Cabin Fever Survival Guide

Cabin Fever Survival Guide

Some people “do” winter better than others. In my house, as soon as the temperatures drop below 50 degrees, we act like we’re snowed in for the winter. Cabin fever sets in and it’s panic…it’s boredom…it’s absolute chaos. And I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who can relate. Even though we haven’t had too much snow this year in Richmond, record cold snaps and rain have left a lot of us with packs of panicky, bored little people running circles around our sanity.

But winter weather doesn’t have to limit the fun. In fact, those cold, snowy, or even rainy days can make for some of the best memories of the year. I’ve learned (the hard way, I’ll admit) that the key to surviving my kids’ inevitable cabin fever is planning and preparation.

The following guide provides general tips, as well as age-appropriate activities for elementary-age kids, tweens, and teens, as well as a few ideas that work for all ages.

General Tips:

Stock up on the craft supplies now! Especially while holiday sales and post-holiday sales are in full swing, take advantage of picking up little odds and ends that will come in handy. You may even want to make a special point of heading out just after the holidays to take advantage of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Easter clearance sales that will allow you to get cheap supplies for next year.

Make activity boxes. Make a note of some of the activities listed below and store the necessary items in labeled boxes (shipping boxes and shoe boxes are perfect). Then, when that first cry of “I’m bored,” comes your way, head to the closet and grab a box. Boredom solved!

Don’t be afraid to go outside anyway. As long as it’s not snowing buckets, bundle everyone up and enjoy the wintery weather. A good, brisk walk in the cold will get the blood pumping and wear everyone out in a good way. Just be sure to have hot chocolate on hand for a warm-up treat when you come back inside!

Activities for Elementary-Age Kids:

Read chapter books together

Chapter books can seem overwhelming for young readers, but when you read with them, they’ll find a world of imagination that will keep them coming back for more. Make it a goal to read a few chapters whenever cabin fever sets in. Not only will this keep the TV watching to a minimum, but you’ll also help create a love of reading that will stick with them throughout their lives. Series are especially great and, who knows, you might even want to keep this practice up throughout the year. A few examples are:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Harry Potter
  • The Guardians of Ga’Hoole
  • Magic Treehouse

Cost: Keep costs to a minimum by borrowing or trading books among friends, check your local library, visit Amazon, or check out for discounted used books.

Ages: This is a great activity for elementary-aged kids who may not have gotten into chapter books yet themselves, or who are just starting. Reading together can make those big books seem less intimidating.

Parental Involvement: This is a great activity for parents to be involved in, but if you have an older kid who likes reading to the younger ones, that works, too!

Build a fort

Pull out old sheets, blankets, sleeping bags, couch cushions, or whatever else you want and start building. You’ll be amazed at how creative kids can be. And yes, you might have to give up your living room for a few days, but trust me, it will be worth it. You can even get flashlights or glow sticks and plan for a night of indoor “camping.” Kids will love the act of creating and building, and with their own little “clubhouse,” they can get their imaginations going full speed ahead. Even better, if you can find a spot in the house that can be dedicated to a “perma-fort” (i.e., a fort that stays up), you can really let the creativity and imagination go wild.

Cost: Absolutely free! Just use what you have around the house and have some fun.

Age: This is a great activity for younger kids. They will love having their own little “cave” to play in and can easily crawl in and out of whatever openings they make.

Parental Involvement: You might want to be on hand for some of the trickier feats of engineering, but once you’ve got everything set up, let them make it their own!

Have a puppet show

Chances are you’ve got more than a few old socks without a match. Use them to create sock puppets. Glue on hair made from yarn, create clothes or other accessories from old buttons, bits of felt, or even wrapping paper scraps. Kids will have a blast creating characters with whatever unique characteristics, personalities, and names they choose to give them. Then use an old sheet or large cardboard box for the “theater.” String the sheet across two chairs or cut out one side of a box large enough for the kids to hide behind. Make popcorn for the audience and let them put on a show!

This is the kind of activity I love because it can easily take up an entire afternoon, it can involve the whole family (as participants or as the audience) and it can be something they can come back to repeatedly on any house-bound day.

