Despite the barrage of news stories about how off track meteorologists were with the weather report for New York last week, up here in Maine they were spot on, if not a little light. We were supposed to get up to 24 inches, and by the time we were done it was more like 34. My husband went out three times to clear the snow, for fear that it would be too much for our snowblower once the storm was done.
We ended up having three snow days this week, for which a rather rambunctious five year old was kept cooped up. As he tends to get a little surly over movies and video games at the moment, we are severely limiting screen time right now. So what do you do for 12 waking hours when you are trapped inside? Turns out, there are a lot of household items easily adaptable to some serious playtime.
1. Masking Tape. We discovered the joys of masking tape last winter. You can play hopscotch, make a “corn” maze, make a city scape for cars, or make a railroad for trains. You can also tape children to support beams so that they can pretend to be The Incredible Hulk and bust out of said tape. You can create a laser security system in the hallway, and either tear through it (because you are still pretending to be The Incredible Hulk), or you can navigate your way through as a jewel thief or secret agent. Be wary of wooden floors, though. We now have a permanent hopscotch field where the masking tape peeled up tiny fibers of our wooden flooring.
2. Cotton Balls. Oh cotton balls, these can be so much fun during a storm. Pile a stack of pillows up between two halves of the room and have a good old fashioned indoor snowball fight. They aren’t cold, they don’t hurt, and you can throw so many of them at one time. You can hold them in front of a fan and make it snow, you can stick them to paper airplanes and see if they fall off mid-flight. You can make snowman with them, you can pretend to roast marshmallows with them. They can also be used in conjunction with…
3. Pool Noodles. Not just for summer days at the pool, these are great indoor tools if you don’t mind cutting a few in half. Did you know that a cotton ball fits perfectly inside the hollow middle of a pool noodle, and that when you blow into that pool noodle the cotton ball shoots across the room at ridiculously high speeds? Entertainment gold right here. And it doesn’t matter if the cotton balls hit anything; nothing is going to break because of a cotton ball. Something might get broken when using the pool noodles as light sabers, for karate practice, or when pretending to be He-Man, though.
4. Food Coloring. I can seriously get away with pulling this out and not using it in cookies or cupcakes, if I will just add a drop or two to a bowl of water and let my kids play with some Tupperware. It is quite ridiculous how long this will entertain them. Adding different colors mid play session ramps it up a notch and keeps them interested for longer. Very little clean up too, just drain the sink and wipe out quickly.
5. Blankets and Pillows. Never underestimate the power of a blanket fort to entertain. Especially a blanket fort with four walls and a roof that allows for the rare privilege of using a flashlight in the house during the day time. Blanket forts are an almost daily occurrence in our house, whether group homes or individual fortresses of solitude.
6. Paper. This may seem like an obvious one, but paper airplanes are often the way to go. I’m not talking an 8.5 by 11 standard plane here. Check out the recycling bucket, and experiment. Which types of paper or cardboard make the best planes, what type of material flies farther or fastest, which one folds best? You can take the simple activity of folding and flying a paper airplane and turn it into an hour long science experiment.
For a more extensive list of things to cure cabin fever check out GeekMom Laura’s list of forty cures. I know that people don’t just suffer with snow at this time of year. These activities will work really well in the mid-summer heat when you are trapped inside by heat waves and air conditioners too.
Stuck inside? Might as well extract some fun out of all that togetherness. Try something you’ve never done to make cabin fever recovery more memorable.
1. Set up an obstacle course. Release some pent-up energy with a temporary indoor obstacle course. It might consist of a few chairs in a row to wriggle under, six plastic cups to run circles around, a squared off area to perform ten jumping jacks, then three somersaults down the hall before turning around to do it all in reverse. Older kids can set up a simple obstacle course for smaller kids. The adult in charge might want to put safety rules in place before the frenzy begins.
2. Make Flarp. It’s said to have the same properties as Silly Putty, except it also farts. (You know this will be a hit.)
3. Paint without using your hands. Try taping the brush to a remote control toy, dangling it by a string, or rolling it across the paper. Or you might paint as this talented young artist does, by holding a paint brush in your mouth.
