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Beating the winter blahs with fun activities

Here are tips to avoid the all-too-familiar whines of "There's nothing to do!"

By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff

Everyone gets a welcome break from the routine of school during winter vacation, but that's no excuse for letting your children's minds turn to mush.

Vacation is a great time to make a homemade treat that requires math skills, learn how to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate, create a keepsake or visit a children's museum.

Creative Gifts You Can Make at Home

'Tis the season when children make their holiday wish lists and check them twice. An important part of the season is experiencing the joy of giving as well as receiving. What better way to teach that lesson than by helping your child make his own gift? With these gift projects, he'll be practicing his math and writing skills, too.

Thumbprint Cookies

Children love making these classic cookies. Sticking their thumbs into warm cookie dough and then filling their thumbprints with sweet fillings is almost as thrilling as sharing (or eating) the finished product! If you use a variety of fillings, such as ruby red strawberry jam, sapphire berry preserve, bronze pumpkin pie filling or golden lemon curd, these cookies will make an impressive collection for a gift box. In shaping and squishing the dough and assembling the "jewel" encrusted cookies, your child will practice the valuable math and reading skills of measuring ingredients, and following step-by-step instructions.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a variety of fillings: strawberry jam, blueberry preserves, pumpkin pie filling and/or lemon curd


  • Smash the sugar and butter together with a fork
  • Beat in the vanilla, eggs, flour, baking powder and salt
  • Roll the dough into a ball
  • Chill the dough for 1/2 hour
  • Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1-inch balls
  • Place the dough balls on a lightly greased and floured cookie sheet
  • Bake for 5 minutes
  • Remove the cookies from the oven, let cool briefly, then make a thumbprint in each one
  • Put the cookies back in the oven and continue baking until done, about 8 minutes
  • When the cookies are cool, fill the pits with a bit of jelly, jam, pumpkin pie filling or lemon curd.

Comments from readers

"This is a wonderful article and I will share this with the staff at my school!"
"Very helpful ideas for our students with small pocketbooks. Great Schools is the best resource throughout the year!"
"Thanks so much... the ideas given were simply great. They also helped us think of similar crafts we could make for inexpensive presents this of all they are from the heart. The Christmas season is about giving and not just taking. "
"Thank you! The newsletter has some great ideas, and, even more importantly for me--its arrival is perfectly timed! "