break (six days off school, thank you, Easter Monday, as if five weren't quite enough to recognize that Spring coincides with Easter Sunday). Spring is exciting, because it might not be Winter. It's the February break that borders on psychotic. February is a time when we are all done with Winter, with bundling and wet boots and salt stains and windburn.

It was my mistake, I'm sure, thinking that having a kindergartner would let me drop the title of family fun planner, executor, or the eternal seeker of indoor fun for us all, at the tail end of Winter. Because at this point, in Winter, I want to have fun, too. And I'm getting better at it. If the bouncy house is necessary, I'm going to jump and slide. If it's open swim, we all swim. We seek fresh air, because a little is much better than none. While the Winter pleasures are many, here, most young children can't do them for long, or on their own, so for the parent, the sledding/skating/skiing fun is still, well, considerable work. I understand now, why families ski. Once you get them going, kids can ski entire days away.

The holiday between Christmas and New Year's is necessary. School's been in session for months, and the days are vacation for adults, too. But it is long. So far, this can generally be filled with the holiday-making, travel, and new toys. If you have young kids, the break requires some parent-organized fun to make the downtime easy. One perk to the school-age child is that they are much better at relaxing than the average preschooler. My daughter's play instinct is well-honed, and she can involve our toddler in her games. We have finally reached the place, as parents, where sometimes, our children disappear in the house, and it is shocking and magical.

If the terror of another Winter breaks strikes, there is an upside: a school-age child sees the opportunity — to break routine and to have lots of fun. I enjoy this aspect of a child's anticipation and excitement, and they have the stamina for longer outings, like a Winter hike at the nature center plus cocoa, or a day trip to a museum or state park you've never explored. The fun doesn't have to be obvious. Sometimes the fun really occurs in the event of getting there, getting lost, or getting outside (however briefly) and getting home. Now that they can anticipate, your child can be involved in the planning. Start talking about the break a few weeks before. Let them inspire you to seek out new things.

Don't Underestimate the Power of Small Outings

Here's my approach for a loosely structured, active break for the young child. The key, for me, is to look at the break as a chance for you to have fun, with your kid. If you look at it as a week to "keep your kid busy," well, that doesn't sound as fun. Nor does trying to fill it with home projects, chores, and TV and Winter-hibernation time — though, our breaks have definitely also happened that way, when kid or kids are sick. Lying around and making play-dough and no-bake cookies IS an option. But if you plan small outings, then coming home each afternoon allows for plenty of downtime. Say you have five days to work with: try for one or two big outings, two small, and one unplanned/do-nothing day.

If you live in a city, even a small city, chances are there's a category of indoor kid things. Trampoline parks and bounce house parks and indoor play spaces. Think, where birthday parties are held. Think, spaces to run. Think, ways to get messy/use your hands (like a children's museum or art museum). If it's cold, find somewhere really warm: a lodge or restaurant with a huge fire, an indoor greenhouse, or gardens. Zoos, science centers, and libraries often run break week workshops for "something to do."

Look Beyond Traditional Kiddie Activities

Do something adult/something you want to do. Not all kid fun has to be "just for kids." You can tour a brewery or history exhibit, attend a lecture/reading/art gallery with a properly fed kindergartner. It may feel like a risk, but I've been surprised at how well attempts to let my kid experience a more adult space can go. This week is also a great opportunity to volunteer.

Check Off Your To-Do List

This is the week to schedule dental checkups and haircuts and find out what size their feet are. If you need to get chores done with your kid, build in a fun stop, like a pet store or an ice cream stop. Let your kid help you find stuff in the stores and order her own cocoa/snack/meal.

Have a Home Project

Spend the week learning a new game or working on a large puzzle.

Believe in the Power of Playdates

Find your also-home-friends and invite them over. Ages 5 and 6 seem to be the magic years of play dates, for imaginative exploration with friends, and now that my child is in school, she relishes playing with her "best" friends outside of school.

Have a Fallback Plan

If all else fails, go to the library. I used to think that this outing was extraneous, given the numbers of books in our house that aren't always read, and the numbers of library books we return without finishing, but there's something about the hunt for new books that always gets my daughter engaged and excited. We've gotten much better at finding books that captivate her. We go to the different branches and enjoy the variety of these spaces. The children's spaces often have toys or games, too. For us, the library is a nice neutral between the kid-centric playhouses and the less public adult spaces. If the library is closed, try a matinee movie, or seek out your local gym or community center for a place to run or swim.