While the term “cabin fever” likely originated with sailors who lost their marbles after spending too much time at sea, it’s a feeling that most of us face at some point in the winter months. Grey skies, cold temperatures, and dreary weather keep us locked up indoors and, after a while, we start to feel a little claustrophobic.
This goes double if you have kids and triple if you’re trying to save money. Even if you’re desperately bored, it can be tough to find a family-friendly winter activity that won’t break the bank.
That’s why we’ve rounded up this list of 10 cheap and fun family activities to last you all winter long. Skim the list, find something your family would like to do, and beat the winter blues.
1. Have fun in the snow
If you live in a state that gets a decent amount of snowfall, then you’re probably already sick of winter weather. However, when boredom hits, the snow can become your best friend by turning familiar terrain into a family playground. A few tried-and-true classic winter activities include the following.
All you need to have a blast sledding is a big hill, a little bit of courage, and a sled. Whether you rock a well-crafted traditional wooden toboggan or a simple plastic saucer, the result is the same: an exhilarating ride that you and your kids will want to take again and again.
Safety is vital when it comes to sledding. Make sure that everyone is warm and that no one in your group takes unnecessary risks. Toddlers should ride with a parent.
Building a snowman
“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” from Disney’s Frozen is a classic winter song for a reason: deep down, pretty much everyone agrees that building a snowman is a good time.
If the classic carrot-nosed snowman doesn’t appeal to you, encourage your family to get creative. You could even turn the activity into a game by giving awards for the most inventive twist on a snowman.
Making snow angels
Making a snow angel comes much more naturally to a kid than an adult, if only because kids are more worried about having fun than they are about looking silly. You should follow their lead: filling your yard with snow angels is a blast, and it’s surprisingly exhausting, getting everyone ready for a good rest.
Having a snowball fight
Kids love snowball fights. They’re exciting, engaging, and almost feel like bad behavior. You can structure your snowball fight with rules and teams, but sometimes it’s more fun to just pitch a snowball at someone and see what happens next. If you do want to go to the trouble of making the fight into a competition, make sure the teams are relatively even; otherwise, the game can quickly turn into a shouting match with everyone accusing everyone else of being unfair.
Skiing or snowboarding
It’s up to you to determine when your kids are ready to ski or snowboard. Some kids start as toddlers, but most parents wait until their kids are a bit more comfortable on their feet before introducing them to either of these classic winter sports.
If you feel comfortable bringing the entirely family skiing or snowboarding, however, you’re in for a treat. There’s nothing like zooming down a slope to blow away your cabin fever.
2. Cook up some delicious winter treats
Winter cooking is, by nature, indulgent. Winter treats should be comfort food, helping to take our minds off the frightful weather for a moment. These winter treats are delicious and simple to prepare, making it easy for the whole family to get involved.
Making popcorn on the stove instead of in the microwave turns it from a snack into an event. Even better, it’s a simple process and a delicious, inexpensive treat. All you need is some popcorn kernels and a little bit of oil, and you’re good to go.
To take your popcorn to the next level, set out a DIY topping bar for your family. Shredded cheese, chocolate candy, nuts: almost anything goes well with salty, crunchy popcorn, and kids will appreciate the element of customization.
Hot cocoa is the signature drink of the winter for good reason: it’s creamy, comforting, and delicious. While you’re probably accustomed to making hot cocoa from pre-packaged mixes, making your own is actually super easy and very much worth it. Top it with a bit of whipped cream and serve to make your family happy.
If getting the family together to make holiday cookies isn’t already a tradition in your family, make it one. No matter what your favorite flavor is, there’s probably a holiday cookie out there for you; just browse recipes until something catches your eye.
If you want to keep things simple, or you want to give younger children an easy cookie to bake, pick up a package of holiday cookie dough from the grocery store. All you need to do is pull it apart and put it on a baking sheet and you’ll have perfect cookies in no time.
Make your own pizzas
Make dinner a participatory event with a make-your-own pizza bar. It’s up to you how much you want to let your kids help with making the dough and spreading the sauce, but when it comes to toppings, let them go crazy. They’ll have a blast, even if they end up finding out that cheese, pepperoni, and M&Ms don’t mix well.
Ice cream sundaes
For a real crowd pleaser, go with an ice cream sundae bar. Despite the fact that ice cream is cold, it can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered when you have the winter doldrums. If you’re worried about your kids having too much sugar, allow them to order their sundaes from you; they get the thrill of customization and you can control their portion size.
3. Tackle some chores
Sometimes, the best thing to do to tackle the winter blues is be productive. Your family members might moan and groan when you suggest that they get to work, but the chores will keep everybody occupied each day and make your home a more comfortable place to be when winter weather keeps you locked in.
Make a chore chart
If you have kids and you don’t have a chore chart, you’re missing a great opportunity to organize. There are many different ways to make a chore chart (just browse Pinterest and see for yourself), but the basics are the same: make a list of chores and assign them out. When a chore is complete, mark it off for the day so that you can easily keep track of who has done what. For more detailed, no-frills instructions, check out WikiHow.
Under 5 chores
Are you unsure what chores are right for your kids? If they’re under 5, most of their chores will revolve around taking care of themselves and their surroundings. Picking up their toys and dressing themselves, for instance, can be framed as chores and give your children a chance to develop their independence. Kids closer to 5 may excel helping out with simple tasks such as sorting laundry, setting the table, or keeping the pets fed.
5 and up chores
As kids get older, they’re able to take on significant responsibilities, such as sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, and helping with other housework. Adolescents might do yard work or even prepare meals once a week, learning how to maintain a house while making your life a little bit easier.
