It's cabin fever season, when parents complain that kids are going stir-crazy from being cooped up indoors.

It's cabin fever season, when parents complain that kids are going stir-crazy from being cooped up indoors.

Actually, it's the parents who go crazy in the dead of winter. Kids, who think nothing of staging a football game in the living room, have no concept of "cooped up." They think every venue, indoors or outdoors, is an Olympic stadium.

True, kids will sometimes complain of boredom, but you have to understand that they use the term more as a warning than a complaint. What they're really saying is, "entertain me fast because I have an overpowering urge to ride my bicycle down the basement stairs."

Every child is different, but here's a general guideline: Kids who announce their boredom might eventually relieve that condition by doing something that will have you reaching for an insurance card (homeowners or health, depending on what they decide to throw and in which direction).

You could tell the kids to go outside and play, but that never works. Kids aren't stupid. They know that in February it's likely to be 20 degrees with howling winds and ground that's frozen as hard as concrete. They'll think you're trying to kill them.

You could suggest playing a board game, but that's a sedentary activity that can go terribly wrong when kids are itching to expend energy. They'll express that need by turning Monopoly into a martial arts activity. I've seen it happen.

What you need is something that's physical yet restrained, absorbing yet controlled, civilized yet dangerous. In other words, you need to cook with the kids. It's a little bit mysterious, a little bit messy, a little bit dangerous - and there's a reward at the end. Kids will love it.

If possible, use yeast. It lends cooking the atmosphere of a science experiment, what with all the bubbling and rising. It helps if knives are involved, too. Knives, being adult and forbidden, can really rivet a kid's attention. A 9-year-old chopping an apple with a kitchen knife could be made happier only if you handed him a pistol and told him to shoot holes in it, too.

The ideal food for a kid cooking experience is pizza. Most kids are intimately familiar with it but know nothing of its origins, since it tends to appear magically at the door. You'll be unlocking a big mystery for them. To do it right, go for the complete from-scratch experience. Well, okay, you can get the sauce from a can. But by all means, make the pizza dough, employing yeast and flour and so forth. The transformation of flour into dough is mentally stimulating, and the kneading required fulfills the need for physical activity.

While the dough is rising, let them chop something soft, like a green pepper, to practice their knife skills. Assuming this part doesn't result in a trip to the emergency room, you could be eating pizza in less than two hours.

Then, belly full, you can settle back and savor the completion of a satisfying project. But don't savor too long. The kids will get bored.