Rain or sleet, hail or snow; it’s easy to turn on the tv to entertain the kids when they are stuck at home due to bad weather. Screen time is hard to pull away from and an easy habit to form. Parents and child care professionals can beat cabin fever with these helpful ideas.

Craft Your Own Entertainment

Get messy and create your own playdough using your favorite food coloring dye and simple ingredients found in your kitchen. Try a different texture with homemade gak in a resealable plastic bag. If you prefer to keep the mess on paper, try making homemade puffy paint with glue and shaving cream.

children playing with playdough

Full STEAM Ahead with Winter Science Experiments

Changing temperatures can help you explore the natural world without leaving your front yard. Discover the change in volume from different states of matter. First, grab a clear jar and fill with snow. Mark your snow line with one color marker and your guess to the amount of water that will be leftover with another, then monitor how it melts. Blow bubbles in freezing temperatures and watch them freeze before your eyes. Once frozen solid, knock them over and see if they shatter!

You can find more fun and educational activities for children when you follow our Pinterest page, or read through resources and tips our 4-C blog!

Work Out Built Up Energy

Don’t have an indoor jungle gym? A few household items can create a fun, active play space. Play the classic game of ‘Don’t Touch the Lava’ and place ‘stepping stones’ between furniture that the children can use to hop from place to place. Line up a row of pillows to balance on as they walk to challenge their gross motor skills. A few lines of tape on the ground, evenly spaced apart, easily becomes a track and field long jump. Watch the kids hop and stretch to see how far they can go.

It’s cold and flu season, and your kids are sure to encounter germs at home, the playground, daycare, or school. You can keep your family healthy by teaching children the importance of washing their hands correctly and washing their hands often enough.

Wash your hands with your child and break down the process of washing hands into 5 easy steps:

  1. Wet child's hands with clean, warm running water
  2. Use one pump of soap and scrub between fingers, backs of hands and under nails
  3. Lather the soap for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse child's hands well under clean, warm running water
  5. Dry hands using a clean towel

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Washing hands is a lesson that can be learned through repeating the interactive activity, so try to keep the energy upbeat and fun with scented or foaming soaps. Singing songs like the alphabet or Happy Birthday can help kids stay focused on the task at hand and ensure they lather soap for at least 20 seconds.

An important step when teaching children proper handwashing techniques is explaining when they should wash their hands. Kids need to wash their hands after playing with pets, using the bathroom, sneezing or coughing and playing outside. They should also know to wash their hands before touching wounds or eating. Remind kids when and how to wash their hands by adding visual aids like the ones created by Water Quality & Health Council.

Adults can teach children healthy habits that will stick with them through life by emphasizing the importance of handwashing and how germs can spread.

We all know we should eat healthy foods. The problem isn’t lack of knowledge; it’s often lack of time. However, time consuming, complicated recipes aren’t necessary. Children like simple food so unless you’re cooking for company, the simpler the better!

Start with stocking your home with the necessary staples to prepare quick, healthy meals. Keep on hand:

  • frozen fruits and vegetables,
  • good quality pantry staples such as canned beans, dried peas, cans of green chilies, canned soups to which you can add leftovers such as chicken, beef, and vegetables
  • quick easy meats and meat alternates such as eggs, canned beans, hummus, yogurt, varieties of cheese, canned fish, tofu, and peanut butter or other nut butters such as almond butter and sunflower seed butter
  • grains like brown rice, couscous, quinoa, a variety of pastas, whole grain breads, tortillas
  • sauces such as soy sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa
  • fresh fruits and vegetables, although only buy the amount that can be used up before your next shopping trip.

Helpful equipment to own includes a food processor for easy chopping, a mandolin, or grater of some kind, and a dehydrator if you like dehydrating your own fruits. An immersion blender is helpful too for blending veggies in big quantities right in the pot for easy purees or sauces. And a crockpot for meals for the children in the daytime that are ready for your family at night.

