Creative ways to keep your kids occupied when cabin fever strikes

bored-kid-looking-out-rainy-window Photo by Tomsickova Tatyana

In general, it’s a good idea to live by the family maxim that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. That means enjoying the outdoors no matter what the sky — or the thermometer — might be doing.

No matter why you find yourselves inside, be on the watch for cabin fever, which can set in at a moment’s notice. Whines of “I’m boooooored,” petty arguments, wanton destruction, and general grumpiness are all signs that your cottage walls are closing in, making tempers short and attention spans shorter.

Never fear. Cabin fever can be treated with a little creativity. Of course, you can resort to the old standbys: board games, movies and puzzles. But if you keep a few supplies on hand: a bag of old clothes, some basic art supplies, leftover boxes, a junk drawer (or shed), you can stretch beyond the rainy-day basics with these alternatives.

Lip synch contest

For this to be really fun, the whole family needs to participate. Each person figures out a song, learns the lyrics, devises a routine and presents their mute masterpiece to the rest of the family. Alternatively, the kids put together a “concert” and perform for the grown-ups. Use old clothes and some makeup to help make the experience really authentic.

Gutter racetrack

If you’ve got eavestrough sections lying around (check the shed), you can create surprisingly fun racetracks for toy cars. Run them down the stairs for the added bonus of providing a little extra exercise, or lay them end to end and see who can get their car to go the farthest on a single push.

Create a cottage storybook

Do your kids like to write or illustrate? Do they like comics? Talk a little about what makes a good story (conflict and resolution, action that rises and falls) and have them craft stories or comics about being at the cottage, complete with illustrations and a front and back cover. Or, if you’ve got a cottage guestbook, ask them to illustrate some of the interior pages — a nice surprise for future visitors.

Make a marble racetrack with pool noodles

If your pool noodles are languishing in the shed, haul them out, find some marbles, and create marble tracks. Kids will get a huge kick out of poking the marble in one end of the noodle and having it shoot out the other end. Feeling ambitious? See if you can connect many pool noodles together to create a whole marble course.       

Create a road out of masking tape

If your kids enjoy playing with toy cars, take some masking tape and lay out long strips throughout the cottage to make a “road.” If they’re old enough, kids can take (washable) markers and draw road lines on the tape to make it look super realistic. If you’ve got a set of blocks or Lego (or even some small boxes) kids can use those to put “buildings” alongside the road.

Play hopscotch

That masking tape will also come in handy for creating an indoor hopscotch grid. Move chairs and tables out of the centre of a room, and lay down tape to create a giant hopscotch. You don’t need to feel limited to a traditional pattern, either. See if you can extend the game through multiple rooms for extra fun.

Make a play tray

Take a medium or large plastic container (or box lid) and fill it with rice, sugar, salt or unpopped popcorn kernels. Add a toy bulldozer, some plastic animals and a shovel or two, and you’ve got a great (contained) play area. For easy cleanup, spread a tarp under the play area, then shake it outside once the fun is done.

Water bottle bowling

Clear some space, set up plastic bottles in a pattern, and see who can knock them down with a light ball. The bottles will stand up more easily if there’s a little water in them, but make sure the lids are on tightly!

Build forts

Build classic forts with couch cushions, kitchen chairs and blankets, or get extra creative and use cardboard boxes and markers to create something really elaborate. Bonus points if you’ve saved really big boxes, like those for refrigerators or washer/dryers.

Make collages

Take the old magazines that are collecting dust around the cottage and use them to make collages. Pick a theme, like “Going to the Zoo,” “Crazy Dreams” or “Outer Space,” and see what kids come up with. After the collages are done, cut out fancy frames from construction paper and hang them on the wall like a real art gallery.

Conversation starters

Older kids might get a kick out of making popcorn and hot chocolate, then sitting around with a list of conversation starters and getting to know each other in a different way. (These also work on car trips, around the dinner table and at bed time.) Print the starters up on card-stock, then each person participating can pull one and ask the group or an individual. People are allowed not to answer, but they can’t lie.    

How do you pass the time when you’re inside at the cottage?