It’s winter. The days are too short. The outdoors, too chilly—maybe even stormy. And the kids are spending most of their time cooped up inside, bored and SAD. Parents recognize the signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) aka winter depression or winter blues and know how challenging it can be to help little ones shake off that sullen mood. So here are a few innovative ideas that might help reinvigorate those young, bright minds! Feel free to share your methods for overcoming the winter blues in the comments section.
By A. Noelle
1. Explore a New Culture
Bring out the globe or atlas (or just open up Google Maps), and have your kids pick a country. Then do a bit of Internet research about the culture of your chosen nation. Sure, the easiest way to learn a few facts about any country would be to check out Wikipedia, but go a step further and look up the the travel or tourist website of your country (e.g., www.germany.travel/en/index.html or www.jnto.go.jp/eng/). You can find a wealth of interesting information on the country’s own website—from breathtaking sights to traditional arts and crafts—that will excite and inspire your young ones to dream about the possibilities of travel. Scroll through the photo galleries, watch travel videos, and check out your country on social media. If your kids develop an appetite for more information about your country, then head over to your public library or local bookstore to check out some travel guides, activity or coloring books, and even cookbooks to complete the journey and give your kids a taste of this new culture.
Bonus: Find an amazing foreign film suitable for your little ones—make sure to watch it in the original language with subtitles! Don’t be surprised if your kids gain a new interest in learning a foreign language and start using simple phrases or expressions in everyday conversation.
2. Write a Children’s Book
Making up stories is one of the best ways to get young imaginations going, and cultivating the skill of storytelling can help improve their oral communication and writing skills. Clear the dining or coffee table and set up a makeshift arts-and-crafts station (unless you already have a designated area for creative messes). Just make sure you’re working in a bright environment so that your little authors or graphic artists have enough light—a quick cure for those winter blues. Put out the plain paper, construction paper, lined paper, pencils, crayons, markers, etc., and lay out some newspapers or a tarp because it’s going to get messy. Give your kids a starting point like the setting or main characters and a problem to solve or a goal to achieve by the end of the story. Then step back and watch your kids unleash their powers of creativity. Okay, so if the arts-and-crafts approach no longer appeals to your tech-savvy young ones, it’s worth checking out some educational storytelling apps that are just as fun and require no clean-up at the end. Listen to your kids read their tales out loud, or put on an impromptu play in your living room and act out the stories.
Bonus: Send your stories to us! The Chelsea Foundation publishes two online magazines—Wall Shadows and The Next Step—that showcase pieces written by middle school and high school students, respectively. New student writers are always welcome, and we have a dedicated team of editors who will work with the young authors to help polish up submissions. Parents, drop us a line in the comments section if you’re interested in learning more about our programs! :)
3. Direct a Home Movie
Put those brand new smartphones to work and create something worthy of YouTube fame. You can create a film based on a story written by your kids (see previous activity), a new version of their favorite animated movie, a segment of a kid-friendly cooking show, a music video, a travel special, or a game show. You can shoot the film around the house or take it outdoors to the backyard or nearby park. (If the weather is gloomy, remember that rain can be the perfect element for any dramatic scene. Unless there’s a blizzard, in which case, film that awesome scene indoors!) If you have pets, challenge your kids to include them in the action or make them the main characters. When motivation becomes an issue and you’re having a hard time coaxing your kids off the couch or away from the TV, aim for their interests. If they’re excited about makeup, create a beauty tutorial (and prepare yourself to stand in as the model). If your kids are all about gaming, make the live action version of a favorite video game (but maybe be a bit discerning about the game you choose to act out—nix the violence).
Bonus: Make it silent or have your kids make up their own language, and then subtitle your film. Include some background music, and let your kids move through the scenes with their actions alone.
4. Volunteer for an Interesting Cause
Staying indoors all winter with little to stimulate the mind is your standard recipe for the SADs, so bring the kids out into your community for some healthy volunteering at a new organization, shelter, or charity. Helping others and spending some time outside can improve mental health and lower stress. So ditch the cabin fever by taking your little ones on an adventure to a pet shelter in a nearby town or city, or sign up for an environmental event to help clean your local park—or beach if you live by the coast. Do some research and have your kids pick out a cause that interests them.
Bonus: Organize a volunteer group with other parents and their kids, and join an event or set up a fundraiser. More friends joining in means more fun and more good vibes to go around!
5. Dance Away the Blues!
Step up the energy and choreograph your own dance routine with the kids! Listening to some upbeat music alone can help improve their moods, and the exercise will do wonders for their overall health. So get them moving! Create a playlist of their favorite pop tunes, push back the couch, do some dynamic stretching, and start dancing. You can YouTube music videos and mimic simple routines, or you can have your kids come up with their own moves.
Bonus: For a more relaxing activity, turn your kids into mini yogis. There are simple beginner yoga poses and breathing exercises that kids can do to stretch out those muscles, especially if all they’ve been doing this winter is stretch out on the couch. Take caution in trying any more advanced moves, and always make sure to supervise this activity in order to avoid injury.