Frozen Lemonade: Using Tech to Make the Best
Out of Being Stuck in the House

By Corinne Altham

“I need to get out of here,” he says. Cabin fever has set in for my husband who has been trapped in the house for weeks. We decide to ride to the beach with the kids, with some Italian sandwiches and a couple of ice cold bottles of Coke. Chemotherapy has eaten both his good and bad blood cells, so my husband, Rick, is at an extremely high risk of infection; a trip to the movies, the mall or any other crowded place is out of the question. The good news is his cancer is nearly 100% treatable. The other good news is I’m prepared to out-geek this cabin fever.

Being trapped in the house is tough. Two years ago it was the evil winter of 2014-2015 when the snow came late and just never stopped. Our two kids definitely ran out of ideas so they either stared at a screen or tried to kill each other. I was having neither. What’s a family to do when the kids have whined “I’m bored” so many times you’re about to have it printed on their t-shirts? The solution? Beyonce.

Ok, so I am not suggesting that you become a pop icon when cabin fever sets in. What I am suggesting though is that when life gives you lemons, you make like Beyonce and serve up that lemonade. That’s what my family and I will do. We’re going to flip the script on our winter inside and use this time in cool new ways. As a 21st Century librarian, I have some ideas on how to embrace digital media to engage young families.
Streaming Audio Books
My answer is always the same: read. Luckily, I have kids that would eat books if they could. But what about struggling readers who see reading as “work” and would rather die than read (this is a direct quote from a former student). One answer for those kids is audio books. There are many premium streaming services for audio books like Tales2Go and Audible. But you can also check with your local library to see if they offer free audiobook services online. For example, the Portland Public Library offers its cardholders access to ebooks and audiobooks in both their regular and children’s collections. Anyone living in York, Cumberland, and particular sections of Oxford County are eligible for a Portland Public Library card.

When children consistently listen to expert readers, they benefit in terms of vocabulary development, comprehension and expression. Audio books also open the door to texts that are above their reading level. Listening to reading is a great way to level the playing field, to motivate struggling readers and to share reading among the whole family. In our house, the kids listen to stories while they draw, while they do chores and at bedtime. Add a cheap auxiliary cable and every errand or car trip to grandma’s becomes an opportunity for families to listen and talk about books.
Game Design
When I was a kid, video games followed a script: Save the princess. Defeat the gorilla. Get safely to the other side of the road. Today there’s a whole genre of video games that dump the old paradigm to immerse young players into a world of their own design. Take Minecraft for example; my eleven-year-old daughter has designed an entire amusement park with dozens of rides, games and other attractions. Every brick she placed was put there with design in mind, forcing her to use much higher-order thinking skills than any game in the old 80's arcade. So when you say “yes” to young gamers, opt for games and applications that put their young minds in the designer’s chair. Be sure to encourage new Minecrafters to build in the sandbox of creative mode and delight in their designs once they're built. As with all media, use the tools from to make smart decisions about the games you bring into your cabin.
"Little Spielbergs"
Making movies is an inexpensive and super fun activity for families. Whether you have an old iPhone or a brand new hi-def camera, making a great film comes down to telling a great story. Build sets, design costumes and plot a storyline that gets the whole family in the action. There are even free apps to add special effects to your stunts. Every spring I help judge the Young Filmmakers Contest during the Portland Youth Film Festival. It’s so easy to see, that for kids, writing, acting and performing is naturally fun and never boring no matter which side of the camera they’re on.

In a few months spring will be here. My kids will be back running through the neighborhood. My husband will be healthy and back to work. But for now, I’m going to enjoy this time together cozied up in our little cabin, enjoying stories, designing whole new worlds, playing and creating together as a family.

Corinne Altham works as a technology integrator and librarian in South Portland. Over the past 18 years, she has taught in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, New Hampshire and now Maine. She lives in Gorham with her family and a very naughty rescue dog named Dixie. You can follow her musings about kids, technology and books on Twitter @mrsaltham.