For those who celebrate, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are here. For mom and dad, the last-minute rush to get everything and everyone together is on; for kids, the anticipation of what will be under the tree is at sky-high levels; and the overall stress and adrenaline of the holidays have reached a fever pitch.
Then, it’s over.
While there’s New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to look forward to, for kids, Christmas is the high point. And once presents have been opened, the rest of the holiday break can stretch into what seems like infinity.
If your kids turn to their various screens, or worse – to fighting with each other, there are ways to keep them occupied and engaged and, who knows, maybe even have fun of the real, not virtual, kind.
At-home science labWhen you want to keep everybody busy inside but away from their computers, science experiments can be a cheap and fairly easy way to spend an afternoon.
Joe Lounge, manager of operations for the Powerhouse Science Center, said the Powerhouse offers activities that you can do at home if a trip downtown isn’t in the cards.
The first activity he recommends involves circuits: You can light up a light bulb just with a bulb, battery and wire. Then you can kick it up a notch by making a dough that is conductive. When you mix it up, it feels just like Play-Doh. The secret: It has a lot of salt in it, and that’s how it conducts, Lounge said.
Kids can stretch or shape the dough to create interesting-looking circuits.
Looking to get your hands dirty? The next activity Lounge recommends requires ice, salt and food coloring.
Take something with an interesting shape – a rubber glove, a balloon (“Something a little more fun than ice cubes,” Lounge said) – and fill it with water and freeze. Once the object is frozen, remove it from whatever you used to give it shape. Take some salt water and a little food coloring and make several different salt-water solutions with the coloring.
Then, use something – an eyedropper would be ideal – to give you control over how much salt-water solution to apply. Now, drop the colored salt water onto the ice. The salt water will melt the ice and allow you to make colored designs in your frozen item.
“The science is you’re changing the freezing temperature with the salt,” Lounge said, adding that this isn’t necessarily the best activity for younger children because it’s a relatively slow process.
While these activities each offer scientific lessons and principles, Lounge said the main objective is fun.
“I like young kids to associate fun with science, just that basic association. So that later, when they’re actually learning science content, it feels like fun because they’ve already associated (science) with fun. That’s extremely important,” he said. “It’s not so much about the content – they may learn a fact or two – that’s not really what it’s about; it’s more about the effect of feeling the fun and accomplishment.”
Exploring the natural worldIf your kids are suffering from a classic case of cabin fever, take them outside, said Stephanie Weber, executive director of Durango Nature Studies.
She recommends simply going outside and immersing yourself in nature.
“We try to structure youths’ time so much that there’s something to be said about just letting them have the equivalent of recess, of giving them free time outdoors to just explore their world,” she said. “We have the perfect playground in Durango, where pretty much anywhere you live, you can walk out your door and have access to some pretty amazing natural elements.”
The most convenient of these would be the Animas River Trail. Weber said that even in winter, there’s a lot you can see and do.
“Walk along the trail and listen to the river and look at who’s in the river because you’ll see some pretty neat birds that are there this time of year – some visitors that come from the north who are currently here,” she said. “You get unique ducks out there and other water fowl. Just look at how the flora and the fauna – the plants and animals – navigate cold weather.”
And while outside time can be unstructured, Weber said that parents can make a game out of a walk – come up with a list for a scavenger hunt; make art from nature; or for younger kids, look for particular shapes or images in the natural elements.
“This is the time to be unstructured, so I don’t think we need to work too hard,” she said. “Rather, just provide the opportunity to reconnect to that which gives us energy and is really part of our foundation.
“Just because it’s going to be a little cold doesn’t mean we all have to hunker down in front of our screens,” Weber said.