Winter with children can be tough. Outside time is often cut short as it gets dark earlier and little hands get chilly in the cold. That coupled with cold and flu season can often mean lots of time cooped up inside.

While unstructured free time is a wonderful way to encourage children to exercise their creativity and discover their own unique interests, it's also nice to have a few special wintertime activities up your sleeve for those days that just seem to never end.

Try these Montessori-inspired winter activities to make all of that quality time together a little more enjoyable.

1. Bake bread together

Winter is a perfect time to experiment with baking , as it warms the whole house and fills the air with wonderful, cozy smells. Bread is especially fun as children marvel at how it rises and how just a few, simple ingredients can transform into something so delicious.

Baking bread is also a great choice because children of all ages can participate. The youngest child can help dump and mix pre-measured ingredients while older children can measure and knead. Try including a book about bread to make it even more memorable.

2. Make family picture cards

If you visited, or plan to visit, extended family during the winter holidays, try making some simple picture cards for the different family members you'll see.

Simply print and laminate a photo of each family member and collect them in a basket on a shelf in your child's room. Spend time looking at the photos and talking about each person. Not only will this help familiarize your child with family they don't often see, but it is a great opportunity for you to share stories about your family and your own childhood.

For an older child, try adding labels with each person's name and let them practice matching the names to the pictures. If you're a close-knit family, have them match their favorite foods or something more specific.

3. Write cards for family

Invite your child to help create special cards to send to family. You can send holiday cards, thank you cards for gifts received, or even Valentine's Day cards if the holiday season is too hectic.

Younger children can help decorate while older children can help write messages and address the envelopes.

4. Grate cinnamon or nutmeg

Give your child a mini grater and show them how to grate cinnamon or nutmeg into a little bowl. They will enjoy the wonderful aromas of freshly ground spices and become more familiar with some of the ingredients that flavor winter food.

Your child can then help sprinkle the spices on apple slices or transfer them to little jars to bring as host or hostess gifts to holiday gatherings. The perfect blend of sensory details.

5. Host a tea party

Not only is tea a warm and cozy beverage, but a tea party is also a wonderful time to practice how to set a table, how to serve others, and how to keep a conversation going.

This book shares ideas on how to make the most of tea time, but feel free to keep it as simple as you wish. Practice the etiquette with your child and then invite a loved one or friend over to join you and let your child practice being a host.

6. Explore ice

Winter is a fun time to do some basic science experiments with ice. If it's below freezing outside, help your child fill a pot of water and put it outside. Check on it in the morning to see if it froze. Experiment with different liquids and see what freezes at different temperatures. If you don't live somewhere cold, you can, of course, use the freezer instead!

7. Study hibernation

Many children know that bears hibernate, but they may not be aware that other animals like hedgehogs, snails and snakes do as well. Talk to your child about how you have a warm house to keep you cozy when it's cold outside, but animals use different strategies, like migration and hibernation, to stay warm. There are many great books on animals in the winter and hibernation that can add to your discussion.

8. Rake leaves and plow snow

While these tasks can seem like arduous chores to us, many young children will delight in helping, especially if given tools just their size . Most children will enjoy this the most if they are working alongside you, so you're not totally off the hook.

9. Go bird or animal watching

As the leaves fall off of the trees and bushes, it can be easier to spot animals as they're less hidden. Talk to your child about how to walk quietly so they don't scare the animals away and what animals and birds they might see. If it's snowy, keep an eye out for animal tracks as well. Write down a log of the animals you see together this winter. You can use drawing, words or photos to make this more fun.

10. Celebrate holidays around the world

So many cultures have different winter holidays. Check out a book from the library or see if your city has any open celebrations from other cultures and introduce your child to the many ways people around the world celebrate the season. Making different foods traditional to these holidays can be a fun way to bring them to life in your own home.

Winter days can seem long, but they can also be magical. It can be a great time to slow down together and notice the wonder of the changing seasons. Next time your kids are getting stir crazy and you're longing for the summer sun to return, try one of these activities to brighten up your day and make this winter a little more memorable.

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