It is February in Northeast Ohio, which means it is cold and windy. The unpredictable weather can interrupt Clevelanders’ plans quite often. People find themselves trapped inside for long periods of time.
Statistics have shown the reduced sunlight during winter can lower one’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. A deficit of serotonin can lead to seasonal depression and affect a person’s sleep, appetite, memory and more. What many don’t realize is that seasonal mood changes can also affect children. Rather than feeling sad, though, children often experience irritability, fatigue, and may be viewed as distracted or disruptive in school.
Doctors and educators alike agree that one way to boost a child’s mood is by getting active. Research has shown that exercise can help boost serotonin production. Often, various activities also help strengthen motor skills, promote senses, encourage independence, allow individuals to use their creativity and imagination and opportunities to learn.
“There are so many low-cost and free activities families can do at home,” Jessica Reardon, Step Forward’s Home Base Coordinator, encouraged. “You can do crafts with supplies you already have at home or fill a bucket with random items for sensory play.”
Step Forward’s Home Base enables parents to educate their children in the comfort of their own home, under the guidance of the Head Start program and a weekly visit. Home visitors are experts when considering how to actively engage children at home.
“Story time is underrated. Families can visit their local library, pick out books that are interesting to the child, and read together. It’s great for language, literacy and communication and it strengthens their cognitive skills,” Reardon said. “Ask them what happened in the book. Act out a part of the story. It can be a special opportunity for a parent or guardian to bond with their little one.”
Reardon suggested building a fort together, preparing and having an indoor picnic in different rooms, doing different scavenger hunts, and finally, braving it and enjoying the Northeast Ohio weather for what it is.
“Even though it's cold outside, there are still some types of birds that hang around in Cuyahoga County,” she pointed out. “Take a trip to the library and check out some books about birds in our area or do a quick Google search to find out which ones stay behind. What do they like to eat? Take a winter walk and search for some fallen pinecones. Bring them home with you and use them to make a birdfeeder!”
Families can also bring the outdoors inside. Reardon recommended scooping up snow and using a plastic container or bathtub to get their hands in it.
“Help them notice the changes as it melts from snow into water and talk about why that happens,” Reardon said. “Add to the fun by burying favorite toys and using food color for a colorful experience. You can build tiny snow people inside! Keep your creations alive by storing them in your freezer. Use your melted snow to make ice. There are so many possibilities!”
Are you interested in enrolling your child in Head Start? Apply here.