I’ve had several requests from parents looking for summer road trips and activities that children might find enchanting and magical (although I’m not going to pretend that I don’t enjoy these activities myself). To me, enchanting activities are those that have a fairytale-like element to them. They evoke wonder and ignite the imagination. So here is a starter list, and it’s written with Maine locations in mind (although there are a few noted in other New England states, too).
Gather mermaid tears on an island (sea glass is also known as mermaid tears).
Have a conversation with fireflies
Board a pirate ship
Salem, MA www.piratemuseum.com/pirate.html
Explore a secret, hidden, or sunken garden
Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, NH; The grounds of College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME; The Sunken Garden, Wiscassett, ME; Maudslay State Park Newburyport, MA (cost is $20 for non-resident day pass)
Grow magic beans
Visit your local library and bring home a stack of books that your child can delve into all week. This is a wonderful way for kids to explore their interests, ignite their curiosity, and discover new muses. Bonus points for libraries that have enchanting reading rooms for kids such as the one at Louis T. Graves library in Kennebunkport.
Hum for periwinkle snails
Make tin can lanterns and take them on a night walk
Walk a labyrinth
The Labyrinth in the Woods in Brunswick, ME https://www.btlt.org/labyrinth-in-the-woods/ ; Kennebunkport Conservation Trust in Kennebunkport, ME https://www.kporttrust.org/labyrinth
Chase a rainbow
Visit a fairy community and build fairy houses
Mackworth Island in Falmouth, ME https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/maine/fairy-island-mackworth-me/
Find a four leafed clover
Visit a Children’s Garden
Strawberry Banke Museum, Portsmouth, NH; Brewer Children’s Garden, Brewer, ME; Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, ME; Children’s Garden at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, ME
Find a fairy ring of mushrooms
Discover all the different gardens and sculptures at Bedrock Gardens in Lee, NH. They even have their own Fairy Godmother that visits on Saturdays. The gardens are full of imagination and rich detail.
Explore The Desert of Maine in Freeport and bring a desert-themed lunch/snack
You can google “deserts of the world”, choose a location, and then google the local foods of that area. Here is an example https://tripinmorocco.com/traditional-foods-desert-nomads/
Have a tea party in the woods
Read fairy tales around a rainbow fire
Google “rainbow fire” to view products
Plant a miniature landscape or container garden for playing with figurines. i.e. create a miniature dragons lair ; a moonscape; a swamp; a desert…what other miniature landscapes would your child’s figurines like to be in?
Find bioluminescence in the sea
(Ultimate splurge = going sea kayaking at night in Castine, ME to see the bioluminescence around various islands) https://www.castinekayak.com/bioluminescence-trips.php
Visit a fairy glen at Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington, ME
Steep but brief hike into the woods to a place that can only be described as a fairy glen with a small cave next to the water. https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/maine/jagolinzer-preserve
Find all 5 of the giant trolls (aka The Guardians of the Seeds) at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, ME
Hike in the woods with goats at Ten Apple Farm in Maine
Tour a castle at night
Hammond Castle in Gloucester, MA https://www.hammondcastle.org/product/candlelight-tours-3/
Look for gems and visit the fish at the top of Mount Apatite in Auburn, ME
Notes: Bring hammers and protective eyewear (and bug spray!); catfish are at the quarry on right near top of mountain; last I was there was also a stone spiral at top of mountain. Steep drops near quarries (close supervision of young children advised). Do not leave valuables in your car.
If you're looking for ways to connect with family and loved ones this holiday I've compiled a "starter list" of ideas to jumpstart your holiday planning. First and foremost, however, make sure to follow CDC and local/state guidelines for safety during the pandemic. At the time of this post these activities may not coincide with guidelines for your area--you can visit the CDC for more information here.
For the Family:
Make a holiday music play list. If you’re doing this as a family project, have each family member pick their favorite 5 songs (or other number) and make a holiday mix based on everyones favorites.
Make hot chocolate, put it in travel mugs, and drive around (or walk, if applicable) to look at holiday lights. Have your holiday playlist or favorite holiday music to listen to while you drive around.
