Winter break is around the corner, and with it comes the annual dilemma of keeping the kids occupied, while trying to avoid any more financial stress. If you spent more than was budgeted for holiday gifts, the last thing you want is to dive deeper into debt by planning lavish excursions to entertain the entire crew. Luckily there are several affordable ways to spend time with the family without going overboard. Whether your family is all about being active outdoors or warming up indoors, there’s something on this list for everyone.
Check Out the Library
Besides any book, movie, or CD you could ever want to borrow, the library is also a great spot for free activities. Peruse event calendars on the website of your (or another) local library district for a wide variety of themed storytimes and crafts. More and more libraries offer makerspaces, too, such as the Denver Public Library IdeaLab, The Studio at Anythink, or The Studio and The Makerspace at Arapahoe Libraries. Organized events may be limited the week of Christmas, but you can create your own fun by picking a topic to explore or grabbing a book on crafts or projects to do at home.
Afternoon Kid Swap
Share the load of entertaining kids by teaming up with other friends and neighbors. Have each family pick a day to host the kids and plan an activity or playdate for the afternoon. No need to plan elaborate or expensive activities—one family could host a movie fest, another a Lego building afternoon, and another a karaoke party or lip sync battle.
Whether you want to take the entire crew to the mountains or you’re hoping to stay local, there are several ways to enjoy nature right in your backyard. Head to the local park or jump on one of metro Denver’s many trails. Turn over rocks, dig in the snow, or search for natural items that start with each letter of the alphabet. Find the perfect smooth rock to bring home and paint, or create a nature scavenger hunt.
Check with local nature centers for free or low cost events during winter break. Majestic View Nature Center will host an Outdoor Nature Playdate on December 28 and Lookout Mountain Nature Center offers a free Winter Wildlife Nature Signs Scavenger Hunt to search for animal tracks.
Skate at Skyline Park
“One of my favorite things to do with the kids (over winter break) is to take them downtown to Skyline park,” says Megan Barber, mother of two. “We go ice skating and the actual skating is free, it just costs a couple bucks to rent skates, or you can just bring your own. It’s really pretty, there’s sparkling lights, music, and the kids love to watch the zamboni clean the ice.”
Stop for a hot cocoa at Union Station before heading home, or do what the Barbers do and pack your own container of hot cocoa to save money.
Put on Your Aprons
There’s no more tasty way to spend holiday break than breaking out the mixing bowls and getting a little messy in the kitchen. Allow your kids to plan the menu for one day. If one day of meal planning is too much responsibility, consider one meal or one side dish. To keep things from getting too elaborate, think of some of your child’s favorite dishes, make a list, and give them options to make with you. Talk to your child about what they’re making and why measuring ingredients is important.
Play at the Denver Art Museum for Free
Admission to the Denver Art Museum is free every day of the year for kids 18 and under, and for winter break—December 22 through January 7—the DAM is hosting special hands-on fun. In addition to regular activities such as family backpacks, creative corners, and just-for-kids and family areas, families can enjoy create-n-takes, 3D Studio activities, and special performances of the family-friendly play Art Emergency, Stampede Edition at 11 a.m. each weekday.
Experiment with Arts & Crafts
Break out the art supplies in your home and let the kids create their own masterpieces. Design handmade thank-you notes with paper, pens, and markers that you already have. Make a list of places and things around your home or yard, then search for everything on the list. When you find an item, trace it, make a “rub-transfer” with a crayon, or take a photo. Once all items on the list have been found create a book that you and your child can look back on.
To celebrate the new year, make a “dream board” filled with magazine cut-outs, fabric scraps, and glitter. Help your child fill a sheet of posterboard with all the wonderful things they hope to do and become.
“Another thing that we’ve been doing lately with all the random socks that get lost in the dryer, we make little sock puppets with the one sock,” says Abby Hagstom, mother of two. “They fit their hands perfectly and you just need some yarn, a couple buttons—they love it. We glue or sew everything on with whatever (we) have handy. We also like to make cards for the holidays for grandparents and pasta necklaces.”
For children who love making a mess while also learning a little about science, there are many experiments to choose from, using items and products from around the house. To make homemade slime, all you’ll need is glue, Borax (from any grocery store cleaning aisle), and water. Throw some food coloring or glitter into the mix and you have a personalized mix of slime. Better yet, try making Oobleck while reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Suess, which is easily made with water and cornstarch. Or try to turn your pennies green by letting your child pour vinegar over old coins.
Collect Those Discounts
Keep costs down and still have some fun by gathering discounts and coupons. Search groupon for deals on local play spaces, but double check the terms of the discount to make sure it is valid over the holidays. Grab those 50 percent off coupons for Michaels craft store (new ones weekly) and stock up throughout the month on art supplies, kids craft kits, or items needed to create a project together. You could also ask grandparents—or cash in some of those credit card points—for gift cards from movie theaters and local attractions as holiday gifts.
Let them Be Bored
Take some advice from your mother (or grandmother’s book) and let kids create their own fun. Set parameters so the TV or video games do not become the default activity all the time. As parents in the ‘70s and ‘80s would often say, “Turn off the TV and go find something to do!” Boredom can be its own inspiration for kids to dig into their toy box, read, create a game, decorate their room, or script and stage their own play or movie.
Winter Break Camps
Looking for a day, a couple days, or a week of winter break camp? Here are some fee-based activities to get you started.
- Each day of the two-week winter break, The Craftsman and Apprentice in Denver has a different art, craft, or DIY theme to keep kids ages five to 11 engaged from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pick one day for $75 including activities, snacks, and playtime, five days for $325, or 10 days for $650.
- How about a week of exploring the Denver Museum of Nature & Science? During the DMNS winter break camps, for kindergarten through second and third through fifth grades, kids explore the latest exhibits, see IMAX and planetarium shows, and learn about science in a fun environment. For the week of December 26-29, camp cost is $235 or $210 for members.
- The Downtown Aquarium gives kids in first through 12th grade a chance to go behind the scenes and be a marine biologist or zoologist for a day over winter break. These single-day camps are $65 (which includes all activities, lunch, and a T-shirt) and run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Winter Safari Camp at Denver Zoo features animal experiences, zoo expeditions, hands-on camper driven exploration, and a chance to resolve actual challenges faced by the zookeepers and animals. Children in pre-K (at least four years old) through third grade spend the day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. developing their appreciation and affection for the animals.
- The Jewish Community Center (JCC) keeps kids busy over winter break with week-long camps featuring either a field-trip or on-site activites, like swimming, games, and science experiments, each day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Check with local parks and recreation districts, such as South Suburban Parks and Recreation or APEX Park and Recreation for winter break camps in your neighborhood. Camps may include indoor and outdoor activities, arts and crafts, and field trips. Families can register by the day or multiple days for a discount.