Time saving strategies include:Meal Planning

  1. Take 15 minutes to plan a weekly menu and shopping list. Plan for 3 meals and planned leftovers (make a little extra to use in a different way the next day or later that week). End the week by cleaning out the fridge with “salad bar day” for Fridays.
  2. Shop once a week, buy produce in season for the lowest cost and freshest items, and shop at farmers markets when you can to help local farmers.
  3. When you get home wash greens, herbs, and veggies, dry them, and put them away in food storage bags. The herbs will keep up to 2 weeks. You’ll save time every day because your ingredients will be ready for you to use.
  4. Prepare large meals when you have time, like on a weekend or evening, so you can make components of several meals. For example, cook big pots of beans and then season smaller portions for different meals.
  5. Cook large quantities of grains like brown rice or quinoa for several meals over the week. Cooking in batches like this makes day to day meal prep easier and quicker. Prepare sliced fruit and veggies and have them readily available for meals and snacks.
  6. Organize your kitchen. Keep frequently used items such as cooking oils/sprays, spatulas, cutting boards, and spices within easy reach. This will save you from having to search for them later.
  7. Clear the clutter. Before you start cooking, clear off your counters. This allows more room for preparation space.
  8. Chop extra. When chopping up veggies for a meal, chop more than you need. Take the extra, place in a reusable container and freeze. Then next time you need it, you can skip a step.
  9. Have everything in place. Grab all ingredients needed for your meal – chopped vegetables, measured spices, and thawed meats. It will be easier to spot missing items and avoid skipping steps.
  10. Double your recipe. For your next casserole or stew, try doubling the recipe and freezing the extra. You’ll save time and make cooking next week’s dinner a snap! Use leftovers to create different meals for the rest of the week. For example make a roast chicken and eat it as a main course one day. With the leftover chicken remove the bones and skin and use it as the base of a chili, a salad, wrap sandwiches, or soup.
  11. Clean as you go. Fill up the sink with soapy water and wash the dishes as you cook. It’ll make clean-up go much smoother!
  12. Save some for later. Freeze leftover soups, sauces, or gravies in small reusable containers.
  13. Keep a bowl in the freezer for leftover meat and vegetables and make stew, soup, or stir-fry with them.

Healthful meal themes to pick for each day of the week

  1. Bean dishes - lentil soup, beans and rice, minestrone soup, chili, burritos, or vegetarian tacos are just a few bean-based dishes that are tasty, easy to make and high in nutrients and fiber. 
  2. Fish - keep it low in fat and sodium by baking or grilling fresh fish instead of using breaded or fried.
  3. Brown rice - makes a great base for many different meals including stir fry dishes and bowls. Build a bowl using rice, veggies, salad, and a lean protein and call it a poke bowl (poke is Hawaiian for “cut into chunks”).
  4. Pasta or potatoes - baked potatoes, spaghetti or baked yams make excellent plant-based meals. Top with meat sauce, chili, and/or cheeses such as cottage cheese,
  5. Lean poultry or meat - there is always room for a favorite meal of poultry or meat during the week. You can roast once and serve more than once - use leftovers in soups, stir fry dishes, salads or chili for one of the other meals.
  6. Salad - Make a large main dish salad with grilled fish, tuna or leftover chicken.
  7. Soup and stew - homemade soups that are low in fat and sodium make a hearty meal that’s high in fiber and low in calories. Examples are veggie, split pea, lentil, and minestrone. Add meat and cook slowly for a hearty stew.

Quick easy meals and snacks

  1. Combine leftover vegetables with scrambled eggs and a little cheese.
  2. Top a leftover sweet potato with vanilla Greek yogurt, walnuts, and cinnamon.
  3. Serve cooked eggs over a bed of sautéed greens. Add diced sweet peppers, mushrooms, or onions in with the greens if you like.
  4. Top an egg and cheese muffin with a slice of tomato and spinach.
  5. Try sweet potato hash with onions, eggs, and a bit of cheese.
  6. Make a breakfast casserole with crumbled sausage
  7. Toss green salad with canned chickpeas, halved grape tomatoes, black olives with a capful of olive oil and a capful of apple cider vinegar.
  8. Mix hummus with a squeeze of lemon juice and a chopped roasted red pepper and serve with cucumber slices or celery or crackers.
  9. Mix any leftover cooked vegetables such as chopped green beans, broccoli, corn, peas, with a drained can of black beans. Dress with olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice plus a pinch of cumin and salt.
  10. Make sandwiches with guacamole or hummus instead of processed meats. They’re just as easy yet aren’t loaded with nitrates and nitrites, preservatives that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Top with greens, tomato, and cucumbers in a whole grain wrap.
  11. Instead of buying lunch meats, make your own with leftover roast chicken or roast pork. Mix Greek yogurt with leftover chicken or turkey, add diced cucumber and celery, and fresh herbs. Try it in a whole wheat pita.
  12. Skip the meat and cheese on sandwiches and try marinated tofu and veggies on a whole grain roll; or black beans, onions, peppers, and salsa in a whole wheat wrap; or almond butter or other nut butter and sliced fruit such as pears or bananas on whole wheat bread.


