The only way out of a Chicago winter with two young kids is through. This summer I became an expert at keeping them and myself from losing it when our typical warm weather distractions weren’t an option. (For a mini drive-in, I stuck each kid in a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, parked six feet apart, to watch a movie projected on the side of our garage.) To stave off this year’s particularly brutal brand of cabin fever, I’ve concocted these ideas for socially distant outdoor playdates. Grab your mask, don your snowsuit, and double up your socks — it’s a four-month-long snow day.
1 Snow painting Fill balloons, spray bottles, and water guns with nontoxic washable paint diluted with water — a one-to-one ratio works. Then find a snow-covered wall, backyard, or alley, and get your Jackson Pollock on.
2 Photo scavenger hunt Let your shutterbugs loose on the neighborhood or a nature trail to see what wintery things their eyes spy, from sweet (a dog wearing boots) to cheeky (yellow snow!). It’s pretty easy to drum up a list of items to seek — or you could just ask the kids to find something for each letter of the alphabet. Even easier: Premade lists are abundantly available online (Good Housekeeping has almost two dozen on its site). Tell your surly teen it’s a #InstaChallenge.
3 Chilly American Ninja Warrior All the outdoor toys are just as fun, if not more, when used to build obstacles on fresh powder. Think Hula-Hoops propped to create tunnels, pool noodles bent into hurdles, and mini trampolines you can bounce on to avoid snowballs. Bonus: Jumping, crawling, and running while bundled up gets the heart pumping harder and, by my scientific estimate, decreases the chances of a hellacious bedtime by 78 percent.
4 Winter Wiffle Ball Hitting and tossing an aerated plastic ball on a blustery day will have everyone running like loopy circus clowns. Pro tip: Buy a colored ball so you can spot it in the snow.
5 Ice Legos Freeze water in ice cube trays, butter tubs, Dixie cups, and other small containers to create different shapes. Then let your little architect build dreamy ice castles, fairy igloo gardens, and true-to-life frozen dystopian landscapes. Add tiny trinkets and food coloring to the water before freezing for extra pizzazz.