Have a weekly “holiday mug night” where you have hot chocolate, chai, mulled cider, and/or holiday themed teas together.
Purchase gingerbread house kits for each family member to decorate and then make them together.
Make a holiday family recipe— i.e. a favorite Kwanzaa dish; Christmas cookies your grandparents use to make; your family recipe for latkes; etc. If you don’t have any traditional recipes, perhaps you could start a new holiday food tradition.
Create a holiday menu for the special day— use Pinterest or Google to find recipes and ideas for drinks/mocktails, appetizers, sides, main course, and of course dessert!
Have at least one candlelight meal together.
Watch your favorite holiday movies.
Have a game night with holiday snacks or treats while you play favorite board and card games.
Listen to a holiday themed audio book or podcast together.
Gather natural materials from outside such as pine cones, pine boughs, dried grasses/weeds/flower heads to make a centerpiece for your table, napkin holders for a holiday meal, or window decorations.
Have a baking day— bake cookies, Chex Mix, and/or holiday fudge and candy.
Find new ways to decorate this year— i.e. if your family has more decorations than they use, use some of the extras for your bedroom or another area of the house. Or, put a smaller tree in your bedroom to decorate with extra ornaments (it doesn’t need to be a live tree— you could make a paper one or other crafty version).
Do a compare/contrast family photo shoot— parents/guardians are in charge of one version of the family photo shoot and the kids/teens in the house are in charge of the other. If you print and send holiday cards, this is a fun side-by-side photo to mail or post on social media.
Put the kid/teens in the house in charge of planning a way for the family to volunteer or donate money this season. i.e. If anyone in your family sews, create face masks and donate them; bring food to a local food pantry; bake something for a neighbor; donate to the local animal shelter; mail holiday or new years cards to people serving in the military overseas, etc.
Facetime your relatives and ask them to share a favorite family holiday moment (or story) with you. You might learn something new about your family!
If your family likes creative challenges, see if your family can decorate one room in the house with completely handmade or repurposed items.
For Tween/Teens and their Friends:
Facetime/ZOOM/etc while each of you…
Create an online holiday movie night each week and invite friends to join in. Have each friend choose a favorite to watch.
Challenge your friends to a “toss and catch the snowball” or other collaborative video for social media.
Mask up and stay appropriately distanced while you…
In this crazy year of COVID-19 don't forget to schedule some self care for yourself and to also check in with others. In the meantime, sending you all the best for a safe and healthy December.
I’m sharing the following activity from my counseling practice.
I’ve made a list of various “gifts” you may have acquired, received, or given during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine.
The list highlights potential positive outcomes from this time of our lives. It is not meant to deflect from the traumatic and negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but to point out any light in the darkness for those of you who are looking for it.
Potential Gifts from the Quarantine
Self Care and Spiritual Growth
Personal and Community Relationships
Feel free to print out the list and/or share it. It’s a starter list and I know there is much more to be added to it. Feel free to copy and paste it onto a new document so you can expand on it for your own use.
Bonnie Thomas LCSW
Indigo North Counseling
Here at Indigo North Counseling, LLC we do a lot of creative activities. Art, poetry, photography, self portraits, collages, repetitive pattern drawing, coloring, sculpting, visual storytelling, sand tray, origami, autobiographical fairy tales, and even general arts and crafts are all explored here...if and when the client is interested. Some of the activities are for expressive purposes (i.e. it tells a story or creates an image for a specific feeling, life experience, or person). Other activities are for calming and quieting the mind (i.e. repetitive and meditative drawing, coloring, or doing dot to dots).
People often ask what kind of art based or expressive activities occur behind closed doors, so I created a gallery of photos. Please note that I do not use photos of client's work-- I often make examples of the activities I do with clients so I can share them with others.