5. Build geometric sculptures. This takes only toothpicks and miniature marshmallows. It’s a great way to make free form sculptures while discovering some principles of geometry. As the marshmallows dry they’ll adhere ever more tightly to the toothpicks. They’ll also form a surface hard enough for some sculpture enhancement. After a day or two of drying the kids can decorate their sculptures with markers or paint if they’d like.
8. Turn your family’s life into a guessing game. Take turns issuing a challenge and writing down everyone’s guesses, then prove each other right or wrong. The proof part is particularly fun as everyone hurries to count, measure, and calculate. Kids might choose to guess how many shoes are in the house. How many books. How many countries are represented in a drawerful of shirts (as long as they have origin tags). Guess the measurement of each other’s heads. How many inches it is from the front door to the TV, the computer, the bathroom. Guess how many days or hours each person has been alive. How long each person can stand on one foot. Well, you get the idea. The kids will not think this is fun if you have them guess how neatly they can put away their Lego toys.
10. Make a batch or two of Make Ahead Pizza with this recipe from Attainable Sustainable. And just think, you’re teaching some delayed gratification skills because after all that time the end result is fantastic.
11. Save memories by slapping the label “memory jar” on any large container and encourage your family to toss in slips of paper describing an ordinary day, funny family sayings, silly happenings, and other things you don’t want to forget. This memory jar can become an important family tradition.
12. Make a movie. Remember Spielberg started making movies as a kid so be sure to save your child’s film for posterity. Fame may hit.
13. Draw on the windows. Use washable window markers to play tic tac toe or hangman, or draw some sunshine.
14. Perform good deeds. Make some soup or bake some goodies to share with a neighbor, local firefighters, or your librarians. For more family volunteering ideas, check 40 Ways to Volunteer, Toddler to Teen.
15. Slide on the steps. Flatten cardboard from a large box and place over stairs so kids can race cars (up and down), roll balls, or pretend to be mountain-climbers.
16. Communicate via banana. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.
17. Get your kids to predict the future. Better yet, write to your future selves. The kids may want to write to themselves as they’ll be in ten years or at your age. Don’t make this a child-only activity. Sit down and write to your future self too. You’ll want to include a description of an average day, list some favorite foods and activities, and imagine what you’ll be doing at that future date. Now seal those envelopes, write “Do Not Open Until ______” on the outside, and keep them somewhere you’ll remember.
19. Learn science with junk. Save cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes of all sizes, along with string, rubber bands, lids, paper clips, yogurt cups, and so on. Distribute equal amounts of this “junk” so kids can build whatever they choose. Or issue a specific challenge, similar to the old TV series Junkyard Wars. The kids can make sorters that send pennies down one chute and dimes down another, bridges that hold weight, catapults that toss ping pong balls, and much more.
20. Create a broadcast. Listen to a recording of an old radio show, like the original 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds, then make your own audio story complete with narration and sound effects. Toss in some campy advertisements for extra fun.
21. Make snow cones. Simply crush ice in a blender, then top with a syrup made from frozen fruit juice concentrate that’s thawed and undiluted.
22. Start throwing things. Juggling boosts brain development and reinforces a growth mindset. It’s also fun once you get the hang of it. Here’s more about juggling including how-tos.
26. Play with tape. Rolls of painter’s tape or masking tape can spur new play ideas. Toy vehicles and action figures can travel along roadways made of tape stretched along on the floor. Overpasses, buildings, and other roadside features can be made from shoeboxes and other cardboard discards. Tape a giant tic tac toe board on the carpet, then use two sets of matching items for Xs and Os. Stretch tape across a hard surfaced floor to mark out hopscotch or skellzies.
29. Write to a business requesting information. My son once wrote to a pen company to settle a bet he had with me. He said my habit of leaving pens uncapped would dry them out. He not only got a response confirming that he was correct, but the pen company’s PR person sent eight different pens for him to enjoy as well as an admonition to keep after his pen-wrecking mother. Here are 37 other ways to do something unexpected via snail mail.
30. Make your own family board game. Keep it simple for small ones, add twists and more complex questions for older kids. Together you can incorporate inside jokes, everyone’s names, favorite places around town, whatever your family decides.