4. Get creative with arts and crafts
Arts and crafts aren’t just for kids. With the rise of adult coloring books and the enduring popularity of knitting and crocheting, arts and crafts are a time-tested way to pass the time. We link out to a few winter-themed crafts that we thought were cute below, but you should follow your passion when it comes to creativity. Any evening spent creating something is an evening well spent.
These adorable, three-dimensional snowflakes are simple for kids of all ages to make and all you need is salt, flour, and food coloring to get started.
There’s plenty of room for improvisation and creativity with these snowmen, and they make great holiday decorations; what’s not to love?
Paint stick snowmen
Paint sticks are free at home improvement stores, making this craft as inexpensive as it is fun. On top of that, you can use the snowmen that you make to play puppet show with your kids right after, leading to a whole afternoon of fun.
Waterless snow globes
This craft is a little bit more involved than the others are, but we included it due to its sheer potential for creativity. Kids create their own holiday scene inside the snow globe, which doubles as an ornament that you can hang on your tree. You’re sure to make lasting memories with this one.
Pillow and blanket fort
No link necessary for this activity; whatever you’re imagining is probably much more fun than any picture we can show you. You probably remember creating these forts when you were a kid and having the best time ever. Give your kids a chance to do the same.
5. Play a game
Some families are “game families” and some aren’t, but even if you fall into the latter category, playing a game with your loved ones is a great way to break the monotony. Below are some of our favorites.
If you only have a regular deck of cards, you can’t go wrong with Go Fish or War, especially with younger kids. Uno is a great card game for families as well; it’s easy to pick up and a blast to play.
The sheer amount of board games available is staggering, but we still love the classics. There’s nothing like a game of Sorry, Trouble, or Candy Land to get the whole family involved. If you really have some time to kill, you can try a game of Monopoly, but you’d better be in it for the long haul.
Though not technically a game, puzzles are engaging and larger puzzles can span days, weeks, and even months as your family steadily works toward completing them.
Rainy day games
Games like I Spy, Duck Duck Goose, and Simon Says are thrilling for younger children and require no equipment to play. If you really want to make someone’s day, spend time coming up with a scavenger hunt that takes your family around your home searching for clues. That’s a memory no one will soon forget.
6. Learn something together
“Educational” is not a synonym for boring. Taking the time to learn something together enriches the mind of every member of your family while bringing you all closer together.
Watch a documentary
There are family-friendly documentaries on nearly every subject that can help spark your children’s love of learning. Animal- and nature-centric documentaries are often especially exciting for kids.
Read a historical book
If your kids are young enough to read to, check out a few historical children’s books from the library on a particular subject or historical figure. Try your best to keep reading fun and engaging so that this activity doesn’t feel like school.
Draw your family tree
Grab a big piece of paper, sit down with your family, and try to sketch out your family tree. Everyone will learn something new in the process, and your children will develop a sense of family pride and history in the process.
7. Have a movie marathon
There’s nothing cozier than a movie marathon, and it can be a great low-impact way to spend a day. Below are a few themes to consider.
Obviously, holiday movies are going to be big in December. While favorites such as “Frozen” might make the cut, make sure that you mix up old favorites with new films so that no one gets bored. “Home Alone,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” and “The Polar Express” sounds like a good triple feature to us.
Disney animated movies are classics for a reason. The animation is breathtaking, the music is memorable, and the stories are timeless. If you’re sick of watching the same old Disney movies over and over again, broaden your horizons with lesser-known films such as “The Rescuers,” “The Great Mouse Detective,” and “The Aristocats.”
If you really want to impress your younger children, show them the movies that you loved when you were younger. Hopefully, they’ll be as into “E.T.,” “The NeverEnding Story,” and “Matilda” as you were.
8. Go out and have fun
Sometimes, you just need to get out of the house. These outings are affordable for the whole family and can provide you with a much-needed cabin fever reprieve.
In the grand scheme of things, bowling is a cheap night out, especially if you go when there’s a deal. Whether you’re good or bad at bowling, something innately satisfying exists in hurling 10-pound ball to knock down a bunch of pins.
Hit the movies
The movies are perfect winter getaway, but they can get expensive. Our advice: go during a matinee and eat at home beforehand so you’re less tempted to splurge on overpriced movie theater snacks.
Visit the zoo
Assuming it’s not punishingly cold out, the zoo can be a great winter activity. Many zoos offer discounted admission during colder months to try to drive visits, saving you major cash over a summer visit.
9. Go out and expand your mind
Sometimes, a recreational outing can double as a mind-enriching experience. Here are just a few.
Visiting the museum
Art, science, and history museums have something for every member of your family, no matter their ages. Many also offer free or discounted admission at certain times or on certain days.
Taking a hike
Bundle up! While visiting the park in the dead of winter might seem like more trouble than it’s worth, nature in the snow is breathtakingly beautiful. Introduce a theme, such as bird watching or spotting animal tracks, to keep your family members interested in their surroundings.
Visiting a family member
Make the effort to visit with a rarely seen family member, especially senior family members who might otherwise not get a lot of daily interaction. You won’t be sorry that you reconnected.
Nothing makes you appreciate what you have like giving back. Volunteering is something that the entire family can do together, no matter how old your children might be. Almost anything can be a volunteer opportunity, even if not officially called that. As long as you’re making your community a better place, you’re doing something right.
The important thing to remember when you’re feeling cabin fever is that it’s only temporary. A fun, family activity is waiting to help cure your winter blues; you just have to find it.