If you're interested in learning about creative expression activities and art-based therapy projects I have written the following books on the subject:
Copyright B. Thomas 2019
As a parent I knew that one day our son (who is an only child) would become an adult and leave home. But as prepared as I thought I was to manage that transition, in truth I wasn’t prepared at all. I think this was the result of naivete’ as well as lack of knowledge and experience. None of our close friends had been through this yet (we were all going through it at the same time) nor had anyone older shared words of wisdom with us about this phase of life. Strangely, even my social media feeds seemed to lack mention of college parents grieving when their kids left for college….only the occasional mention of missing them or how good it felt to have them home for holidays and vacations. So, when the day came for me to drive our son to college, I was aware that our lives were about to shift but I had no idea how much.
Now, of course, everyone experiences adjustment, change, loss, and rites of passage differently. There are many parents who get through this experience with their hearts intact and even thrive as empty nesters in those initial first few months. I had envisioned myself as being in the latter group— I had, afterall, spent 18 years encouraging my son to live life, explore, and make memories. I was excited for him to be heading to college…to be leaving our small town and moving to a place where academia, diversity, and opportunity are embraced and celebrated. I could feel his readiness to foster this new life. I was overjoyed for him.
But as some parents do, I was so focused on him having a positive transition to this phase of life that I kind of forgot to prepare myself. You’d think, as a counselor, I would have been better prepared. I wasn’t.
On the day I drove him to college it was a beautiful day. Ideally beautiful. We listened to his music all the way there and I soaked in every second of sharing this time with him. We stopped to have Thai food before heading to campus.
When we got to campus we followed lines of directed traffic that eventually led to his dorm. There were student volunteers to help unload the car and take my son’s belongings to his room. I then parked the empty car in a nearby lot and walked back to his dorm room to help unpack what I could.
And then, it was time to leave.
I gave my son a big hug, told him to enjoy this—all of this— and said the usual mom things…I love him; to be safe; that his dad and I are proud of him; that we are always there for him and just a text away.
And then I left.
I walked back to the car and tears started to flow. That seemed expected. But the tears wouldn’t stop flowing. That was not expected. Ugh— I loathe crying. I really do. I know its healthy and cleansing and that our bodies need to do what they do— but still, I loathe it. I’m also the ultimate “ugly crier” who cannot hide the fact I’ve been crying. My eyes instantly swell to three times their size, creating bags upon bags; my face becomes so blotchy it lasts for hours, long after the tears stop. So imagine my face after an hour of crying…then three hours of crying…a full day of crying…2 days of crying…and still more tears on the third day. I was a complete and utter mess. I had moments of panic and irrational fear. It took days for these feelings to subside and eventually calm. Still, even then, I felt emotionally gutted.
One beacon of light in all of this is that my husband was understanding, supportive, and not afraid of my constantly flowing tears. He was grieving also. He got it. We both missed our son. We were both untethered from our parenting roles for the first time and it was disorienting and heart-wrenching.
Another beacon of light included a few unexpected conversations with neighbors and colleagues who shared their own experiences of grief when their children left home. These small, intimate conversations were validating and made me remember that life is beautiful, in all of its bitter-sweetness.
The best beacon of light, however, was realizing that, like any adjustment, a new normal settles in. Things do get easier. Joy and resolution return.
We did get through it— slowly but surely. For us it took a lot of Netflix, calming teas, extra walks with the dogs, and checking in with one another. Now, as a parent who has survived the experience (as you will also) I want to share some helpful things I learned in the process in case it’s helpful for any others about to go through the same transition.
*** Some of these tips may also be helpful for adult children “leaving the nest” for the armed forces, traveling abroad for a semester, a new job, leaving home in general, etc.
2-3 months before your child heads to college and/or leaves home
Moving Day and Beyond
A common fear in childhood is being afraid of the dark, and as adults we can help children alleviate that fear. The following post lists some of my favorite ways to encourage children to enjoy the dark using the "language" children speak best— play and wonder.
Before exploring ways to make the dark a safe place to play and explore, however, I want to address the topic of horror films. If your home has any horror films in it's library, and/or you have people watching horror films when a child is present in your home, I'd encourage you to keep those films out of reach and not watch such films in the presence of children. This is true of any filmography intended for a mature audience. Young children (some older ones as well) are not developmentally and emotionally mature enough to handle the content of horror films-- heightened fear and anxiety are likely to follow, no matter how minimal the exposure.
