With the chill as fall turns to winter often comes the desire to cozy up in front of the television, tangled up in blankets with hot chocolate at the ready. While that sounds tempting, remember that winter is also a prime time for energizing— and often educational— family activities and travel opportunities. After all, when the temperature drops, there are no Little League practices to rush off to, no drop-offs at summer camp and no beach bags to pack.

But if you’re not running through sprinklers and frequenting ice cream shops, just what are you to do with the kids? Try these local travel-related ideas to make winter the new hot season.

Visit an aquarium.

You may not be able to splash around in the neighborhood pool, but your family can dive into a deep-sea adventure by exploring the marine life at a nearby aquarium. After exercising their sea legs and learning about ocean conservation, children can draw pictures of their favorite ocean creatures.

Take a culinary trip to a destination.

Whether you go on an actual day trip and return home to prepare dishes from the locale or you opt to taste the delicacies from an exotic location by creating them in your kitchen, cooking with your children brings great rewards. As you’ll read in “Cook With Me,” this issue’s article on cooking with toddlers, meal preparation is delightful when done as a family and it multiplies children’s math skills as they measure out ingredients. Try making something to eat together that represents the culture or an aspect of a place near or far. Another suggestion is to let your kids mold homemade bread dough into a ski mountain or another shape evocative of an East Coast attraction. Let the dough rise after molding (about 30-45 minutes), pop their creations into the oven and enjoy a masterpiece of a meal.

Let books be the gateway to another place or time.

Librarians do much more than help visitors decipher the Dewey Decimal system. Stop by your local library and check its event calendar for children’s programs and author visits. If nothing on the library’s calendar caters to your children’s age groups or interests, encourage all of your kids to choose books at the library that transport them to regions through engaging pictures and text. Every library and bookstore stocks children’s literature on travel, along with guidebooks to different places your kids might want to investigate.

Go camping inside.

Speak to friends and use the Internet to find a place, such as in the Poconos or Upstate, where you can stay at a log cabin with the clan. If a weekend trip isn’t in your budget or it conflicts with the calendar, merely drag your sleeping bags out of storage and set up camp on your living room floor. Enjoy some microwave-made S’mores while strengthening your kids’ storytelling skills. Start a story with one wacky sentence, and go around the circle with each person being responsible for the next few phrases until everyone’s giggling at the crazy story created.

Go wild with wildlife.

We humans may insist on wearing layers of fleece before going outside, but some animals are perfectly content wearing just their fur in the cold of winter. See if a zoo near your home has a heated shuttle. If so— or there are exhibits open that cover the animals roaming the outdoor and indoor terrain— go enjoy the entertainment that animals provide. Once back in the warmth of your home, play your own version of Charades by acting like the animals seen that day.

Forget Frosty.

Bundle up, head outdoors and attempt building snow replicas of book characters, movie scenes, maybe even landmarks. Let kids pick a topic and get busy building. Ensure you have a camera to snap great pictures of the winter wonderland as the kids use their imaginations and guess each other’s snowy images. Afterward, warm up over hot chocolate and a mini-lesson about where snow comes from.

Picture the possibilities with puzzles.

Never underestimate the power of puzzles. Inexpensive and labor intensive in the most fun way, puzzles capture children’s attention for hours as they piece together what a babbling brook looks like— or anything for that matter. Mix it up by letting the kids make their own puzzles out of magazine pictures to places they would like to visit. After kids glue their creations onto card stock and cut them into puzzle-like pieces, children can trade their puzzles with siblings and neighbors, enticing everyone to piece back together the different scenes.

Indulge in a winter sport or activity.

Does your son like hockey? Introduce him to ice hockey! Does your daughter miss waterskiing? Motivate her to try snow skiing by traveling to a mountain that has children’s lessons and a welcoming bunny slope. Ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding—snowy sports abound in winter. Enjoy them all.

Last but not least, read!

Children are never too old to listen to stories read aloud. And listening to books that are above children’s reading levels is a surefire vocabulary booster. For beginning readers, alternate between you reading a page and having your child read a page to you. Maybe each week you read about a distinct country or state.

Basic Veggie Soup

Canned soups are often over-processed and full of salt. This will take you mere minutes to make, and it’s downright good and healthy. Ingredients 2 14.5-oz. cans low sodium diced tomatoes, undrained1 large onion, chopped4 cloves garlic, pressed2 Tbs. olive oil, divided2 large carrots, chopped2 small celery stalks, chopped1 medium turnip, chopped2 c. green beans, cut in 1-inch pieces6 c. low-sodium chicken broth¼ of a head of cabbage, chopped½ tsp. thymeSalt and pepper to taste Directions In a large soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until nearly translucent. Next add the garlic, being careful not to let the garlic brown. Saute another couple of minutes. Add the rest of the chopped veggies, sauteing for just a minute or two. You’re not cooking them— just sauteing for the wonderful flavor this quick step will infuse in your soup. Add the thyme, salt and pepper while sauteing. Now put the veggies in a crock pot, followed by the tomatoes and broth. Cook on a low heat setting for seven to nine hours, depending on your crock pot, or on high for four to six hours.

Quick Spinach-White Bean Soup

Ingredients1 c. chopped onion 1 c. chopped carrot 1 c. chopped celery 2 tsp. oil 3 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth 1 (10 oz.) box frozen chopped spinach ¾ c. uncooked tubetti or ditalini pasta ½ tsp. dried oregano ½ tsp. dried basil ¼ tsp. ground black pepper 1/8 tsp. garlic powder 2 (15 oz.) cans Cannellini, Great Northern or white beans, rinsed and drainedDirectionsIn a large saucepan over medium heat, cook onion, carrot and celery in oil for five minutes. Add chicken broth, spinach, pasta, oregano, basil, pepper and garlic powder. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add beans, and cover cooking saucepan for five more minutes.YieldNutrition

Mediterranean Tomato Soup with Rice

Ingredients2 cans (14.5 ounces each) gluten-free, low-sodium chicken broth, such as Swanson’s Natural Goodness 1 can (15 ounces) petite diced tomatoes, including juices 1/4 c diced fresh onion 1-1/2 Tbs. of finely chopped fresh oregano, basil, marjoram and rosemary, plus extra for garnish 1/2 tsp. sugar 1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste 1/4 c instant brown riceDirectionsCombine all the ingredients in a two-quart heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Brimming with the fresh herb flavors of southern France, this recipe uses instant rice that slightly thickens the soup as it cooks and gives it body. If you don’t like chunks of tomato, puree the tomatoes in a blender before you cook them. Or, puree the entire soup with an immersion blender after it has simmered 20 minutes for an extra-smooth consistency.Yield4 servingsNutrition

Snowman Cookies

Craft delightful snowman cookies with this recipe.