33. Put together adorable meals like those shown in Bean Appetit, Cute Yummy Time, Funny Food, and Funky Lunch. Use books like these as a starting point for inspiration. And don’t forget to make monster noises as you bite the nose off a clown-shaped sandwich.
34. Stage an indoor snowball battle. Save some paper from your recycling pile, crumple into balls, and throw.
38. Make paper dolls (or paper dinosaurs, robots, elves, whatever) from stiff paper, connecting limbs with brads. Then cut out accessories. Use large sheets of paper to draw backgrounds. These paper characters can act out stories with endless variations. For more durable creations, do the same thing with leftover felt.
39. Stage a treasure hunt. First, hide a prize. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy (it could be a cool drink or a packed lunch!). Next, hide clues. For non-readers the clues can be rebus pictures, digital photos, or magazine cut-outs. For readers try riddles, short rhymes, or question-based clues. Each one should lead the child to a spot where the next clue is hidden. If you have more than one child let everyone search for clues and figure them out together. Or stage treasure hunts for each child in turn using the collaborative efforts of those who are waiting. Once kids are familiar with treasure hunts they can easily set them up on their own. To get you to play they may turn off your cell, hide it, and chortle gleefully while you track it down.
40. Have a picnic. Yes, a picnic. Fling a tablecloth or beach towel on the floor. Eating on the floor may be novel enough but make sure the meal consists of picnic-y finger foods for real authenticity. You might want to fire up the grill to cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows. If you’re eating on a tiled floor in the kitchen consider amping up the fun by ending the picnic with a brief rainstorm you impose with a squirt bottle. Then again, maybe not. The kids will get you back some day.
I am not exaggerating one single bit when I tell you that masking tape saved my sanity as a parent. As we continue Cabin Fever Week here at GeekMom, take a tip from me: get tape. For some reason, my kids thought it was a great treat to have unlimited access to tape. Regular old masking tape will work fine, but for extra excitement, consider colored masking tape or patterned Japanese masking tape. Truly, your kids will think you rock. Now, got tape? Get busy:
Gather a collection of recycled items like egg cartons, small boxes, cardboard tubes, and tissue boxes, then let your kids go to town building sculptures. Use the tape to hold together the recycled items and to decorate the creations. If your kids haven’t been exposed to open-ended art projects like this, you might have to offer some ideas – Rockets! Robots! Cars! Flowers! – but remind them that anything goes.
Show the kids how to cut colored tape into squares and use them to make a mess-free mosaic.
Let them use the tape to draw a “picture” directly onto the glass slider or refrigerator. It’s masking tape. It will come off.Just don’t leave it there for a long period of time or in the hot sun (though if there is hot sun to worry about, you’re probably not suffering through much cabin fever).
Dust off their bikes and let them get it ready for Spring! Alternatively, let them cover binders, worn-out toys, or even an old pair of shoes. The novelty of altering these objects will thrill them and gain you at least an hour’s worth of whine-free time.
Pull out some cardboard, bubble wrap, and yarn and let the kids use tape to create a costume. Of course, once the kids have a costume, they’ll want to put on a play, extending your whine-free time indefinitely (score!).
Use tape to create a roadway for Matchbox cars or other vehicles. This can traverse the entire house, over carpet, tile, or linoleum.
Have your child create an abstract design out of tape on the back of a cookie sheet. When it’s complete, pull out a piece of plain paper and some crayons and let her take a rubbing of the design.
Make stickers. Stick tape to waxed paper in a solid pattern and then trace cookie cutter shapes onto the tape and cut out. Carefully peel the tape shape off of the waxed paper and use it as you would a sticker.
Cover recycled candy tins with tape and glue on decorations like buttons, gems, and ribbon to make tiny treasure boxes.
Turn the tape into bracelets or headbands by putting two lengths of tape together, sticky sides facing. Decorate one side with more tape and then punch holes in each end. Overlap the holes and secure with a brad to complete the loop.
Recently my family endured a week of cabin fever brought on by snow, weblessness, and our general proximity to one another. We survived by watching movies together each night after dinner, but were limited to our rental cabin’s movie collection. This included only dusty classics that every adult Homo Sapien has seen at least fourteen times. The movies were on “videotapes,” which we played in a big machine called a “VCR.”