That being said, let's talk about fun activities that encourage children to dim the lights or play in the dark:
1. Play with shadow puppets. You can search online for tutorials on making your own shadow puppets and/or search for where to purchase them. The advantage of making your own is that you can create an imaginative mix of characters and scenery that is “one of a kind” and of your child’s own imagination. The advantage of buying them is the convenience of not crafting them—because not everyone enjoys making arts and crafts or has the time to make them. The shadow puppets in these photos were created by Andrea Everman of Owly Shadow Puppets.
2. Make hand shadows. You and your child can use a flashlight to create fun shadows on the wall. Your local library most likely has a book or two on how to make the classic hand shadows. If your library does not have them, ask them about interlibrary loan— you may be able to borrow from another library.
3. Make (or purchase) a silhouette lantern. These lanterns are especially enchanting for children, and they will want to use these lanterns both for play (they are perfect blanket fort lights) and as night lights. I purchased the one below from Loren Morris at Primitive Witchery here: www.etsy.com/shop/PrimWitchery?ref=l2-shopheader-name You can also follow a tutorial such as this one to make your own (this one starts off with Christmas themed lanterns but if you scroll down you will find other designs to create): www.adventure-in-a-box.com/magical-christmas-lanterns/
4. Make a tin can lantern with your child and then light them up at night for a night walk, or use it as a night light. Battery operated tea lights can be used in lanterns for younger children. https://www.hgtv.com/design/make-and-celebrate/handmade/how-to-make-a-tin-can-lantern
5. Have an evening tea party where the only lighting is candles or twinkle lights. You can also serve tea that helps with sleep, such as chamomile tea.
6. Use bathtub lights. These lights are waterproof and designed for bath time, but they also work well as night-lights and as characters for night play (in or out of the tub). You can search online for "floating lights", "bathtub lights", or even "hot tub lights". Swans, jellyfish, rubber duckies, and more are available for purchase. There are also planetarium lights and other decorative lights for the tub.
7. Play with "play props" and toys that light up. These include miniatures (i.e found at craft stores and hobby shops) like the campfire pictured below. These light up play props can be used for both indoor and outdoor night play.
Battery operated tea lights can also be used with figurines:
8. Play board games and card games that need to be played in the dark. For example, Mistiboo is a spooky version of Old Maid. The card images glow in the dark, which means you can play this game with the lights out. Another game, Shadows In The Forest, (not pictured) involves hiding creatures called Shadowlings in tree shadows which are created by trees and a lantern that come with the game. If you have a local library that has board games in it’s lending library, ask them if they’re able to purchase one of these night games for patrons to borrow.
9. Visit your local library to check out books that will ignite your child’s sense of wonder about the night. Some kids love enchanting picture books that feature night themes and stories that take place at night, such as Dream Animals--A Bedtime Journey, by Emily Winfield Martin. Other kids may find non fiction books about the night more appealing, such as those about constellations, bioluminescence, and nocturnal animals.
10. Go outside to play before bedtime— this works especially well in winter months when the sun sets earlier. You can bring some figurines outside for your child to play with, if needed. And, if you have any "light up" play props, bring those as well. When it’s snowy outside, take advantage of the snow by using it to dig out caves and caverns for characters. Lights illuminating the snow (especially in the snow caves) create magical playscapes.
11. Winter is also a wonderful time to take advantage of any snow forts your child has built. Bring flashlights or lanterns out to the fort at night for bedtime stories or snack time.
12. Go on a night picnic.
13. Sit by a campfire. Regardless of the season, campfires provide many opportunities for storytelling and music, quiet contemplation, marshmallow roasting, and the primal joy of sitting next to the fire.
14. Watch a celestial event such as a meteor shower or Northern Lights. spaceweather.com offers updates for when these are likely to occur.
