Things to Do With Your Kids When the Electricity Goes Out

How to turn a power outage into a beloved family memory

Photograph by Marzanna Syncerz - Fotolia

Inclement weather events often plunge families into the darkness, knocking the electricity out for hours or even days at a time. So many of our daily activities depend upon electricity, leaving you scrambling for things to do with your kids when the electricity goes out. Chaos does not have to win if you take advantage of the out of the ordinary occurrence to emphasize family togetherness, new ways of playing and problem-solving for future emergencies. A calm and quick-thinking parent can create an atmosphere that becomes the stuff of family legend in the years to come.

Weather Play

When the electricity goes out, Colette Brown, Managing Director of the Providence Wee Play Child Development Center in Portland, Oregon, recommends, "Treat it as an event. Go with where the weather is leading." For example, if a big snowstorm knocks the power out, bundle up and go outside to build snowmen, make snow angels and have snowball fights, or head for the sledding hill. If an ice storm is the culprit and you have a safe open area that is iced over, your family can "ice skate" in boots or slide across the ice on plastic bags or round saucer sleds. Pull on a pair of rain boots and take along an umbrella for a walk in the rain. If the power outage comes in good weather, hold a family backyard camp out complete with campfire and sleeping bags -- tents optional. Stargaze and notice how many more you can see when the lights are out in your area. Ms. Brown emphasizes that the important thing is to "experience the weather as a game" and make it into an adventure the whole family can remember for years to come.

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Family Togetherness

With some inclement weather events that knock out the power, outside is the last place you want to be for safety reasons. Tornadoes, hurricanes, hailstorms, dust storms and floods can cause downed power lines advisable to keep your little ones inside for a little family togetherness time. Ms. Brown advises parents to "not try to do things the usual way," but engage your older children in thinking up creative ways to get meals prepared, stay warm and entertain themselves. Challenge them to think up no-cook recipes using the ingredients you have on hand, cook over a camp stove or bring the barbecue onto a covered patio, if necessary -- but not into an enclosed space, where it may give off dangerous fumes. Hold the family camp out indoors, all snuggled together in one room for more warmth. Bring out the board games and let the kids choose a game. Lay out arts and crafts supplies and let the kids create whatever their imaginations suggest to them. Read together, by flashlight if necessary, snuggled up under a blanket. When problems and challenges arise, let your kids be part of brainstorming creative solutions that don't require electricity.

Emergency Preparedness

Especially if your power outage lasts for several days, as sometimes happens with extreme weather events, you are more likely to run into situations that you weren't prepared for. Older elementary kids and teens can be involved in identifying some of these areas as a "wish list" for future emergency preparedness. Hold a family meeting and discuss what is happening and how you could make it better for next time. Ms. Brown suggests asking the older children, "What do you wish we had? How could we be better prepared if this happens again?" and let them make a list of items for replenishing or creating a better family emergency preparedness kit. When the emergency is over for this round, incorporate their ideas into the emergency plan for future emergencies.

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Constructive Boredom

The older your children, the more dependent they tend to be on devices that require electricity -- cell phones, television, game stations and handheld gaming devices, DVD players, music players, tablets and computers. The longer the power outage, the more they will feel the lack of all modes of modern entertainment and social interaction in the digital age. Eventually, cabin fever and boredom sets in, but never fear, a little constructive boredom can actually do them a world of good. If you have a budding scientist or engineer, perhaps she can figure out an alternate way to power her electronic devices. Don't feel the need to entertain your kids, especially your teens, 24/7, as they need the practice taking responsibility for their own leisure and enjoyment. Ms. Brown recommends that parents "not try to direct teens too much but let them make their own choices." Trust that when left alone, they will eventually decide that low-tech fun is better than boredom and engage in their own creative entertainments.

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