Friday miscellany: When (the book), plus winter kid activities

Some ups and downs this week. The 3-year-old is moving into his big boy bed. He had been sleeping in a crib with the back removed (so he could get in and out) for quite a while, but he was interested in moving, and I am interested in anything that makes him willing to go to bed. Potty-training is still a work in progress. Fairly limited progress. Oh well.

Anyway, a few miscellany items.

Last week I read Dan Pink’s When. In general, it’s a fun read in the whole Malcolm Gladwell genre: here are some interesting studies that say counterintuitive things about a topic we think we know well, with some stories thrown in to illustrate everything.

Pink’s most important point is that when we do things actually matters a lot. And yet people have a bias toward believing that “when” answers are less important than “what.” There is good evidence that when teenagers start school too early, they do not do as well in their early morning classes. For a star student this might not matter, but for people on the edge, the decline in results is large enough that a young person might drop out instead of graduating, or not do well enough to pursue college. If there were a low-cost software program that promised to raise test performances by a few percentage points, people would be all over it. Yet very few high schools now follow the guideline to start after 8:30 a.m. It would be mildly inconvenient for school districts that have built their transportation and sports schedules, and teacher/staff contracts around earlier hours. And since “when” seems less important than “what,” things don’t change.

Likewise, there is real evidence that doctors and nurses make more errors in the afternoon, and are less likely to wash their hands. Judges and juries are lazier (that is, more prone to stereotypes) right before breaks vs. right after breaks. Yet since most of us don’t like to believe we’re irrational enough to let our standards slide just because we need a cup of coffee, we don’t address these real issues.

I find it interesting when tracking my time to see when things do fall apart in the course of a day. I can do difficult work in the morning in a way that is much harder to pull off later in the day. I try to take conscious breaks in mid-afternoon to keep myself from inadvertently losing big chunks of time to social media and inefficient web surfing. Since this gels nicely with my winter resolution to get outside more, I’ve been taking a lot of afternoon walks. But it’s always good to be reminded to pay attention to “when” questions — they may provide answers more often than we think.

Another topic — and one we’ll be addressing some in the podcast soon: winter activities!

If you live in a cold and snowy place, all the outdoor stuff (playgrounds, walks/bike rides, pools) that is semi-tolerable for adults is off-limits during the winter. One can very quickly become tired of the two indoor play areas that might exist in a community. You feel like you are wasting your life looking at your phone every 2 minutes, occasionally intervening to keep your children from smacking each other. So, how do you fill those long weekend hours?

My first thought is that such weekend days should follow a certain rhythm: activity that gets you out of the house in the morning, then home for downtime/nap/screen time/reading time in the early afternoon, then another activity in the late afternoon. That gets you through to 4-5 p.m., and if you’ve gotten through to 5 p.m., my feeling is that the day can go as it goes. So we’re not looking to fill 12 hours. We’re looking to fill four slots: Sat AM, Sat PM, Sun AM, Sun PM.

If you are a member of an organized religion, bonus! One of these slots is likely already filled (Sat AM synagogue, Sat PM mass or Sun AM mass/church, etc.) If you are indifferent on mild denominational differences, you might aim to join a house of worship with lots of activities for the kids to do. I’m not saying that we became Presbyterians, after being Methodists for years, entirely because of the nice nursery and Sunday School classes for 2-year-olds, but…

That leaves the other slots, or all of the slots, if you’re not into organized religion. I am a big fan of the YMCA. We have passed many a winter weekend late afternoon by getting everyone ready, driving there, getting into swimsuits, then spending an hour in the family fun pool. Water slides! Spray zones! By the time we get changed afterwards, and back in the car and drive home, this has easily eaten up 2.5 hours. Before we had a treadmill at home, we’d sometimes go and put the kids in the playroom for 40 minutes prior to the swim so we could run and lift weights.

Not all outdoor activities are off limits. If you live in a cold climate, you have no doubt noticed that there are degrees of cold. Watch the weather! Any weekend day that is north of 25 degrees and sunny should be seized upon for outdoor activities. Go on that nature walk. Go sledding, or tubing, or outdoor ice skating. If you live near hills, skiing is an option, or cross-country skiing. With a long coat, knee-high insulated and waterproof boots, ski gloves, a hat, and a scarf/neck-warmer, you can stay out almost indefinitely at those temperatures. At 15-25 degrees, things get dicier, but you can still go out for 30-60 minutes. Drive someplace shoveled (a local university? A commercial shopping district?) and go for a family walk. Temperatures in the 5-15 degree range are a lot less pleasant, but you might still be able to go in the backyard for 20 minutes at a time. Cycle through for a while: into coats, outside for 20 minutes, inside for a TV show and hot chocolate, then back out again, etc.

Indoor play places/trampoline parks/bouncy houses can work, but they are not the only options for winter mornings. We’ve made a list of local options and have joined close to everything. There are two local science museums, and then one an hour away. The two local ones have rotating exhibits, so when we went to the Franklin Institute this past weekend, we saw the IMAX movie on China and saw the terra cotta warriors. If we go back in 6 weeks they’ll have something else. The art museum has a kid’s room going sometimes, so we can look at paintings for as long as 25 minutes (non parents: yes, that is a long time for kids in museums) and then we race over there. There is the children’s museum, which gets new exhibits every few months, and has rotating puppet shows. There is the local aquarium, and also one two hours away in Baltimore. We have gone into NYC occasionally too for museums. There is a train museum an hour away with big locomotives and a children’s play area. The botanical garden that is 50 minutes away has a large indoor green house with a children’s play area. Add a stop at the cafe and you’ve killed the morning. There’s the library— different branches have different things. Or the book store has a kid area (though that can get expensive – it’s hard to leave without stuff!)

