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Cures for cabin fever

Harsh winter weather makes for bad cases of cabin fever. Here are inexpensive ideas from teachers and parents to put the freeze on whining when you're stuck at home.

*Start with a timer. A bored child begging for attention is annoying. To get ahead of the game, fill his emotional gas tank early in the day. Set about 30 minutes to play with your child and get him engaged, then tell him he is on his own for a while. The timer is the impartial referee.

*Why not use time at home to get started on Valentine's Day? Keep little hands busy with this recipe for cinnamon dough: equal parts cinnamon and store-bought applesauce. Stir together to make dough. Flatten on wax paper. Use heart-shape cookie cutters. For extra pizzazz, add glitter to the dough. Use a straw to poke a hole in the top of the heart and run a ribbon through it to hang. The shapes will take at least two days to dry. Even if your child is a toddler, let go of the process and let him do as many of the steps as possible.

Also for Valentine's Day, show your child how to cut hearts out of folded paper. Provide red paper leftover from the holidays, recycled envelopes and a shoebox to decorate. Offer magazines and a mission: Find and cut out red and pink shapes throughout the pages.

*Another idea: Don't be afraid of the mess of making play dough at home with your child. Mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup warm water, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon oil and a 1/4 cup salt in a pan over medium heat. Stir it until it is smooth, then remove from pan and knead it on waxed paper. For Valentine's Day, add two to three drops of red food coloring as the last step. An add-on if you want to splurge: Drops of peppermint extract. The dough keeps well in a plastic bag or airtight container.

*Step out of your comfort zone and turn your kitchen into a science lab. To make "goop" for one child, let him mix 1/2 cup cornstarch and 1/4 cup water, added a few drops at time. Mix and watch the magic. As your child plays with it, the mixture goes from a liquid to a solid and back. When he's done, pitch the concoction.

*Another cheap but less-messy experiment: Have your child search your house for a few dull pennies. Turn the coins shiny again by soaking them in a sizzling mixture of about 1/2 cup white vinegar and 3 tablespoons of salt. Rinse in soapy water and dry.

*If you have a bunch of broken crayons in your home, set your child to work peeling the papers off. Then snap the crayons into little pieces. Divide them in the cups of on an old metal muffin tin. Melt the crayon pieces in an oven set at about 275 degrees F for a few minutes and check often. When the crayons have melted, pop the tin into your freezer for about 30 minutes. The new crayon muffins should pop out easily.

*If you have a stash of pinecones, roll them in peanut butter and then birdseed. Hang them from a tree with yarn near a window where your family can watch the birds discover them.

A Charlotte, N.C., mother who sews and knits says that knitting is good for children older than about third grade because they work on their motor skills and focus. She also has had success with sewing with young kids. She cuts out two matching squares of cloth, threads the needle, and then holds the cloth for the child while she sews a simple seam around three sides to make a little bag. Leave the top open and use a ribbon to tie the bag closed.


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