With the Kids for December

With the winter solstice approaching on Dec. 21, many people are looking forward to spending time with family and friends. Whether your family is the outdoorsy type, or you prefer spending your time indoors, here are some options for making memories with kids of all ages this season.

WALKING: Research has shown the many physical benefits of walking a mile or more ( startwalkingnow.org), but when was the last time you thought about your mental health when it comes to walking? To look at it as something you get to do, not just as something you need to do, consider the following ideas. For adding mental health benefits to a walk, consider location, location, location. We live in such a rich geographical location that your walks could include a river, mountain, prairie, or forest, or each on the same day. Go to discoverparks.org, for some location ideas. A recent article here listed five great local trails for you to try as well.

There are many ways to engage minds young and old while stretching your legs. With very young children, keep your ideas simple so they can be successful. Perhaps become “explorers” looking for a specific item, such as the biggest/smallest rock, the brightest colored leaf, or a winter flower or bird. With older children, you might add a bird watching book or a native plant guide to find a certain item while you walk. Also, keep in mind that a fun way to engage young ones in walking as an activity is to change up the time of day you go. Maybe go on a night walk in your favorite place to see how different it looks and sounds.

ICE: It might not be so fun when trying to drive a vehicle on it, but ice can be a super fun material to explore with children. Even watching ice melt can be pretty fun. It’s all about the process.

Try this — take a plastic ice cube tray and fill it about half way with tap water. Then take your standard food coloring and add a few drops of color to each cube so each is a different color. The colors will be very dark and sometimes look black. This is normal. Freeze as usual. Once frozen, remove from the freezer and place on a counter to warm up for a few minutes to make them easier to remove. Place a single sheet of watercolor paper flat in the bottom of a shallow box. Pop a couple of the colored cubes onto the paper and paint away. Encourage your young artist to tilt the box to create unique designs. The cubes will slip and slide and turn from a solid into a liquid as the project progresses. Talking with younger kids about color mixing and how matter changes can be a fun science add-on.

Also, take a bit of time to make outside ice observations, if the weather permits. Plan some experiments. Start some conversations. Good, open-ended questions that encourage dialogue might sound like this: “What do you think the ice in the birdbath will look like if tomorrow is a sunny day?” “Which container of water will likely freeze if left out overnight?” “Why do you think there is ice only around the edges of the lake?”

NEWSPAPER: Besides the news, comics, puzzles and figuring out the best sale prices, newspapers can be used for many other things. Including mulch. Newspaper is low-cost paper made from recycled matter and wood pulp. The ink used to print the text and photos is often soy based and easily broken down. This is what makes newspaper a perfect material to use as mulch for your garden and/or flower beds through our cold winter months.

Tearing the newspaper into strips allows air and other organic materials to aid breaking down of the paper. Just a couple of inches of shredded paper (it can be combined with old leaves, grass clippings, etc.) will help cover and insulate the soil now and then break down and mix with the soil come spring time. Gardening can be a great way to encourage children to get connected with food preparation from seed to table. So, when you finish reading this paper, you can just shred it up and put it to work in your yard.

THEATER: With many rainy days head, planning a trip to a local theater might be a fascinating indoor odyssey. From standard productions of the classics to musical theater, our area boasts some of the best children’s theaters in the Northwest. Tacoma has The Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater ( tmp.org) that offers full productions of children’s literature favorites. Olympia is home to the Olympia Family Theater ( olyft.org), which offers children’s theater and programs that entertain and educate. Olympia also has the Pacific Northwest Theater Co. ( pnwtheater.com), which offers after-school camps. The Seattle Children’s Theatre ( sct.org) offers productions that encourage children to make new discoveries about themselves and strive to build a lifelong interest in the arts. On the east side, The StoryBook Theater ( storybooktheater.org) offers a very unique experience as they perform their shows at five Puget Sound theater locations.

EVERGREENS: What an amazing place we live in, surrounded by rich and beautiful greenery year-round. Douglas fir, western hemlock, Sitka spruce and western red cedar are a few of the native evergreen trees that fill our parks and neighborhoods. Not only do they smell delightful, but they can taste good, too. The needles of the evergreen trees in this area contain the same general type of acid found in citrus fruits.

Try this: Find an evergreen tree and pluck off a nice, plump needle or two. Carefully bite into the soft middle of the needle to release the flavor. What do you taste? Ask kids to describe what they taste and compare to a known citrus fruit.

Here is another sensory-based activity that will allow you to enjoy the woodsy smell indoors. After a windy day, take a walk to find fallen evergreen branches. Remove small twigs and needles and place them on a tray or in a basket in your home and enjoy.

RESTORE: Yes, to restore one self can be a tricky thing. Not enough time or money or space, lots of excuses. Sometimes we just need to slow down and smell the proverbial “roses.” Aside from the old standards of taking a walk, listening to relaxing music, reading a book or catching up with friends, there are many things you can do to physically restore your body and mind. One way is yoga. No matter your age or physical ability, it is user friendly and is available at a studio near you. These are two Tacoma-area businesses that are highly recognized for their approach and services. Three Trees Yoga ( threetreesyoga.com) in Federal Way, offers a kids yoga class (ages 3-9) from 2:30-3:30 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month along with other classes and services. Source Yoga ( sourceyogaonline.com) has two locations, one in University Place and one in North Tacoma. They offer an introductory special for those who are new to yoga.

If you are not up for trying something new, another way to restore yourself is to get in touch (or back in touch) with a passion that you have. Maybe building model airplanes, helping with a charity, or singing with a local choir has brought you joy in the past. Whatever the passion, make time to feed it and share it with your kids. You’re worth it, ... and so are they.