15. Visit a planetarium.
16. Create snow sculptures during the day and then light them up at night. For example, we made a Godzilla creature once and put a sparkler in it's mouth. Other ideas include making snow dragons where tea lights can be placed in the dragon’s nostrils; or make "snow people" holding lights in their hands; create snow sculpted jellyfish that light up, etc… the possibilities are endless. (Of note-- by day, Godzilla served as a bird feeder. Those "hands" are full of peanuts and sunflower seeds. It was entertaining to see birds landing in his arms.)
17. Play with glow in the dark bubbles (aka black light bubbles). There are online tutorials for how to make your own, but I purchased mine. Either way, you will need a black light flashlight to view these bubbles. However, if you have the means to enjoy this activity, it's a treat. If you wait for an extra cold winter's night, you can have the added benefit of watching the bubbles freeze. Glowing frozen bubbles on the snow mimics galaxies and the night sky -- it's a magical delight to lay your eyes on this spectacle. The same bubble solution was used to create the glowing effect on a small snow fort.
18. Go for a night walk.
19. Take your flashlights outside and look for nocturnal creatures such as beetles and moths. You may even find a toad to say hello to.
20. Watch the sunset together.
21. Visit places that offer candlelight tours, whether it’s a tour around the historical district in town, or a candlelight tour of a castle or fort. The photo below is from a candlelight tour at Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
22. Go on night drives or night walks to find fireflies in summer. (Yes, I added a firefly filter to the photo below, but in real life there were hundreds of fireflies around, and my iPhone didn't pick up on them. On a side note, the phone camera DID get the picture of this sweet deer that was feeding in the field.)
23. Take advantage of full moons— ice skating and swimming under a full moon, for example, are memorable events for kids. Play with moon shadows or go for a full moon walk. Put your child’s gemstones out in the moonlight for them to “recharge”.
24. Use “twinkle lights” or string lights at home where the child spends time in the dark, whether its a blanket fort or their bedroom.
25. Have a candlelight dinner.
26. Create a bedside basket for your child that has a flashlight (or other small light) and a few small tokens of comfort in it. If the child wakes in the middle of the night s/he may learn to use the items in the basket before waking you.
27. Play a game of flashlight tag with your kids.
28. Create your own “flashlight filters”— a) Use clear colored plastic or paper; cut circles to fit just within the inset of the flashlight; then place the circles on the end of the flashlight to make different colored lights. b) Cut black card stock or scrapbook paper into circles to fit within the inset of the flashlight. Poke holes in the paper circles to create patterns or constellation shapes, then place the circles on the flashlight end. When the flashlight is on, it will shine through the holes and create the designs on a flat surface, such as a wall.
29. If you have very active kids, it may be a worthy investment to buy a light up hula hoop. Kids can hula hoop in the dark and watch the lights on the hula hoop rotate and swirl around. If you have more than one child, and if they can tolerate friendly competition, see who can hula hoop the longest, or try hula hoop challenges such as “who can hula hoop the longest with their eyes closed?” They will burn off some excess energy before bedtime.
30. “Talk” to fireflies.Here is a tutorial: www.amnh.org/explore/ology/zoology/talking-to-fireflies
Overall, any time you engage a child in an activity that taps into their sense of wonder and play, you are also providing an opportunity for them to learn. In this case, they are learning to fear the dark less with every fun and safe exposure they have. So, if any of the above activities seem to match the interest and need of your child, go ahead and give them a try.
Copyright B. Thomas 2019
When it comes to winter weather I am one of “those” people who gets excited about the lack of sunlight, the stark winter landscape, and the snow. I know, I know— this is a bit weird to some people and I’m often met with icy glares and sinister scoffing from my sun worshipping peers. But in the interest of those who cringe at the thought of an encroaching winter, I thought I’d offer my favorite tips and suggestions for thriving in the winter months.
First, winter is a wonderful time to “hibernate”. Some refer to it as “hygge” (aka the Scandinavian term for sinking into the coziness of the season) — but for any group of people who cyclically live through winter, we also know it as “hunkering down”, “hibernating”, “wintering”, or even “disappearing”. Perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert, but I love this aspect of winter the most. Combine any of the following below to embrace the art of human hibernation.