One note on all these activities requiring a bit of driving: definitely plan the weekend ahead of time, so you know you’re getting up and driving 50 minutes to the garden (or train museum, or whatever). No one will wake up on Saturday morning wanting to do anything, but if everyone knows it’s been decided, they can mentally prepare. It’s the lack of planning ahead that leads to visiting the same indoor play places 16 times.

It goes without saying that you should accept all invitations to birthday parties and playdates. Invite kids over for playdates, and their parents. Serve adult beverages (just to the adults).

If you like movies, that’s a good winter activity with new options every week or two. If the kid movie is truly horrible you could maybe bring your headphones and listen to something else while your kids watch whatever monstrosity they are begging to watch.

There may also be things you’ve never even thought about. It might be worth subscribing to local parenting publications to see the calendars of events (like a favorite author coming to a local book store, or maybe a fire house is open for visitors some day, or a local college has a free athletic event).

In a pinch, errands can become weekend activities. Some kids really like grocery shopping. Our new salt water fish tank seems to generate endless errands. You can invent an errand. Go to a dollar store and give each kid $3. You might be able to kill an hour for $6-12! (depending on number of offspring).

Anyway, Sarah’s got great ideas too (it doesn’t snow in Miami, but it rains a lot) so that will be part of a podcast in a few weeks.

On the docket for me this weekend: a long run, a date night dinner, and hopefully organizing the kid art work. We have roughly 3 years of it sitting in a pile in the basement. I want to pull out some stuff for framing, and put other things in binders, and other things that are less worth keeping…elsewhere.

Photo: Abstract-looking snow-on-bushes

14 thoughts on “Friday miscellany: When (the book), plus winter kid activities

  1. Looking forward to the podcast episode! Another reason I find winter more challenging is that there are so many more viruses going around. First, there’s trying to figure out activities where we are less likely to pick up other people’s germs – I feel we might have escaped the flu if we’d spent winter break holed up watching movies instead of filling the days with various indoor kid activities. Then after you do get sick, it’s still a challenge when, say, the 5-year-old is completely recovered and full of energy and needs to get out of the house, but everyone else (particularly the parents required to transport and supervise) is still sick. Our past two months have felt like an endless slog of changing plans due to illness and I’m so hoping we’re finally done with that!

    1. @Jennifer- agreed on the illness factor. One reason we’ve used a lot less of the Y childcare room. And a lot of hand sanitizer other places (see the children’s museum). And, to be honest, we’ve started hiring weekend sitters too. Reinforcements can come in and play with the kids and dream up projects that we’re too tired to do.

  2. It doesn’t (generally) get one out of the house, but I wouldn’t underestimate the value of baking as an activity rather than a way of producing baked goods. When he was ~3, my son could easily spend an hour simply tasting and moving the ingredients of a batch of banana bread around as we — he — prepared it. I, meanwhile, had an hour I could get stuff done around the house in relative peace. I suspect this works best for those who (as I do) have just 1 kid to manage, though!

    1. @Alexicographer – definitely true! If you change the objective from having edible food to simply passing the time, then baking is a fun activity for all ages! (if a messy one)

  3. I actually live in a school district that starts elementary school early (7:30) and high school late (9:00). In general I like it quite a lot (I have elementary kids). It does throw all that early morning is a great time to spend with your young kids so you can work late advice sideways though. I guess you can’t have your cake and eat it too. We will have to see if I still like it when my kids are in high school…

    1. @Beth – very true that it doesn’t help with seeing the younger kids. Though it does solve the problem of before-school care for many parents (who might need to be at work at 8:30 but school starts at 9…)

  4. This is such a great post!! I’m a huge fan of planning weekends (well, and planning everything), and these are excellent ideas. I like to plan my weekends with one fun activity, one errand, one chore — that makes me feel the most satisfied, and surprisingly, so does the rest of the family. That takes care of 75% of the slots right there!
    I live in the south right now, where we don’t usually get terribly cold weather (this past week excepted!), but we do have a definite rainy season, and I’ll be adding some of these ideas to my list.
    As they say in Nordic countries, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing!

  5. I found the 25 degree-go outside—hilarious. I’m from Mississippi. Under 40 degrees (which is rare) is officially no one goes outside weather. We were declared in a state of emergency this past week due to ice. We’ve been out of school since January 12th. The temperatures were around 30, with a few 20+ days. We’re not equipped for this and severe cabin fever has kicked in!

    1. @Jennie- It’s totally about being equipped for it. You wouldn’t bother investing in snow boots, long coats, and ski gloves and such living in Mississippi. In my neck of the woods it’s key.

  6. I struggle with the outdoor physical activity, particularly for my 7 year old who needs to be jollied into it. So important and good for you, but so hard!

  7. Good luck on the long run…it has been a little tough here in the South and I have another marathon next week. Thanks a lot for the recommendation on the Daniel Pink book!

  8. Hi Laura! Have you tried Artkive for the kids’ artwork? It’s a brilliant and beautiful way to keep it from piling up (or two quickly diminish the piles when it has).

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