Home projects for the whole family

Winter weather got you trapped indoors? From growing gardens to indoor slides, try one of these fun projects.

By Felicia D. Pinkney

“I’m bored.”

“I’m tired of being in the house.”

“What are we doing today?”

“Can we go somewhere?”

Just like you can count on Christmas and New Year’s falling on the same day each year, it’s highly likely that your kiddos – or maybe even you – will come down with a serious case of cabin fever this winter. Especially if they’re home from school on holiday break and you’re unable to get to work because of a sudden Texas ice storm.

Hmmm … what to do?

The best cure is a fun activity for all ages, so here is a handful of creative projects you and your family can enjoy this winter.

Pick a picture-perfect project

Winter is the perfect time to organize your photos – both the digital ones and those tucked away in old shoeboxes. Surrounding yourself with memories of vacations, celebrations, and milestones makes every day sunnier, so dig ’em out and put them to good use.

If you’re like Texas Farm Bureau Insurance customer Maria Cruz Nelson, you likely have an avalanche of images just waiting to be sorted. A married mom of three, Nelson says she generally tries to organize her photos into scrapbooks while her husband is away on a hunting trip and her 17-year-old son is playing video games. Fortunately, she has a couple of eager helpers.

“The girls love to do scrap booking,” she says of her daughters, 9-year-old Leah and 11-year-old Kaitlyn. Maria says they love cutting with fancy-edge scissors and putting together fun photo pages with stickers and other decorative scrap booking items.

Kids can help separate photos by date, event, or by the person in the picture. For instance, give a younger child a stack of photos and have him pick out the ones that feature him. Give him his own box to store the photos in. He can then hand over his box – just for a little while – to an older child, who may find it more fun to scan and organize photos on the computer.

But you can do so much more with photos than just put them in scrapbooks:
  • Photo collages – Little ones can do this by hand with photos, a poster, and a glue stick; older kids can use photo software. These can be framed and hung on the wall.
  • Photo family trees – Do a computer search on “family tree templates,” print them out, and add photos next to each family member’s name. Your family tree can also be framed.
  • Personalized gifts – Websites such as shutterfly.com and walgreens.com allow you to upload photos and turn them into personalized gifts. A “baby’s first Christmas” photo can become an ornament, or your teen’s graduation photo can be emblazoned on a pair of pajama pants.
Create a fun family game room

Whether you’re working with an entire room or just a few feet, it’s plenty to create your own play zone.

First, map out what will go in the space and ask family members for their ideas. The best game rooms include input from the whole family, says Jennifer Farrell, a Los Angeles-based TV host and interior designer. She has hosted several home-makeover shows on the A&E network, including Find & Design and The Big Fix. She also helped NBA superstar Dwight Howard with the game room in his Florida home.

“A great game room has multiple areas,” Farrell says. There should be enough space for board games, video games, and physical play, she says. For the board game area, Farrell recommends comfortable seating around a

desk-height table with good overhead lighting.

“Invest in one comfy club chair per family member,” she says. “Then add casters to the chair bases. That way the chairs can easily move from one gaming area to another.” There should also be plenty of storage for the games and accessories, Farrell notes.

And no game room is complete without a video game system. The best kinds are those that get everybody off the couch and into the action, such as an Xbox or Nintendo Wii. For kicks, have a family dance-off with games such as The Smurfs Dance Party or Michael Jackson The Experience. Bowling, boxing, and other sports games are also fun for all ages.

Dedicate the most space to the physical play area, Farrell says, whether your family likes to play air hockey, pool, or foosball. If your game room is small, a good alternative for this space is a dartboard or Nerf hoops.

As for your game room decor and paint colors, Farrell suggests trying deep, rich tones such as navy, cinnamon, or charcoal. The colors can make the room so cozy that you may never want to leave!

Start a garden on your windowsill

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, an indoor herb garden is hard to mess

up, which is why it’s perfect for little ones to help manage. It’s also cheap, fun, and environmentally friendly. Plus, having fresh herbs on hand can take your meals from dull to delicious. All you need to get started are a few small, 6-inch pots and a south-facing window, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Herbs that grow well in small pots include oregano, thyme, parsley, and sage, and should be trimmed as needed, advises the extension service. Rosemary and sweet bay, however, need more room to grow, and sweet basil, lemon verbena, summer savory, and tarragon can go dormant or shed excessively.

Chives, onion sets, and garlic cloves also grow well indoors. The onions and garlic can be started in pots, but clip emerging foliage when it reaches a few inches high. For east- or west-facing windows, peppermint, spearmint, and lemon balm are ideal, reports the extension service.

And if pests begin to take over your little garden, avoid pesticides (you’re consuming these herbs, after all) and search for natural remedies.

Wheeeee! Install an indoor slide

An indoor playground could make your home the most popular one on the block, especially if it has a 12-foot slide. Yes, an actual slide-one that can extend between as many levels as you like.

This project takes a bit of prep work, such as cutting holes in the wall and resupporting the ceiling joists.

Kids can’t help much with that (you might even want to seek the help of a professional), but they can create a plush landing strip with pillows, blankets, thick rugs, and even a small mattress. It may also take a couple of days to put together, so tell the little ones to be patient.

They’ll be zipping downstairs soon enough, and so will everything else they want to send down the slide-toys, shoes, dirty laundry (finally, a way to ensure kids will help with that chore).

And because you’ll already have a landing zone, put “indoor climbing wall” on your list of projects for next winter …

Felicia D. Pinkney is a McKinney-based freelance writer and mom of five. She learned, during an extended holiday break, that a fun family project is a sanity-saver.

Copyright 2011, Texas Heritage for Living®