Cold weather creativity for kids With shorter, colder days in winter, the joy of indoor parenting can be elusive. With a bit of help, parents can avoid hearing the cries of boredom, and children may avoid hours of television. The books featured this month are for a range of ages and offer an equal range of activities. Whether your child is a rowdy preschooler or a quiet teen, the following selections are guaranteed to keep your child's mind and hands from frostbite.

A trip to the local art museum is always a treat. For parents of older children and teenagers, there are three new Off the Wall Museum Guides for Kids which serve to prepare and educate kids before and during such a visit. Each book in this pocket-size series offers a general introduction to museums and art to maximize your museum visit. The section on museum etiquette includes art observation, art labels, and even advice on how to dress. The books also include general explanations of color, shape, line, and perspective. In addition to an index, each book contains games, scavenger hunts, art and writing activities, and recipes for the kids to enjoy.

The first addition to this entertaining series is Impressionist Art (Davis, $8.95, 0871923858) by Ruthie Knapp and Janice Lehmberg. Following the general introduction, the book concentrates on impressionist art. With clear headings, we learn the origin and categories of impressionism, and many of our questions have been anticipated and answered by the knowledgeable authors. Pictures accompany the text, and biographies of the artists are lively and full of fun facts. Another in this series is American Art ($8.95, 0871923866), also by Ruthie Knapp and Janice Lehmberg. The introduction of this book closely follows the first, except that photos of American art have been inserted. American Art is grouped according to 17th/18th and 19th/20th centuries. The same vivid format and chatty style is used to engage the reader. The creative activities section is also included. The third book by Ruthie Knapp and Janice Lehmberg is Egyptian Art ($8.95, 087192384X). After the museum and art introduction, the authors cover topics such as archaeology, mummies, pharaohs, tombs, and sculpture; other chapters include stories from and about Egyptian culture. These topics fascinate young people, and the style used in these guides makes them all the more engaging. Pictures are clear and plentiful and fill the pages. This guide, as with the others, is helpful and entertaining, even if you are unable to visit a museum.

Expecting 100 of your closest friends for a Super Bowl party? Why not let the kids help? Learning to cook is a fine goal for winter days, and it's an easier goal for older children if they have the right guide. Roz Denny and Fiona Watt have written the Usborne Cooking School series with this in mind.

Cooking for Beginners (Usborne, $7.95, 0746030363) opens with equipment and tools labeled in the first few pages. Proper placement of pans on the stove and other cautions are given. Two pages of cooking hints prepare the cook to follow the recipes better. Under each recipe, steps are clearly written and carefully illustrated for easy understanding. A photograph of the finished recipe accompanies each entry. The tasty recipes also make a nice presentation the entire family can enjoy.

Fiona Watt authors the two companion books, Cakes and Cookies for Beginners (Usborne, $7.95, 0746028105) and Pasta and Pizza for Beginners ($7.95, 0746028083). These are full of good recipes; beginners will find the ease, variety, and flavor of each recipe encouraging. Preschoolers can be relentless in their demand for attention. And if there are two or more children in your care, each day requires even more creativity. Varying activities to include simple games and crafts is ideal, and that is just what author Trish Kuffner presents in The Preschooler's Busy Book: 365 Creative Games and Activities to Keep Your 3- to-6-Year-Old Busy (Meadowbrook, $9.95, 0881663514). The print is large for quick reference, yet the book is not oversized. Kuffner's book has 365 games and activities which are easy to do and are aimed at 3- to 6-year-olds. In addition to the games and general indoor activities, there are specific chapters on kitchen play, outdoor fun, travel play, and holiday celebrations. Most activities require no elaborate supplies merely household items or things easily obtained. This reference book includes appendices with other books and resources for parents as well as book suggestions for children. Parents, preschool teachers, and caregivers would all find this book a ready resource for each day of the year.

Children can use their hands and imaginations with the Little Puppet Theater: Little Red Riding Hood, a sturdy stage which unfolds five feet and includes four finger puppet characters for children's play. The vividly colored stage is two-sided, allowing room for more players to interact. On one side of the stage, the story text is printed so one person may read while the other children dramatize the story (recording the tale for your preschooler would enhance their enjoyment). The story board folds into book size and easily stores in its own case with Velcro closure.

Even adults will be impressed with Make Your Own Superballs (Scholastic Trade, $7.95, 0590635859), a kit developed and written by Ray Miller. The kit has everything children need to produce a superball in less than five minutes. Each step is simple and clearly illustrated. It is a great choice for young kids, because only water is added to the materials and no heat is used. Included in the kit are five bold colors to design balls with stripe or swirl patterns. The booklet also suggests some activities to do with your five homemade superballs.

The second kit in this series yields fast, fun products as well. The difference with Soap Making for Kids (Scholastic Trade, $7.95, 0590635050) is that grown-up assistance is needed since the materials are heated. The booklet, written by Vivian Fernandez, is simple and easy to understand. Six molds in an ocean motif are provided to create a variety of soap shapes. Three colors may be used to make solid or two-tone soaps. Even a length of rope is included to make soap on a rope.

Since kids don't hibernate during the winter, it's important that they stay occupied during these cold, indoor months. With the above suggestions, parents and their children shouldn't suffer the winter blues, even when the weather isn't cooperating.

Jana Benjamin is an indoor/outdoor mother to her two children. She lives in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

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