How to keep children happy and healthy in winter
When the weather is inclement, it can be difficult to keep small ones entertained. Arlene Harris has some suggestions on how to avoid the dreaded cabin fever
Anyone with children will know that while everyone is excited about the onset of Christmas, the winter months can be a little more difficult as the weather becomes colder and wetter and the nights close in with alarming speed.
And while we are well used to hearing complaints about the Irish weather, at least during the summer time, the kids can be outside for hours, even if it's cloudy or a bit damp. Whereas during the winter, the bright and dry daylight hours are few and far between, which can bring about 'cabin fever' in both parents and children.
Art and crafts
Christine Prendeville has three children - Holly (12), Daire (9) and Alex (6). She also runs Little Oak Montessori School in North County Dublin and says her experience, as both a mother and a teacher, has given her plenty of ideas to help beat the winter blues.
"We all dread the long, dark and dreary evenings when the children can no longer play outside," she says. "But part of me enjoys the thoughts of a warm, cosy fire even though we can get a bit on top of each other when the weather is bad. But I have learned that by organising a few simple things in advance, everyone can be kept happy.
"Preschool children love being busy and having a well-stocked box of art and craft 'goodies' is a big help. These can include toilet and kitchen rolls, butter/yoghurt tubs, egg boxes, jars and tins.
"With some glitter, PVA glue, feathers, buttons and stickers, Pinterest can be our saviour as it's full of simple crafty ideas the children always love."
Make a mess
The experienced preschool teacher has more ideas up her sleeve to help keep little ones amused and says parents should chill-out about the mess and get down and dirty.
"Playdough is always an instant hit," she says. "Many parents shiver at the thoughts of this sticky stuff ending up all over the place, but it provides great enjoyment and benefits your child's development as they think about what to create, find new words to describe what they're making and use muscles to squeeze, roll and pound their playdough into shape. So place a large, plastic mat on the table and join in the fun. It can actually be very therapeutic.
"In the Montessori, we regularly have water-play, which requires a few large storage boxes a third full of warm water. Add toys for sinking, floating and pouring. Later add food colouring to see what happens to the water and finally, add some bubbles. Construction straws and Lego are also great, but if budget doesn't allow it, get some dried spaghetti and marshmallows and see what you can build."
Wrap up outdoors or snuggle down at home
Christine, who is married to David, also has a number of other ideas to keep little ones amused when the weather is less than fabulous:
• Joining the local library is great as it's free and is a nice, warm place to go on a cold or rainy day. Most have lots of activities on and you can easily spend an hour looking at books with your child. But best of all, you bring home some new stories which, in my house at least, make bedtime a little easier.
• It can be hard to keep a child of preschool age interested for an entire movie but there are some Julia Donaldson stories available on DVD which are only 30 minutes long and the children will love them.
• Board games can be fun but need to be kept uncomplicated for this age group. Large floor jigsaws are great, while also helping to build a solid foundation to children's fine motor skills, language, literacy and mathematical skills and develop a child's ability to explore, think and communicate as you talk about the scene you are creating together.
• There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes so waterproof leggings and coats are invaluable (look out for great offers in discount supermarkets). Buy them extra big so warm clothes can be worn underneath, stick on a pair of wellies and then jump in the deepest, muddiest puddles and have great fun.
• If we are lucky enough to get some snow, I for one will be out there with the kids, wrapped up and ready to build a snowman and throw some snowballs - pure happiness.
Use the Internet
Laura Haugh of www.mummypages.ie says the site has plenty of ideas online to keep children amused because many of its members find the change of seasons difficult.
"Our MummyPages mums always feel a little anxious as the dark winter afternoons draw the day to a close from as early as 4pm and they know that keeping the children entertained without too much screen-time will be difficult," she says. "Of course, the MummyPages.ie site is a great source of inspiration with lots of activity ideas to keep children busy and having fun during wet, cold, long and even 'under the weather' days.
"We also have a host of video tutorials in our TV section for both craft and baking activities you can do with the whole family."
Keep them healthy
Of course the changing temperatures will bring with it a whole separate set of challenges as the cold and flu season starts in earnest.
With the change in temperatures, increased humidity, and movement between hot classrooms to cold playgrounds, it is inevitable that some children may become ill during the winter. Dr Bernadette Carr, medical director of VHI, says frequent illnesses at this time of year include the common cold, asthma, ear infections, strep throat, and influenza. But many ailments can be prevented with a few simple tips.
"Your children can help to prevent colds by washing their hands regularly as this helps to destroy bugs which may have been picked up from touching surfaces used by other children," she says. "Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath so children with asthma should wrap up and limit their time outdoors during very cold and damp weather - but it is still advisable for all children to spend some time outside.
"Winter is also a time when bacterial infections abound so it is important to cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing and dispose of handkerchiefs responsibly after use. Parents also need to ensure that if their children become sick, they must be kept away from other children."
Don't forget the babies
Midwife Tracy Donegan has some tips to keep new babies healthy during the colder months:
• The most effective way to build your baby's resistance to cold and flu season is to breastfeed.
• Reduce risk of illness by making sure vaccinations are up to date.
• Avoid crowds and try to do any Christmas shopping outside of busy times whenever possible.
• Wash your hands often and make sure that any visitors do the same before they hold your baby.
• Ask visitors with coughs or colds to come another time and definitely don't let them hold your baby.
• Babies should be wearing one more layer than you are. Check temperature on their back, torso or the back of the neck.
• Sleepers with feet and wearable sleeping bags are ideal for nights.
• Never put baby in the car seat with heavy outdoor gear or blankets under the safety harness. This reduces the protection of the car seat in an accident and puts your baby at risk of overheating.