Leaves have changed colors, dried up and fallen to the ground; cold weather is upon us. Gone are the leisurely days spent outside playing in the heat of the day, brought on by blazing sunshine. Keeping kids entertained through the cold weather season can be a challenge. Consider some of the suggestions below for winter activities, ranging from free to cost involved, to keep your kids busy and happy when cold weather takes outdoor activities mostly off the table.

Free or Low-Cost Winter Activities

Schedule Play Dates

Take the pressure off yourself to entertain your little one directly and schedule a playdate for your child to connect with a friend (or group of friends). Offer to rotate ‘supervision’ of the play date so that you occasionally get a couple of hours to yourself while providing this same luxury to the friends’ parent(s) on alternate dates.

Rotate Toys

Kids often get tired of playing with the same old thing. However, have you ever noticed that if you tuck something away (maybe with the intention of donating as your child no longer plays with it) and it’s out of sight and out of mind for several weeks before your kiddo stumbles upon it again, s/he will suddenly show renewed interest? Happens all the time! Consider splitting up your kids’ toys into different boxes that you rotate each week or two. Your kids will feel like they have new toys to play with regularly, without your having to purchase new toys, and their interest will be captured!

Outdoor Snow and Cold Weather Activities

Should a day come when the sun is out, the temps are mild, and there is snow on the ground, take a page out of your childhood book of fun and engage the kids in an outdoor winter activity involving snow. Making snow angels, building snowmen and snow forts, and having a friendly snowball fight are all options involving the white stuff. Mixing up some “snow paint” is a fun, and colorful, option for outdoor play (simply mix water and several drops of food coloring in spray bottles and turn the kids loose). Sledding is sure to exert a LOT of energy and capture attention for hours at a time as well.

Sensory Play

Play activities which engage the senses (touch, sight, taste, smell, and sound) are not only fun for young children, but vital in promoting sensory integration. When information is taken in through one or more of the senses, the mind must integrate and process the information into something meaningful (and generate an appropriate outward response). Learning to do this effectively is done through sensory play and should be started with children at the earliest possible age.

This isn’t to say that sensory play is only for very young children, children of all ages enjoy these activities! Sensory play provides an opportunity to expand language, practice fine motor skills, and can be calming for the child (even though the potential for a great mess is present. If the idea of messy play deters you from considering this option, read this article on 10 Tips to Keep Messy Activities Clean). If you’re wondering what types of activities fall into the “sensory play” category, here are a few quick suggestions: finger painting, play dough, sand box activities, making mud pies, a small trampoline with a surrounding net and filled with balloons is a short list.

There are fabulous resources online for sensory play activity ideas so don’t feel like you have to re-invent the wheel. Hands On As We Grow is one such resource. What is particularly fabulous about this website is that one can select the age of your child and get ideas that are tried and true, age-appropriate activities.

Low to Moderate Cost Winter Activities

Join a Gym That Offers Childcare

Many gyms have a childcare option that allows parents to take a breather of their own while the kiddos are entertained by loving and nurturing caregivers. The added bonus? Playtime with other kids roughly your child’s age which provides not only entertainment but also fosters vital social skills.

Find an Indoor Pool Swimming doesn’t have to be limited to summertime fun. Locate an indoor pool with the option for open swim and swim lessons. Your little ones will love splashing the morning (or afternoon, or evening) away and may even return home tired enough for a nice, long nap.

Sign Up for Extracurricular Activities

Tap into programs that support interests of your child. Organized sports, dance, and gymnastics are an obvious choice. But consider music, drama, art and other programs as well that will exercise your child’s mind and keep their hands busy for a time or two each week.


An afternoon matinee at a theatre showing movies that haven’t been recently released can provide a more cost-effective option for theatre experience if you need to get the little ones out of the house. Another option, even more cost-effective, is creating a cinematic experience right in your own home. Create movie ticket stubs, pop some popcorn (with help from the kids), turn down the lights and crank up the volume. Your living room can become a personal theatre with a movie of your choice via DVD, Netflix, or On-Demand.

Build a Ball Pit A popular feature at many indoor entertainment places (think: Chuck E Cheese) an indoor ball pit can provide hours of fun. These can be easily made at home. Some suggestions include an empty kid-size swimming pool or a pack and play (pending age of your child), filled with plastic balls that are easily purchased online and shipped directly to your house! A quick internet search will also yield options for pre-made ball pits that can be easily set up, taken down, and stored conveniently. Feeling the need for more DIY ball pit inspiration? Check out the creativity of others who have embarked on this journey via Pinterest: DIY Ball Pit.

Indoor Skating

Research indoor ice and roller skating options in your area. An out of the ordinary activity that will provide an opportunity for exercise and challenge skills with balance. Not sure you can teach skating skills? Check on opportunities for a coach to teach your little one the basics.

Indoor Trampoline Centers

Same as with indoor skating, indoor trampoline centers are popping up all over the place, and you’ve probably never met a kid who didn’t like to jump and bounce! Another out of the ordinary activity that offers an opportunity for exercise challenges skills with balance and coordination and probably results in a nice long nap afterward (for you too, dad!).

Children’s Museum Does your area have a Children’s Museum? Is there one nearby that can be accessed via day-trip? Exhibits at children’s museums give kids, from infants to pre-teens, the chance to explore, imagine, investigate and create. Activities are hands-on and interactive. Not only fun but expanding the mind!

Keeping things new and fun during cold weather months can certainly be a challenge. When kids split time between parents, dads can often feel added pressure to make the time spent with his kids exciting. Feeling pressure to make the very most of your quality time with the kids can leave one feeling stressed and zap the fun right out of an otherwise exciting opportunity.

Rest assured that a little creativity and imagination can go a long way for winter activities and not every visit needs to be filled with expensive outings. As your budget allows, more expensive outings can be added to the agenda. In between those times, consider hands-on fun activities that can be done at home for little to no cost. Plan ahead. Stock up on essential materials and relish in the opportunity to come alongside your child as he or she learns and grows, all the while having a total blast with dad!

(c) Can Stock Photo / dolgachov

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