Cost:  Free if you have supplies around the house. Otherwise, you can easily pick up little bits and pieces at a craft store for $10 or less.

Age: This is a super fun activity for elementary school kids or even younger.

Parental Involvement: You’ll need to help out with supplies and some of the basic set-up. But depending on your kids’ age and creativity, this is also a project they can run with!

Activities for Tweens and Middle Schoolers:

Get in the kitchen!

There are a lot of people who say, “I love cooking with my kids.” When my kids were little, I was not one of those people. The messes, the “I can do it MYSELF,” and the potential for burning the house down was more than I could handle. But, when my kids hit the tween years, I loved having them in the kitchen. If your tweens and young teens are looking for ways to while away the winter blues, get out the baking supplies and let them go to town. Not only will your house smell AMAZING, but this is a great way for your kids to a) learn to follow instructions (maybe? hopefully?) and b) get in a little bit of math practice while measuring ingredients. Have them stock your kitchen with cookies and treats, make dinner, or just have some fun.

Cost: Just the cost of supplies. Try sites like Super Cook to enter ingredients you already have in the house and find matching recipes. Or pull out some family-favorite recipes, then make menus and shop for ingredients together.

Age: For unsupervised (or mostly unsupervised) cooking, kids 10 and above are usually ready for the task.

Parental involvement: I’m not saying you SHOULD leave a 12-year old, a mixer, and a hot oven alone in the house together, but you should be able to make this activity as hands-on or hands-off as you want. It’s a great way for your kids to learn some independence – which you’ll be glad of next time they tell you they want a snack and you can tell them to make it themselves.

Make some magic

The beauty of middle schoolers is that, while they may not let you hold their hands in public (no matter how nicely you ask), they’re still kids at heart – and magic tricks are still cool. Make the most of cabin fever and put their minds to work on some magic. Do a simple online search for magic tricks and card tricks for kids or check out lists like BuzzFeed’s 17 Easy Magic Tricks That Will Blow Your Kids’ Minds.

Most of the tricks can be done with supplies you have around the house and your kids will love stumping you with their new found skills. We especially like this idea for cabin fever cures, because it requires some brain power on their part, but all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the show.

Cost: Many tricks can be done with items you have around the house. If you’re interested in taking it up a notch, visit Amazon for pre-packaged magic kits, ranging anywhere from $5 for card tricks up to $60 and higher for more elaborate tricks and illusions.

Age: This activity is ideal for your tweens and young teens. They are old enough to figure out the tricks themselves – and their young minds are still curious enough to keep trying until they get it right!

Parental involvement: You might want to help them find the tricks online or in books, but as far as performing the tricks, you’ll only need to help if they ask. Otherwise, simply prepare to be amazed.

 Do some improv

If you’ve ever seen shows like “Whose Line is it Anyway?” then you know how funny improvisation can be. Fill a large bag with props from around the house – funny hats, scarves, random objects, stuffed animals, old dress-up items, etc. Write down various scenes or scenarios and put them in a hat. Get everyone to line up, draw a scene from the hat, read it out loud, then have each participant pull a prop from the bag and act out the scene. If your kids have friends over, make teams and give each team their own bag of props and compete for little prizes.

Cost: Nothing! Use things from around the house for silly and totally creative, fun.

Age: This activity is perfect for creative young minds – little kids may struggle with the lack of structure, but middle schoolers were absolutely made for this kind of thing.

Parental Involvement: You might want to help with the preparation, but as far as the rest – let the kids have at it! You will make a great audience, though.

Activities for Teenagers:

Finally DO something with all of those digital photos…

If your teenagers are anything like mine, they have approximately 15 MILLION photos on their phones, iPods, and/or computers. And you probably have nearly as many. All too often, we let these photos just sit on our devices, gathering virtual dust, as it were. During those boring winter days, have your kids start sorting through them. Have them organize by years, events, friend groups, or whatever. Then use an inexpensive print service like Shutterfly, Costco or CVS (for same-day prints) to print the photos out. Make memory boards (a collage on cardboard or canvas), buy an inexpensive scrapbook, make memory books for grandparents or other family members, or find other creative ideas on Pinterest or your favorite craft site. Whatever you do, just get those pictures where you can look at them for a change!

