Winter is upon us, which means colder weather, harsher winds and freezing rain. As the weather outside grows less predictable, we spend more time indoors. For parents, it can be a challenge to find appropriate outlets for a child’s energy during these cold months.

Just because the activities are moving inside, however, does not mean they can’t be educational. There are a number of fun and resourceful alternatives to television and video games that, with a little guidance and participation from parents, will keep young children engaged, help them use their imaginations and provide opportunities to increase their skills.

You don’t need expensive toys for children to learn and play indoors— ordinary household items such as a paper towel roll or a sock can spark the imagination and creativity of children under the age of 5.

When the weather encourages you to play inside with your child, consider the following suggestions to promote positive learning opportunities for him or her:

Create a story.

Read an age-appropriate book to your child and then ask him/her to draw and color a picture about something in the book. When finished, ask your child to tell you about his or her creation. Write your his/her story and then read it back. If you have multiple children, work as a group encouraging each child to share their picture to help tell the story. One child starts the story, the next child tells the next part and so on around the room. Hearing new words helps expand a child’s vocabulary, and telling stories together is a wonderful way to improve language and literacy skills.

Make sock puppets and have a puppet show.

All you need for this activity are old socks and markers, yarn or buttons and strips of paper to create the hair, eyes and nose. Work with your child to make multiple puppets. Then start the show. Let the child play the part of the puppets he or she created, and let him or her make up the script. Children love to improvise and use their imagination. At the same time, your child will be developing critical thinking skills and cooperation.

Play musical statues.

This activity is great when your child is feeling a little restless and needs to use some energy. Play some music and have your child wiggle and giggle to the tune. He or she dances around until the music stops. When it does, your child must hold the exact position that he or she was in. Make sure you do not stop the music for too long. Music and dance also help your child develop rhythm and coordination.

Host a talent show.

Let all members of the family participate. Your child can sing a song, dance, act out a story or display another special talent for everyone. The important thing is to let your child show off his or her talents, which helps build self-esteem. You might even want to award some special prizes you collected in advance, making sure that each child is rewarded.

Have a scavenger hunt.

Provide your child with a basket, bowl, bag or other container. Give clues about the items to find, which can include things that are different colors, textures or shapes, or things starting with a particular letter. For example, have your child find one blue toy, something fuzzy and something square. You can also switch roles with your child and let him or her make a list for you. This game not only exercises the imagination and the body, but it also helps your preschooler develop critical thinking skills.

Encourage dramatic play.

Pretending develops higher thinking skills, and is an important aspect of preparing children for academic achievement. Encourage your child’s make-believe games by providing costumes and clothes for dress up, cardboard boxes to climb in, blocks, empty paper towel rolls and stuffed animals. Make use of your imagination to come up with simple things that your child can use for dramatic play. If your child asks you to play with him or her, show your approval by taking some time to share his or her fantasy. Dramatic play contributes to a child’s happiness and self-confidence, and is important to the development of cognitive, emotional, social, creative and physical skills.

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.

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.