  • “Food and Health Communications – Creative Culinary Nutrition Resources for Health Educators.” Food and Health Communications, Food and Health Communications,
  • Jacobsen, Maryann Tomovich. “15 Of the All-Time Best Strategies for Raising Healthy Eaters.” Maryann Jacobsen, 12 Dec. 2018,
  • “Choose MyPlate.” Choose MyPlate,
  • From Asparagus to Zucchini: a Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce. Madison Area CSA Coalition, 2004.

As I load up my trunk with containers of blocks and found materials in preparation for yet another training for early childhood teachers, I tell myself that I am getting too old for all this schlepping. Just as quickly as the thought crosses my mind, a surge of excitement and energy pulses through me. After six years of facilitating professional development sessions on the exploration of materials with teachers, I am more convinced than ever that blocks are one of the most essential materials for the early childhood classroom.

“Why then, in the name of school readiness, is block play marginalized, if not disappearing from children’s classrooms?” asks Margie Carter in the foreword to Creative Block Play (Hansel 2017). Increasingly, young children today are sitting in front of two-dimensional screens and worksheets instead of having playful, hands-on, sensory experiences with three-dimensional objects (Hansel 2015). Why is this a problem and what is it about blocks, and wooden unit blocks in particular, that make them such an important material for young children?

Scientific Evidence

Many early childhood experts, including Friedrich Froebel, Caroline Pratt, Harriet Johnson, Elizabeth Hirsch, and Mary Jo Pollman, have documented the value of blocks for children’s learning, offering evidence that when children are given time to plan, construct, and create with blocks, they develop socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically (Hansel 2017, 5). This evidence is now being confirmed by scientists using new technologies to see the inner workings of the brain.

blocksAccording to Dr. Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, brain research now shows that as you learn something deeply, the synaptic activity in the brain will create lasting connections (unlike when you learn something in a superficial way) and that “synapses fire when we have conversations, play games, or build with toys” (Boaler 2016, 1). In other words, building with blocks to experience their three-dimensional properties will create a lasting pathway in the brain and a deeper understanding of shape, whereas identifying three dimensional shapes on a workbook page is unlikely to build understanding of shape and three-dimensionality.

The Importance of Spatial Skills

In addition, there is exciting new evidence linking good spatial skills and children’s future achievement in all the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects (Lubinski 2013; Newcombe 2010). “Despite the evidence, however, the importance of spatial skills is often overlooked as a key feature of STEM education. This frequent neglect of spatial development creates an additional barrier to children’s STEM learning” (Berkowicz and Myers 2017) and reminds those of us in early childhood education that we must start paying attention to developing spatial skills. While laying the foundation in the STEM subjects is important, especially for underserved populations and those underrepresented in the STEM fields, including girls, spatial skills are critical in many other fields, as well as in everyday life, such as when we load up a trunk with blocks and navigate our way to a new location for the first time.

The great news is that spatial skills can be improved with practice. While not all experts agree on a common definition of what spatial skills are (Hansel 2017, 20), most agree that the use of manipulatives helps children make sense of abstract concepts. Wooden unit blocks are a perfect example of a child-friendly manipulative that can be used to strengthen spatial skills. Think about how a child recreates a zoo with blocks while closely referring to a map of the zoo and carefully ensuring that each zoo animal fits into the enclosures she has made to scale.

Isn’t it time to put blocks back in the spotlight again?

Start with giving children ample time for open-ended exploration with blocks, but don’t stop there. If you really want to see children’s spatial thinking flourish, target the spatial skills in the table below and offer block activities that encourage spatial language and challenging tasks! Now the spotlight is on you!

Reprinted with Permission:  Regan Hansel, Rosanne. “Blocks: Back in the Spotlight Again!” Teaching STEM with Ramps, Community Playthings, 5 Sept. 2017,



  • Berkowicz, Jill and Myers, Ann. “Spatial Skills: A Neglected Dimension of Early STEM Education.” Retrieved on June 27, 2017 at
  • Boaler, Jo. 2016. Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Hansel, Rosanne. 2017. Creative Block Play: A Comprehensive Guide to Learning through Building. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
  • Hansel, Rosanne. 2015. “Bringing Blocks Back to the Kindergarten Classroom.” Young Children 70 (1):44-51.
  • Lubinski, David. 2013.“Early Spatial Reasoning Predicts Later Creativity and Innovation, Especially in STEM Fields.” Science Daily. July 15.
  • Newcombe, Nora. 2010. “Picture This: Increasing Math and Science Learning by Improving Spatial Thinking.” American Educator, Summer 2010, 29-43.
  • Pollman, Mary Jo. 2010. Blocks and Beyond: Strengthening Early Math and Science Skills through Spatial Learning. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.©

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