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Winter is here. Instead of fearing these months of snow, frigid temperatures and gloomy days, get excited for all the fun, indoor activities that await you and your family. Milwaukee has many indoor activities for children, and so does your home—you just need to get a little creative.
Fun outside the home
• Let your kids in on some of Milwaukee’s treasures and pieces of history by touring the Harley-Davidson or Jelly Belly factories. Children ages 12 and over can tour the Harley-Davidson facility to learn about the company’s inception and how the performance parts are produced. At Jelly Belly, kids can tour the warehouse, take the Jelly Belly Express train ride and sample 100 different flavors of the beloved candy.
• If you want to learn a bit of aviation history relating to the city, visit the Mitchell Gallery of Flight Aviation History Museum, located inside General Mitchell International Airport. Kids can learn about Milwaukee’s aviation heroes and shining stars of historic flight.
• Explore your inner Mozart with the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s voice and music classes, dance instruction and annual concerts.
• Experience a museum on a gloomy day. The Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University allows children to learn about art through classes, performances and tours. The Milwaukee Art Museum offers “Family Sundays,” when kids can create a work of art of their very own and enjoy storytime in the galleries and other opportunities in the kids’ art studio.
• Get creative with color at one of the paint-your-own pottery studios in the city. Children can pick a piece to paint and get crazy with color. Then you retrieve their creation a few days after it’s been fired in the kiln.
• Break out your inner Dan Jansen skating techniques at the Pettit National Ice Center or one of the many rinks in the city. Your kids can play hockey, figure skate and take speed skating for a whirl.
• Inflatable bounce houses are all the rage with kids of every age. Take your children to one of the many centers in the Milwaukee area to blow off some steam. These facilities provide clean, safe places for kids to jump around and get silly, riding toys for young children and smaller slides for toddlers and infants.
• The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum allows kids to invent, learn, be creative and active in their traveling and permanent exhibits, the music theater and many other attractions. There is even a small area for pre- and early-walkers to learn, explore and grow.
• Splish-splash at your local YMCA or the JCC for an afternoon of pool fun. If you want a little speed with your splash, visit Paradise Landing inside the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel. This indoor water park features slides, a lily pad walk and water geysers for kids to enjoy. Country Springs Water Park in Waukesha offers similar fun.
• Science is so much fun for kids because it involves exploration and new discoveries. Let your children experience science and technology in a whole new light at Discovery World.
• If you’re raising an environmentally aware child, go to the Urban Ecology Center, which has a green building full of live animals and exhibits about the environment. The Mitchell Park Domes have desert, jungle and garden climate exhibits to enjoy and explore.
• If the night sky intrigues you and your children, look no further than the Daniel M. Soref Planetarium at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Let the wonders of astronomy fill your children’s minds through the planetarium’s many shows in the IMAX theater. UW-Milwaukee also has family-friendly shows at the Manfred Olson Planetarium.
Fun inside the home
• Put on some music and let your kids show you their moves. You should also flex your dance muscles, and if you’re really in the mood to show off your skills, do some karaoke.
• Spread out a large sheet of paper on your kitchen or basement floor and paint with your feet, sponges or different objects.
• Keep a stash of classic movies you loved as a kid. Tell stories about when you watched them and then watch them together as a family.
• Build an impermeable fort out of blankets, pillows and whatever else your kids can think of.
• Play “dress up” in your old clothes from college and younger years. This is a great time to get some use out of those old bridesmaids dresses!
• Purchase some inexpensive goodies and wrap them in foil. Then hide these treasures all over your home and send your kids on a treasure hunt. You could even draw a treasure map.
• Encourage your kids to put on a talent show for you, the family pet and maybe some of their stuffed animals, too.
• Get your hands and kitchen a little messy by making some kid-friendly goodies. To make marshmallow tinker toys, simply place large marshmallows on pretzel rods. For sugar cookie pizza, roll out and bake refrigerated sugar cookie dough. Then cut it into small, round “pizzas” and allow your kids to decorate them with icing, jam and candies.
• Create a bingo game with photos of each family member as squares on the board. Mom should always be the center square!
• Create greeting cards for grandparents and friends.
• Have a picnic lunch in your living room by spreading out a large blanket and then packing some goodies in a basket. You can share some bonding time on the floor while you eat some yummy food with your kids.
• Encourage your child to role play the professional they want to be when they are older: doctor, teacher or newscaster.
• Still have a Jane Fonda workout tape? Pop it in and get physical with your kids.
• Have a Hula-Hoop or jump rope contest in your basement.
• Play classic games with your toddler, such as Duck, Duck, Goose and Hokey Pokey.
• Play basketball with foam balls and mini hoops.
• Blow up balloons and then play “volleyball” over an invisible net.
• Bowl indoors by placing empty water bottles on one side of the room and rolling a rubber ball toward the pins.
• Create a carwash in the bathtub for your child’s small cars and trucks.
• Make a sand-free sand box in your kitchen by placing rice or oatmeal in a large plastic bin. Allow your child to play with funnels, large spoons and cups in the “sand.”
• Create a sensory table to let your child’s imagination explode. Put several textured items (peeled grapes, spaghetti, dry beans or mushy bananas) in various small buckets and place your hands in the buckets without peaking in.
Though the winter months seem long in the midwest, they don’t have to be. Consider integrating some of these fun activities into your winter days for some big laughs and lasting memories.
Elizabeth Braatz is a freelance writer based in Thiensville and the mother of 2-year-old twins, Carter and Emma. She is a boot camp and cycling instructor, avid runner and vegetarian foodie.
This story originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of metroparent magazine.