Cost: Photos can be printed for as little as $0.15 each (4×6 prints on Shutterfly). Other supplies will vary, but many projects can be done for $30 or less, depending on the number of pictures you print and the type of materials you use.

Age: This is such a great project for teenagers, mainly because they are likely to have more than enough photos. But, it’s also a good opportunity to teach them some organizational skills.

Parental Involvement: You’ll most likely be asked to provide the cash for supplies, of course. But the rest is up to you. If you can do a project together (a scrapbook of family vacations or memory book for grandparents maybe), then take the opportunity to get your teenager talking. Reminisce about your adventures or tell stories about when they were young.

Find ways to give back 

It’s never too early to teach your kids about helping those in need. But teenagers, in particular, are sponges for this kind of lesson. They are starting to think about their own futures and teaching them the importance of lending a helping hand to others will stick with them as they grow and develop. But the REAL bonus? You can get their rooms clean at the same time! How does this amazing magic trick work, you ask? It’s simple.

Call local homeless shelters and half-way houses to find out what sort of supplies are needed. Have them go through their rooms and closets to collect articles of clothing or other household goods. Get them to make lists of other supplies (like shampoos, lotions, socks, etc.) that are needed and plan a shopping trip together. Once you have supplies, they can make donation bags or baskets. Need other ideas for doing good? If it snows, have them shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway or spend a day volunteering at a pet shelter. The options here are practically limitless! For more ideas, be sure to check out our list of volunteer opportunities for kids in Richmond.

Cost: If you have supplies to donate, the cost is nothing! If you buy supplies, check out the travel sections of Target, Walmart or other general supply stores where you can find many supplies for $1/item or less.

Age: This is a great activity for most ages, but teens, in particular, can take the lead on it. Plus, you can talk to them about the issues that are most important to them, then have them make the phone calls and come up with ideas for how to help.

Parental Involvement: You’ll be needed for guidance and perhaps a ride to the store or volunteer location. But let your teen take as much of a lead as they would like. You might be surprised at just how much they get involved.

Have a movie marathon

If you have little kids, then sometimes TV is a necessary evil, even if it’s only to buy yourself 30 minutes of peace. But you may feel bad about putting little ones in front of the screen for too long. However, if you have older kids in your house, somehow it doesn’t seem quite so wrong – and with their longer attention spans, movie marathons are a perfect winter activity.

Find a movie series (or a collection of movies), get in your comfy clothes, pop some popcorn, and binge to your hearts’ content. Watch a movie series that you loved when you were their age (the original Star Wars trilogy, Back to The Future, Indiana Jones, etc.) or go with something that’s popular now (Harry Potter, Divergent, The Hunger Games), then take the opportunity to talk about how movies have changed. Or just talk about the things they like today and the things you liked back then. It may be a day of “vegging out” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a day of bonding, as well.

Cost: Most movies can be rented via Netflix, on streaming services like Amazon or through Redbox movie rental kiosks. The average cost of a rental will be between $3 -$5.

Age: You can do this with most ages, of course, but for a good, all-day kind of binge, older kids tend to have more of an attention span. Besides, you won’t feel quite so guilty about breaking your “screen time” rules!

Parental Involvement: Who would want to miss out on a movie marathon?? Or an excuse to eat popcorn in your jammies, for that matter. If you’ve got the time, then don’t miss this chance to cuddle up with the kids and enjoy the day.

Family Activities That Suit All Ages:

Do puzzles

Set up one (or more) puzzle stations in the house and don’t stop until you’re done.

Set up a scavenger hunt

Make a list of random household items (or hide things yourself) and give everyone a list. First one to find everything wins a prize.

Have a game day

Get out all of your favorite board games and make a day of it. Make some special snacks and just play, play play!

No matter what you decide to do, just know that the winter doldrums don’t have to get you or your kids down. There’s plenty of fun to be had, often with nothing more than what you already have in the house. We hope that you’ll give some of these ideas a try and let us know what you think!

In the meantime, how do you beat cabin fever in your house? We would love to hear from you! Send us an email at and share some of your favorite tips and ideas.