Get out the warm blankets—lots of them
There are so many blankets to mix and layer these days, from nostalgic wool blankets and family quilts to modern comforters and fleece throws. Keep blankets in all the rooms where you spend time relaxing. Make sure there are plenty for everyone-- including your pets--and snuggle up often.
Wear warm socks and slippers
You can often find warm winter socks at craft fairs (made by your local knitters), at the farmers market, at a local venue, and of course online. The advantage to buying socks locally means you can actually feel how thick, soft, and durable they are. You can also get a better sense for the size. When a cold winter’s day or night brings a chill in your home, put on a pair of warm socks and curl up in those blankets mentioned above.
Indulge in reading
This is a great time of year to lose yourself in used books, new books, and shared books.
Make and eat homemade comfort foods
I’m not talking junk food here— I’m talking about hearty soups, stews, and other foods that feel satisfying and comforting to eat. These are the foods that warm you from the inside out and are perfect for days when it’s snowing, when you’ve been outdoors shoveling or skiing, or after a long day of work and a crappy commute. That’s the kind of food I’m talking about. If you yourself are not a cook, seek out local places to buy from. Sometimes your local bakers, caterers, or restaurants will have pot pies or soups to sell that are frozen. You can tuck these in your freezer until needed.
Make warm drinks
Winter is the perfect time to indulge in warm drinks: Mulled apple cider. Coffees. Herbal teas. Medicinal drinks. Hot cocoa. Chai. Find your favorite brands and recipes for hot drinks and keep them on hand for chilly days.
For a touch of extravagance add whipped cream, cinnamon sticks, anise stars, sprinkles of sugar or spice, or any other garnish to make your warm drinks more special.
For extra extra extravagance splurge on unique items such as tea that comes in shaped tea bags Or, try Butterfly Pea Flower Tea which is a gorgeous blue-hued tea that turns purple when you add lemon to it!
Find a favorite mug for those warm drinks
In a world of too-many-mugs this is a rather simple suggestion. However, if you’re going to spend an entire season in cold weather, a favorite mug for your hot drinks and soups can be a mood lifter. Whether the mug is heavy and has a certain comfort to how it feels in your hands, to a mug with gorgeous or whimsical artwork, or a mug given to you by someone who holds your heart in their heart, or a mug that expresses your sense of humor….in the dark months of winter, a special mug can really make a difference on your mood and provide a sense of routine and comfort.
Daydream. Stare at the walls. Notice the patterns on a quilt or a book cover. Breathe. Watch the snow fall. Feel the warmth of your blankets. Snuggle with a pet. Sip your coffee. Watch the birds outside your window. Listen to the traffic. Breathe some more.
Take a nap
Grab a book and crawl under as many blankets as you can. Read until you find yourself getting relaxed, warm, and sleepy. Whether you fall asleep or not is fine— just giving your body a chance to rest is a wonderful gift to yourself.
Winter is a great enabler for crafty people like myself. It’s not only a great time to peruse Pinterest and craft blogs for new projects to make, but it’s also a time to finish any craft projects you’ve started and/or explore new ones.
Do puzzles, play games
When I was a kid my grandparents loved to do jigsaw puzzles, especially the ones that contained “whimsy pieces” (puzzle pieces cut into specific shapes, such as a bird or an airplane). There are still puzzle companies today that make high quality, artistic puzzles that include whimsy pieces in addition to other special features. My favorite puzzles so far have come from Artifact Puzzles which are gorgeously made.
Get a puzzle book—whether it’s sudoku, crosswords, or word finds it’s nice to have puzzle book around for those moments when your mind wants to be awake and engaged but you still want to curl up and relax.
New board games and card games are released frequently for people of all ages. If games are something you enjoy, check to see if your local library has a lending library of games (yes, some do offer that!). You can coordinate game night with family or friends.
Winter is a wonderful time to sink into a hot bubble bath, but that’s not a feasible option for everybody. If you do not own a tub, a bubbly aromatic foot bath can be a wonderful alternative. Purchase a plastic tub (like one you’d wash dishes in) and fill it with comfortably warm/hot water. You can add essential oil, epsom salts, flower petals (organic, non sprayed ones), or bath gel to the water as well. Keep a couple towels nearby in case of spills and for when you are done and need to dry your feet.
