By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp
Winter can get us down. Many people suffer from seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and colds and flu bugs seem to abound at this time of the year. Our electricity bills soar and, very often, those of us who discover we have a lot of “indoor” time with cabin-fever infected young children can start to feel frazzled. For me, having a bit of a plan helps immeasurably and I find crafts a positive way to “beat the winter blues” with our children. I’m sure there are lots and lots of really fun winter ideas out there, but I thought I’d share a few that have worked in our family and in our local community.
The advantage of the “early nights” is that kids can be up after dark and do “cool darkness fun stuff” (as my kids say) which they wouldn’t normally get to do. Making lanterns is a great way to infuse some “magic” and colour into those dark winter nights. There are lots of different designs to be found online. The simplest one we discovered was just using a glass jar with a candle inside it and wrapping the jar in coloured celophane: even different coloured supermarket bags work for this. A string is tied around the jar (and secured with a STRONG tape) and connected to a stick at the top for holding. They look great, especially if you line a whole lot up in a row. (Just watch that the kids don’t drop the glass jar).
Some cities (like ours) have Mid-Winter Carnivals and run “lantern workshops” for constructing your own lantern. It’s wise for kids to have plenty of adult support while building these lanterns, but they are fun to create and look amazing when completed… and lit.
2. Candle Making
We just used tea light candles inside our lanterns, but candle making is another fun activity and candles, like lanterns, add colour, light and a sense of warmth on gloomy winter days. Our family lights a candle at tea time on Sundays, so we always have use for any candles made (we also have pudding on Sunday only, so the kids won’t nag us for it all the other days of the week). I don’t have any pictures of candles we have made (we haven’t done it this year… maybe in the approaching school holidays…). But there are some wonderful online, step by step guides to making simple, safe, but beautiful looking candles with kids. Old wax crayons can be melted to add colours and effects. (Adult supervision is always needed, especially when dealing with hot, dripping wax). I’ll put some links below, there are some great Youtube clips too.
https://youtu.be/-YkVwrM8NXk (Step by step candle making for kids)
https://youtu.be/Mn2UTbdCmLw (Mess Free Candle Making)
3. Snowflake Cut Outs
“Snow flake cut outs” are cool because, like real snowflakes viewed under a microscope, no two are ever exactly the same. If you havent done snowflake cut outs before, they are very straight forward… just get a square piece of paper, fold it (into four or even eight) and then make lots of tiny cuts. When you open it out daa daa… a beautiful snowflake! The kids and I made the poster to the left by sticking small snowflake shapes we’d made onto black paper. Some words of caution: a) younger kids sometimes struggle with the scizzors and need help cutting b) stress to the kids that they need to cut shapes out of the paper: if they just cut it you won’t see anything when you open the snowflake c) the paper has to start of square or you won’t get a “symmetrical effect”. Other wintery things can be cut out too, like the snowman my son made here.
As well as putting the “snowflakes” on black paper, they can be hung in windows, made into mobiles, hung with colourful cellophane behind them (an idea from my 6 year old son) or just hung from the ceiling to give an effect of it “snowing indoors” (if it doesn’t get to you psychologically by making you feel cold!). To the right are some larger cut out shapes we made (these ones are just lying on our bench top). My daughter wanted me to make some “ballerina snow faeries” and cutting out things like this can be a great exercise for kids in spatial awareness… the shapes or figures have to remain joined at several points or they all fall to bits. To get the “leaf” and “round” effects, the corners need to be cut off before opening out the snowflakes. The kids also experimented with folding different ways– diagonally or across as well as just into quarters or eighths. Another idea, when the snowflakes are cut out and opened up, is to paint over them completely (spray paint would be good), then peel off for a different kind of snowflake effect. Thicker paper or cardboard would probably be better for this, especially if you want to use each shape more than once: they would be “snowflake stencils” then. You need a big brush and pan or vacuum cleaner for all the little bits at the end. Actually, as my four year old pointed out, the little bits and the “snowflakes” themselves would make great decorations for a “Frozen Party” or snow themed birthday or even for a Winter Wedding.
4. The “Science” Behind Winter
Our six year old son made this poster for a school project. Unfortunately, it got a bit squashed in his bag, but you get the general idea. Kids love to learn the “science” behind why we have seasons and why there are extremes of hot and cold weather. An exercise like this (making a poster of where our part of the earth is in relation to the sun during different seasons) can be a good activity to do at anytime, but in winter when we are stuck indoors more often than usual, it is especially good. Again, there are online activities and youtube clips to clarify this “seasonal chart”. Our kids are always fascinated, too, by the fact that our New Zealand winter (June, July, August) is Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, so be sure to point that out. My four children like the idea of people having Christmas in the snow– we often spend it in the garden or at the pool or beach.
We always hang any new posters the kids do in our lounge for a while, so the whole family can see them. This serves the double purpose of helping the child who made it take pride in their work and letting us all become familiar with the concept we are learning. As well as this, it makes our environment bright and colourful, especially during cold, winter days.
5. Matariki Crafts and Activities
For those of us in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, winter also co-incides with Matariki, the Māori New Year, when the cluster of seven stars known as the Pleiades elsewhere in the world, but as Matariki in Māori culture, first become visible above the horizon. This is in mid-June (I always associate it with my grandmother’s birth and, 83 years later, death day: June 15th, but I think it’s generally around the 18th). Anyway, there are various stories among different iwi (extended family groups) and in different areas of New Zealand about these seven stars. As well as entertaining our children with these stories, they lend themselves to some great opportunities for artistic expression. Local schools, kohanga reo and kindergartens also come up with some gorgeous arty constructions. Here are some I came across in our little stamping ground, which could easily be done at home too.
Matariki is also a time for sharing stories of those who have passed on. Our children never knew their paternal grandfather, who passed away before any of them were born. We can help them to “know” him, as well as other relatives such as great grandparents, through photos and stories… kids can create posters and booklets about people in their families. I’ve found our children respond to these stories with more interest if there is a funny thing the person used to do or say or if they had an interest similar to theirs or looked like one of them… these things create connection across generations and time. Some people create “Matariki Trees” (Rakau Matariki) with stars with pictures of deceased members of their families hanging from them.
6. Astronomy and Space
Kids love learning about space and winter is a great time to look at the stars (with a telescope is great if you have one or live near an observatory, but without works too). If you are stuck in winter school holidays, or if you home school, making “Space” a topic with your kids is a great idea. As well as looking at stars, “Space” can encompass building a “rocket” out of lounge room furniture, making a paper mache “solar system”, watching documentaries or other children’s media about space, reading about space… the list goes on. I won’t go into detail about “Space crafts”, as that’s kind of a separate topic from winter, but you get the idea. “Space” is good to learn about in winter, because the nights are longer and there’s more opportunity for kids to see the night sky. Also, space, like winter, is COLD!
These ideas are all meant to be fun and not pressured or stressful activities. I hope you will find inspiration from some of them and, through doing them, beat the “winter blues” and connect with your kids. Have a fun winter and keep warm!