It’s that time of year. The January blues are settling in as the whirlwind holidays have passed once again. Most of us have returned to school and work bundled in layers and slipping back into our routines. Temperatures across the United States have slipped into arctic-like lows that make it near-impossible to spend time outside, and leave us longing for signs of spring and warm weather. A very “blah” start to the new year.

Being a parent or grandparent is seldom easy on a budget, especially in the winter. In our family, few young children do particularly well with being confined, and I can say with all honestly that it’s an inherited trait. In our home, Cabin Fever is almost guaranteed to lead to a riot. Keeping kids busy can be a challenge, but it isn’t impossible. A little creativity can draw cooperation from the most energetic little ones, and even evoke the attention of that reclusive teenager hibernating in the bedroom.

The next time you’re looking for cost-effective ways to entertain your brood, try these.

THREE INGREDIENT VANILLA SNOW ICE CREAM – My trio look forward to this treat almost as much as a snow day from school. It’s simple, fast, and very easy on your wallet. I was skeptical the first time, but it’s really delicious; almost decadent. Leftovers (you have any) can be tossed in the freezer for a not-so-frigid day. Simply use 8-12 cups of fresh, white snow, a 10 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Scoop the snow into a large bowl, and transfer about half to a smaller dish. Sprinkle the vanilla over the large bowl of snow, and then drizzle about half of the condensed milk. Fold/stir/chop it all together with a wooden spoon to combine everything (whichever works best with the texture of your snow.) Add the remainder of the condensed milk, and begin scooping the remaining snow into the large bowl until it reaches a consistency you like. You don’t need to use ALL of the snow, so don’t worry. ENJOY!

PILLOW AND BLANKET FORT – Yes, I’m serious. It’s almost TOO easy, and kids love “hiding” from adults. And, don’t you remember how much fun it was to have your own secluded, cozy corner of the world? I let them have a snack and their favorite book or mess-free activity, and they love pretending they’re in fortresses and dungeons. As a bonus, I sometimes stretch a fitted sheet over the top of the table and secure the corners under the legs for a “deluxe” retreat.

HOME DRIVE IN – Have you seen the pictures of Super-Pinterest-Parents creating a mini theater in their back yard? Dozens of cardboard boxes painted to look like tiny cars, all pointed toward a projector screen featuring the latest animated blockbuster? To quote the famous internet meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” At least, I don’t, and especially not where the outside air hurts my face. But, kids love the concept. I improvise by using empty clothes baskets and popping in their favorite DVD, delivering snacks to their little Laundry-Coupes, turning down the lights, and letting their imaginations do the rest.

INVOLVE THEM IN THE MUNDANE (MAKE YOUR CHORES SEEM FUN!) – This one is more geared toward the younger ages who want to be involved in everything you do. Why not teach them a few life skills? My youngest is five, and thinks that folding laundry is my favorite thing in the world to do because I’m ALWAYS doing it. (I’m not ready to burst her little bubble just yet.) She searches out my dish rags, washcloths, and bath towels. Older kids? My eight-year-old likes to see if she can make straighter vacuum lines on the carpet than the 14-year-old. I’m sure that will wear off very soon, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

KOOL-AID/GLUE WINDOW CLINGS – I was very hesitant to try this activity, but there was less mess than I expected, so I’ll give it a thumbs-up for occupying our time and fostering creativity. First, tape plastic sandwich bags or cling wrap to the surface of your table or counter. Mix one packet of your favorite drink mix into a bottle of white school glue, and stir with a long, thin object like a chopstick. Let their imaginations go to work as they squeeze shapes, or provide a stencil shape on paper under the cling for them to trace. Let dry completely, especially between multiple colors and before transferring. Their little creations will stick to any window or smooth glass surface. Pro-tip: Encourage a theme (dinosaurs, trees, space, princess, etc.), and save them in individual pieces of folded plastic for reuse. Their projects can be incorporated together, or played with independently.

The winter season might only be halfway through, but we’ll all reach the sunny light at the end of the tunnel in a few months. Think spring!