If you are prone to seasonal affective disorder and/or become low during winter months, it might be helpful to try a sunlamp. Talk about this option with your doctor, naturopath, or counselor before trying it, however, just to rule out any risk factors and to make sure you're getting the best possible care for your mental health.
Lighting in general can help you during especially dark months. Add “twinkle lights” around areas where you spend the most time and/or invest in novelty lights or other lighting decor to brighten up your home.
Now that I’ve covered ways to endure the winter months indoors, let’s move on to the outdoor activities. Winter is certainly a great time to go outside and play, regardless of whether you’re a child or adult.
Build snow sculptures
Snow people are fun to build but don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut of only building snow people. Try building something new— such as an upside down snow person…or a snow unicorn…or a snow cat. You can also stack snowballs, create words on trees with sticky snow, make icicle art, and more.
Build a fort or an igloo
Yes— really— even if you don’t have kids. It’s not only great exercise but it’ll get your mind off of politics, the world news, and other stressors.
If you do have kids, make sure to utilize the fort for unique opportunities such as bedtime stories (the kids get bundled up with their pajamas and you all bring blankets, flashlights, and lanterns to read stories in the fort). You can also have a picnic or tea party in the fort.
Picnics are not just for summer-- I actually prefer winter picnics over summer ones because they tend to be more adventurous and memorable. Also, winter picnics at night are even more enchanting when you bring along candles and lanterns to light up your picnic area.
Winter sports and recreation
Winter is the ultimate playground for many recreational activities such as ice hockey, ice skating, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, sledding, and more. If you don't already know whats available nearby, search online or ask community members for favorite spots like skating rinks and ponds, snowshoe trails, and sledding hills. Don't forget to pack a Thermos full of hot soup or cocoa for the trip!
Blow bubbles and watch them freeze
These are the kind of bubbles you create by dipping a wand into soapy liquid and then blowing gently on the wand to make bubbles. If the weather is cold enough where you are, the bubbles will freeze. Frozen bubbles are mesmerizing to watch — see how many you can get to stay perfectly balanced on top of snowfall. To make things even more interesting use the "dark light bubbles" and shine a black light on them--the frozen bubbles will glow!
You can also use black light bubbles to decorate forts or sculptures for night photography.
Feed the animals
I tend to feed our backyard friends year round. However, when you want a little backyard entertainment, put out a special picnic or tea party for the animals; build a snow person with arms holding seed; make hearts and other shapes in the snow using birdseed; or decorate an outdoor tree with garlands of cereal or berries or ornaments made from bread, nut butters, and birdseed.
I hope this blog post gives you a starting place for ways to embrace the heart of winter--when all else fails, start planning your gardens for spring and summer and get those seeds ordered.
When your child is having an especially rough day, or needs a little extra nurturing, try a kid-friendly foot soak. It’s a gentle, but playful, way to encourage your child to slow down for a moment, reboot their sensory regulation, and take a few deep breaths. For some kids these are wonderful in place of a shower or bath at bedtime; for some they are helpful as part of a regular ritual for self regulation and sensory input/calming; and for some kids they work beautifully as a special treat or even just for fun.
Foot bath essentials:
A whole other level of foot bathing:
Make a themed foot bath, such as a Dinosaur or Mermaid foot bath. You can add additional stones or shells to the bath. Small bath-friendly toys or figurines can be added as well.
With any luck, you’ll be able to enjoy a foot soak alongside your child, too. When your child sees you taking a moment to nurture yourself and relax, you’ll be role modeling self care and relaxation for your child. So, join in the ritual when you can.
Indigo North Counseling, LLC
Art therapy is an intervention and treatment modality I use a lot at my private practice. Not only can it be used in conjunction with other therapy models, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it can be used with all ages and abilities.
I use art therapy in many forms at Indigo North Counseling, LLC— from drawing and painting to multimedia projects. I use photography, mandalas, collage, writing, triptychs, shrines, totems, life maps, altered books, found objects art, dreamcatchers, storytelling, and more.
