Betsy and Jerrad Rickard have four children under 10 years old.
Let that sink in for a second. Four children. Under 10.
Betsy, a former educator who stays home with the children, knows better than anyone that the winter doldrums can make even the most well-behaved children squirrelly.
“In my house it’s like a tornado, it’s like an earthquake,” said the Crystal Lake mother of three boys and one girl. “It’s loud and there’s wrestling and just nonstop movement, and loud voices and questions. Everybody is vying for mama or daddy’s attention every single second it seems.
“That’s why I think you have to be proactive with getting them involved in doing something.”
Winter’s snow, ice, slush and subzero temperatures can be especially trying for families like the Rickards, when sometimes everyone just wants to hunker down and hibernate. But as Betsy knows, keeping your children happy and active also is key for keeping one’s own sanity.
“So thankful to have gotten outside this morning. After 68 hours of being cooped up in the house, I was seriously ready to start murdering people,” she quipped on Facebook just after the polar vortex released its icy grip.
“Everyone was feeling very cooped up,” she said later. “It was absolutely crazy.”
Keeping the kids happy and active doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune, she said. You just have to get a little creative. Most importantly, she suggests, save the TV for the time when you absolutely need that peace and quiet, or that time to focus on adult tasks.
Betsy’s playdates with other moms have been a saving grace, she said. But more often than not, she turns to the mecca of creative ideas – Pinterest. On that website, she finds a wealth of resources and ideas for activities. She’s arranged science experiments, silly games, crafts, baking, you name it.
“Anything that keeps their hands busy,” she said. “More than anything else, I want to keep the kids physically active.”
And she’s smart, psychologists say. Just like adults whose mood can change with the weather, children too can become prey for the winter blues.
“The rule of thumb is, the more energetic and active you are, typically the better your academic performance,” said Dr. Pete Marcelo, a Huntley psychologist and school administrator.
The McHenry County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jaki Berggren rattled off a number of indoor and outdoor activities that can keep children occupied – all in the name of family harmony.
The Volo Auto Museum is one place, she said. But there are also bowling alleys, Monkey Joe’s, Mega Trampoline Fun Zone, roller skating, ice skating, the Raue Center, the Woodstock Opera House, the McHenry County Historical Society Museum, and the list goes on.
“Winter is a little bit harder out here because we are very much an outdoor county,” Berggren said. “But we do have a lot to do inside. ... You don’t have to stay hibernating in your house if you don’t want to.”
Crystal Lake family therapist Dan Blair suggests bundling up and heading outside, even if it’s for a short time.
“Being outside gets exposure to light, and it helps [children] process stress hormones, use up adrenaline, and gives them an outlet,” he said. “The idea is to keep busy. Our tendency in the winter is to go into hibernation, and we get lazier and lazier. That makes it harder to concentrate in school, and it affects our mood.”
For that, the McHenry County Conservation District has a slew of – often free – activities, such as family exploration programs or cross-country skiing.
Then there are winter festivals, such as Groundhog Days in Woodstock, the Norge Ski Jump winter tournament in Fox River Grove and the Festival of the Sugar Maples in Marengo.
“Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you can’t go outside,” Marcelo said.