Aaaah, the school holidays are upon us!
Thinking of activities for families to enjoy together, which are able to accommodate and enhance the skills of younger and older children, I started to think back to crafty days we had as children, and activities our grandparents enjoyed and shared with us.
Here are a few of the ones I most relished as a child; the ones that kept me going back to Nanna and Grandpa’s to paint another layer, see how the seeds had grown, or to start a new project.
- Find some old pantyhose or stocking and drop a half teaspoon of any small seeds into the toe (cress or chia seed is ideal), stuff it with enough cotton wool to make a head, tie it at the neck, and place on a dish. You can draw or sew a face on your head and water it to watch its hair grow. Soon enough it will need a haircut! You could attempt to make eyebrows and beards out of seeds for a very hirsute sprouty friend.
- Carrot tops on cotton wool or paper towel must be the simplest science project for a toddler. And if they get picked up and toted around indoors, there’s no dirt to worry about, plants to uproot or stems to break. Save a couple of raw carrot top offcuts at dinnertime, place on cotton wool or paper towel in a dish and keep them moist.
- For the joy of watching seeds germinate and sprout you could sprinkle some cress seeds, or any peas, beans or herb seeds available at the supermarket over paper towel on a saucer or jar lid.
- Grow a letter of the alphabet! Make your initial in seeds on a piece of paper towel. Watch them sprout then transplant your letter into the garden. Older kids can plant their seeds in a pot of potting mix with less supervision and ‘help’. Provide a terracotta pot and some paints to decorate it before planting.
A spray-bottle is good for watering all these projects ~ water and stand back three paces (and then be very patient).
- Egg cartons, paper rolls and milk containers, paper plates and small boxes make wonderful construction elements. Tape or glue together (older kids can staple with some help) for almost instant robots, animals, cars and houses.
Break out the textas, coloured tape, stickers or paint to add features such as eyes, clothing, steering wheels or windows. Glue on some cloth, buttons, and foil for the finishing touches. Plastic bottle-tops make great wheels, robot buttons, hats and noses.
- Even without glue or with only a little cutting, paper tubes make handy telescopes or Christmas trees (pictured), and boxes can be reused as blocks. A tissue box makes a good letterbox, or cut the lid off for a teddy or doll’s bed. Paper plates only need a face drawn on and a little elastic added to turn them into a mask. Keep a box in the kitchen labelled ‘Busy Box’ and encourage the family to put aside any packaging that is suitable for craft ideas. Almost anything colourful and shiny without sharp edges can be recycled into a toy or art project.
Sewing and bric-a-brac
- Sock puppets are fast, easy little creatures to make. Find an old sock, a few buttons and some fabric scraps. Place the sock over your hand and push the toe back into your hand slightly to form the creature’s mouth (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I can be of no more assistance … google ‘sock puppet images!). Mark where to sew two, or one, or three if you like buttons for eyes and some red fabric for a mouth (if you want one), perhaps decorate with feathers or scales, ears, a nose or whatever takes your fancy. Great for an afternoon of silly roleplay and theatre after you craft your puppets. Hide behind your couch and pop up to act out the show.
- Great threading shapes for toddlers can be made from very stiff card. Cut it into an animal or geometric shape, punch or cut some holes and slots, and get some thick cord for them to thread through the holes. Cut out some doughnut shapes for them to thread, or raid the sewing box and find old cotton reels for threading.
- Cotton reels also make a great ‘tank’ for ages 4 and up. Find a large cotton reel (wooden ones work best) and a rubber band the same width. Gather two matches or skewers cut to match length. Cut one in half, so you have one match length stick and a half-sized one. Thread the rubber band through the hole in the cotton reel and hold it with a stick at each end (one of the sticks must be wider than the reel, the other is the half-sized stick). Charge it by holding the small stick and turning the large one to twist the rubber band. Let it go on the floor, and if it’s constructed correctly, it will speed along nicely. Make a few and have a race up the hallway!
Paint and paper
- Potato Printing is a great fun activity for a range of ages. Cut old, raw potatoes in half, then use a knife to cut a shape into the flat surface of the potato. Dry the cut surface to help the paint adhere. Dip in finger paint or poster paint and print a picture with your potato stamps. Older kids can cut their own shapes into the potatoes with a plastic safety knife, and the older the kids are, the more intricate they can make the stamp. Try stamping shapes over other shapes in different colours and see what happens. This style of printing is fabulous for making wrapping paper for presents.
- Old magazines are great! Cut out of pictures for younger kids to glue into their scrapbook or make a mosaic. Older kids can find larger blocks of colour to cut into shapes (with safety scissors) and glue to paper to make pictures, or cut out the backgrounds (trees, oceans and grass, etc) and draw the characters in after you assemble the scene yourself.
- Papier Mache is a brilliant but slightly messy affair. Make a piggy-bank by blowing up a balloon to the required size of pig, tear newspaper into strips and bits 3cm wide, and make some paste with enough flour added to water to achieve a paste-like consistency. Start with a layer of paste, then paper, overlapping where you have worked and covering all parts of the balloon (bar it’s ‘tail’, which you can hold while pasting) with about 3 layers of newspaper. Allow this first coating to dry before continuing with the next layer. Once the papier mache reaches about 5-8mm thick and is dry, the balloon can be popped and paper rolls can be stuck on (with more mache or glue) as the piggy’s feet and snout. Paint your piggy, give him a pipe-cleaner tail, add a slot in his back if you wish, or just admire your handiwork.
- Find some wood offcuts (watch for splinters ~ older kids can sand them off) and play with putting them together to make a boat shape. Have a bath of water close by for test floating, and when you are happy with the configuration, glue or nail them together. Hit it with a coat of paint for a more extensive project, or just leave the wood raw and take it to a lake, beach or bucket of water for some floating fun.
- Walnut shell boats are easy, fast and great fun to race down fast-flowing gutters or in puddles in the backyard. Halve your walnuts carefully to ensure complete half-shells for your boats (and a walnut snack while you make them). Float them as is or see who can make the fastest, fanciest, tallest or biggest boat by adding a stick for a mast (use a blob of blue-tac to secure it in the bottom of the shell), and a paper triangle for a sail (cut slits to thread it onto the mast, or tie it on with cotton). I remember having a fabulous time with my Dad when I was 7, making better and crazier walnut boats over many days.
Some of these projects take only minutes and others will need days, weeks or multiple sessions to complete. Most of these ideas are a hundred years old and some (I had no room to include) are even older ~ such as origami, finger knitting and Knitting Nancies, wooden gliders and kite-making (great for windy spring weather!). Ask a nanna or grandpa in your life about these, or better still, get them to show you how to make them and any other things they recall making as children.
I hope you find something here to help mums and dads, grandfolk and kids get creative together: rummaging in the shed, the bric-a-brac cupboard and the craft supplies to keep you amused and inspired, making simple, fun projects with the kids these holidays.
Main image credit: wavebreakmediamicro/123RF Stock Photo Other images: tonobalaguer/ 123RF Stock Photo: cienpies/123RF Stock Photo: serezniy/123RF Stock Photo: rouakcz/123RF Stock Photo: viviamo/123RF Stock Photo