Art taps into a whole different language for people to express themselves and share their stories. You don’t have to be adept at using words, or explaining things verbally, or remembering linear details of your life when you use art as a language. The colors, textures, symbols, and details speak for themselves— through metaphor, through process, through creation, and through release.
If you have a general interest in using art therapy to help you through a part of your life, to explore who you are, or to express any feelings, you may find some of the online activities to be helpful (use the keywords “art therapy activity” in your search engine).
However, if you need or desire more directed activity based on your unique needs, art therapy with a counselor or art therapist is recommended. Art therapy can be used to help with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, acute stress, mood disregulation, self esteem, stress management, self care, adjustment to change, grief/loss, and more.
The next time you look for a boost to your well being, don't forget to consider art as part of your self care regimen.
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling, LLC
Sometimes parents/guardians come to me with concerns that their child is irritable and moody, lacks focus and attention, is more reactive with their emotions, seems unmotivated to get things done, and/or has become more argumentative/defiant. If that sounds familiar to you as well, consider the list below that identifies factors that can affect children’s behaviors and moods.
1. Sleep: If your child is not getting enough sleep it can lead to moodiness, irritability, lack of focus, and fatigue (which can also present as a lack of motivation). Less sleep also means less time for the body to regulate itself or get rest which can make a child more prone to illness and stress. (a)
Bottom line— kids need an adequate amount of sleep and/or a regular sleep routine.
2. Diet: There are many foods that affect mood, energy levels, focus, etc. You are probably already familiar with the effects of sugar on the body and brain, but other things like food additives and preservatives, gluten, dairy, etc. can have an effect on the nervous system, the digestive system, and mental health. (b)
Bottom line— limit or remove sugar and preservatives/additives from the child’s diet; provide a healthy, balanced diet for your child.
3. Exercise: Physical activity not only creates mood-boosting endorphins but it also releases tension and helps the body to detox. Exercise can also help people get better rest/sleep at night. (c)
Bottom line— make sure the child gets regular exercise.
4. Fresh air/nature: Getting outdoors and having exposure to nature, fresh air, and even dirt can help with general wellbeing. When we go outdoors on a mild to sunny day, we get Vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D plays a key role in wellbeing and mood. In addition, we tend to produce more serotonin on sunny days. (d) (e) When we get our hands in the soil/dirt we get exposed to microbes that act as natural antidepressants. (f) And taking a walk in nature in and of itself has positive impacts on mood and well being. (g)
Bottom line-- get your kids outdoors often.
5. Screens and media: There are many ways that screen time impacts our children’s health, from disrupting sleep cycles to increasing cortisol in their bodies. (h) Another consideration is the exposure the child gets to commercials, the news, and content that is more appropriate for an older audience.
Bottom line—reduce screen time.
6. Daily schedule: So many children are over-scheduled and rushed. Between school/pre-school, playdates and birthday parties, camp, aftercare, sports, enrichment classes (i.e. art or language classes), etc… we are raising kids to have activity-packed days and evenings. However, kids need time to be bored, time to explore their imaginations and play, and time to be with themselves (and family). In addition, self regulation, mindfulness, and coping skills are much easier to teach a child at a child’s pace, where they are listened to and validated, but also taught new skills. It's difficult to meet that need in the midst of a busy day. (i)
Bottom line—make sure the child’s schedule is not too rushed or packed full of activity.
A parent or guardian can make positive changes to one or more of the items above to see if it helps improve their child’s general mood and functioning. Sometimes a parent can bypass the need for counseling or medications when changes to the basics above are addressed. However, as you may know already, some things are easier said than done. I get that. I could probably write a chapter about each section above with helpful hints and suggestions for ways to navigate around all the challenges. However, I hope this overview gives a starting point for immediate and low-no cost ways to enhance your child’s wellbeing and behavior. As always, if you’ve already tried a bunch of interventions to no avail, or you (and/or the child) are "at wits end" so to speak, seek support from a pediatrician and/or counselor. Thats what we’re here for.
Copyright 2017 Bonnie Thomas
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling, LLC