When it comes to keeping kids busy during long, brutally cold Minnesota winters, I'm the fricking champ. When my son was little, I did in-home childcare for some friends’ kids. Spring, Summer, and Fall, piece of cake. We played outside and did crafts on the deck and went on walks to the playground and all that jazz. In the Winter, we had a lot of busy small people in one small house during very frigid weather. I had to get clever with what we had in the house to keep them entertained and to maintain my sanity. And so, cotton-balling - as a verb - was born.
Sure, we could all think of a bunch of cute crafts to do with cotton balls, like gluing them onto a sheet of construction paper to make stupidly adorable googly-eyed snowmen…but then what? You need more. I’ve got 3 tried-and-true activities sure to please. Are they educational? Nope. Do they teach valuable lessons that will make them better people? Surely not. But do they keep their attention for a few minutes? Yeah, mostly.
Preparation: Costco has giant bags of cotton balls, so you're gonna wanna stock up for this one.
Oh, and you'll also need to install a ceiling fan if you don't already have one. Let’s begin.
The Activity: Gather the children under the ceiling fan (they are welcome to dress in their snowsuits if they'd like, and if you want to add 6-11 minutes to this activity). You’ll build anticipation by asking the kids, “Are you ready? Are you suuuuure you’re ready?!” and things like this, to not only make the activity last as long as possible, but to really get them PUMPED for something that is truly not that impressive.
Now, yell "SNOWSTORM!" as you toss handfuls of cotton balls up into the ceiling fan and watch the joy in their eyes as the balls fall down on them. Quickly pick up all the cotton balls and repeat until interest wanes.
Estimated Time Killed: Approximately three minutes.
Bonus Twist: Make it even more fun by giving them each a cup and tell them to try and catch as many as they can before they hit the floor. While remaining seated. And quiet, so the snow doesn’t melt, obviously. See how much fun
we're having, kids?
I take back my previous statement about these activities not being educational. How is operating a catapult NOT a science lesson? In this case, plastic spoons are launching devices for cotton balls. Create targets out of paper and crayons or create human targets with face paint and have fun catapulting cotton balls at each other. To take this one step further, lightly dampen the target (try a spray bottle on a light and pleasant ‘mist’ setting for human targets) and see how many balls you can get to stick. Science. Adapt this game to the skill of the children, if you're noticing some novice abilities, go ahead and let them sneak a little closer to the target, we can’t all be Katniss Everdeen’s of the cotton-balling world.
Preparation: Put on snow suits, or swim suits, or space suits, idc. Fill the empty (and dry) bathtub with as many cotton balls as you can find.
The Activity: Put the children in the cotton ball filled tub. Tell them how much fun they're having and remind them how cool of a mom you are. Encourage them to make snowmen or whatever. When they say they want to be done, give them a liquid medicine cup (you know those super tiny ones?) and tell them they first need to complete the snow removal, ball by ball. Give them a bin to toss them into for reuse (these things are like gold, reuse them until they either gather so much filth that they render you ill when you look at them and they must be discarded, or they dissolve from too much accuracy in the damp-human-target game).
What a great time!
Here’s a photo of Lucy after receiving her very own bag of cotton-balls as a gift.
Not the Costco-bag, but she was happy nevertheless.
Tear apart cotton balls and see how many different costumes and disguises you can make. This, of course, was Colby as the beloved Sam the Snowman as voiced by Burl Ives.
And, lastly, for the parents: Try Cotton-Bawling, where you lock yourself in the bathroom and cry (like usual) only this time, instead of wiping your tears and snot with your hoodie sleeve, you use cotton balls. This is one of my favorite nightly activities and I always feel so refreshed afterwards. Happy Winter!