The films we saw were made long before high-tech gadgetry, Dungeons & Dragons, or the rise of nerdy-cool. The word “geek” had not even arrived to brighten our world. Yet as I watched each movie, a proto-geeky character emerged, someone who embodied a certain early, nascent geekness.
(For all you definition hawks out there: I take a geek to be a smart person with an intense interest in something — as opposed to a nerd, who may have more trouble with social interaction. Here, this Venn diagram explains the whole thing. Come on back when you’re done.)
So without further ado, I present you with the four great classic films that we watched, along with my votes for their ur-geeky characters.
This one’s easy: Max Detweiler is the geek. He’s that friend of Herr von Trapp and the Countess, always ready with a bon mot and an impeccable suit. He’s also the one obsessed with his music festival and on the lookout for new acts. If he existed today, he’d be a gigantic Gleek.
Through most of the film Max cares more about putting on a fabulous show than about the recent Nazi occupation of Austria. Now that’s some impressively geeky singlemindedness. But in the end of course, he wields said fabulous show to thwart the Nazis, proving that geekiness can be a great tool for any underground resistance.
(My husband interjects that Max is also the prototype of the Swishy Gay Friend. Food for thought.)
If geekiness is part obsessional interest, then Miss Havisham is our 19th century gal. Perhaps you remember this nutty old bat. Jilted at the alter as a young woman, she avoids her pain by freezing time. She stops the clocks, boards up the windows, and remains in her wedding dress, sitting beside the still-set wedding dinner table for, oh, about fifty years. At the start of the movie she’s absolutely ancient, surrounded by ancient cobwebs and ancient cobwebby servants.
“That’s not geeky,” I hear you cry, “that’s downright insane. She’s several cards short of a Pokemon deck.” OK, good point.
But hear me out. Think of how singlemindedly Miss Havisham focuses on that one day! She’s had no visitors, no news from the outside, for decades. If anyone wanted to get accurate historical information about that day –What were people wearing? What were the headlines? – she’d be the undisputed go-to geek. She is to her own wedding day what a Civil War geek is to the battle of Antietam. I rest my case.
You may be thinking that the geek here is Boo Radley, the reclusive neighbor of Scout, the little girl who narrates. But friends, do not be fooled!
The geek is none other than Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, played by Gregory Peck. Oh, Atticus makes me swoon. Really, if that guy stepped out of the movie and proposed to me, I would have to disappoint my husband brutally. (Sorry, honey. The truth hurts.)
Atticus is smart and tall, and has the geekiest glasses possible for the Depression-era deep South. But what really clinches his status is his obsessional interest in justice. He is – dare I say – a justice geek. He puts himself and his kids at risk of life and limb to pursue his fight against intolerance, which he wages with his quiet, firm, intelligent, decent ways. Oh my. I’m getting all worked up again.
Could the geek be protagonist George Bailey, who is second in my heart only to Atticus Finch? (Sorry again, honey.) George certainly has his interest — traveling the world — but isn’t too obsessive about it, distracted as he is by little things like love, marriage and fatherhood. No, not so geeky.
I sifted through the movie’s truckload of characters: Mary Bailey, Uncle Billy, Mr. Potter, little Zuzu, and all the others with whom director Frank Capra viciously manipulates us into feeling a deep love for humanity. None of them are geeky. Could it be that Wonderful Life is geek-free?
Then it hit me. I’m the geek. I’m the one absentmindedly reciting each line along with the movie, down to the syllable. I’m the one who in high school painstakingly transcribed all of George’s speeches from the VCR (“The moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair…”) and affixed them to my bedroom wall. I’m the one who still – still! – sobs uncontrollably at the end. Every. Damn. Time.
And I’m not alone. There are thousands of us Wonderful Life Kool-Aid chuggers, and I submit that each time one of us watches the movie again… well … we’re the geek.
Playing “Spot the Geek” is like discovering fossils of ancient creatures that turn out to be our ancestors. “Aha,” we geeks say, “so that’s where we came from.” The whole process is enriching, enlightening, and of course an exquisite waste of time.
Perhaps you’ve played this game with other classic films. What’s your vote? Citizen Kane, anyone? All about Eve, Gone with the Wind, Philadelphia Story?