Stuck at home? Nothing to do? Try these fun, cheap activities…

With schools set to close, it can be tricky to find things to do with small children if you can’t go out. 

This list obviously isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it can help stave off boredom for a little while at least…

Craft Activities
The classic rainy-day craft is the old ‘cardboard box and a huge pile of pens’, but what happens when you’ve done that? How about giving French Knitting a go?

You don’t need any fancy equiptment, though a crochet hook does make things a little easier. All you need is a toilet roll tube, some craft sticks/paperclips/hairslides(bobby pins), and some yarn.

This is a great tutorial on how to make the … loom? And how to actually do the knitting.

Toilet paper roll french knitting tutorial - YouTube

Finger knitting is another great craft to try – I love the idea of making a hat using this technique!

There are thousands upon thousands of origami tutorials on YouTube, too. Once you’ve made your animals, vehicles, and boxes, you could have a go at building a theatre for them – either hang them on strings to attach to more craft sticks/chop sticks/actual sticks and perform plays.

Why not make a Marvellous Hat like Millie’s? Folk a paper hat and add the things you’d like to see – either by drawing them on, or by cutting and sticking images from catalogues or old magazines. Or how about making your very own Elmer the Elephant from an outline and some paper squares?

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And there are SO MANY book related activities on Pinterest – so many other crafts too! If the above don’t appeal, just type in whatever materials you have to hand and the words ‘easy child friendly craft’. You never know what new skills you could learn! 🙂

Check out your local library

I know, I know, you’re self-isolating, but actually, most libraries have extensive online catalogues. This doesn’t just include e-books, either. Many libraries offer audio books digitally too. Our own local library’s catalogue is here, by way of example.

Why not dig out an old jigsaw, pop on an audio book and spend the afternoon in companiable quiet.

If you don’t have access to your library digitally, YouTube is your friend here once again – search your favourite author+audio book and see where it takes you. Here’s Chapter One of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book to get you started…

Do some science!

Even if you don’t have any outdoor space, or seeds bought specially for the garden, you can still have a lot of fun nurturing a tiny plant. Using coffee grounds as soil if you’ve not got any compost to hand (or spent tea leafs/contents of a tea bag), or moist kitchen/toilet roll (if you have any!)… Basically, you can start from all sorts of things. Dried peas/beans tend to sprout really well – I’ve heard popcorn kernels do too but I’ve never tried them myself. You could also use corriander seeds, sunflower seeds, avocado pips and apple seeds. This is a great time of year to get planting and this activity can tie in to all sorts of books and topics. Right the way from Plant the Tiny seed, through Ruby Nettleship, to The Year at Maple Hill Farm and Rosy’s Garden, this can tie in with all sorts of stories.

Got/can-beg any wine corks? Toothpicks? Scrap paper? Why not have a go at making sailing boats? Spend an afternoon racing these, or exploring the different variations of these you could make. Do paper boats, or cork boats float better – for example? Which boat goes the fastest? Do different shapes of sails make a difference? You could try other bases for your boats – such as jam jar lids. The world really is your oyster with this one and with SO VERY MANY books about pirates in the world, you can tie this activity in with pretty much anything.

Whilst it might not seem like it to begin with, baking is a great science activity. Try making a simple sponge cake, then talk about what makes it rise. If you’ve got bicarb and vinegar to spare, this could be a perfect change to talk about acids and alkalis. As ever, if you don’t have these ingredients in, check out YouTube for some kitchen science.

Make your Own Story Dice

You don’t need to buy expensive story dice to have fun with them. Why not make your own from things you have around the house?

You can either do the following, as I mentioned in an earlier post:

“…it’s easy enough to create something similar with different coloured dice. For example, by writing a key –
Red dice: 1 = bear, 2 = paint pot,  3 = chef’s hat, 4 = train, 5 = sad face, 6 = TV
Green dice: 1 = sea, 2 = viking hat, 3 = parcel, 4 = bus, 5 = scissors, 6 = arrows
Blue Dice: 1 = T-rex, 2 = bed, 3 = pizza, 4 = a magnifying glass, 5 = book, 6 = lips”

Or you could find some old building blocks and a sharpie, and draw an image on each side. Or if you’re not a confident artist, why not try cutting images from magazines and sticking them to some rocks from the garden, then covering with PVA? You don’t even need to stick them to rocks – just cut out your images, toss them into a hat (or other convenient vessel!) and pull them out one at a time.

Make a Shadow Theatre

Inspired by Herve Tullet’s Play of Light, why not have a go at making your own shadow theatre? In short, grab a box, cut some holes in it, and cover the biggest hole with a sheet of white paper. The bonus of this is that the puppets can change as often as you like, and take time to make! This is a wonderful tutorial.

Have a Treasure Hunt

Inspired by There Are No Cats In This Book, why not have a There Are No Cats In This House treasure hunt? Draw or print out some cats, number them, and hide them around the house for small people to find. If you can spell out a word/name/riddle with them, all the better.

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Go on a virtual ‘world tour’

Using books like Lots and Maps as a starting point, why not select a country to learn about? If you’ve got access to the ingredients, you could have a go at making some food from your ‘destination’, sketch some of the landmarks you see (following your online search!), and plan routes around the capital city (if you’re a map nerd like me). Why not have a look at the language via apps like Duolingo – see if you can hold a conversation after a few days of practise!

If there really are no real countries you fancy visiting, why not invent your own? Imagine its climate, what the buildings are like, what the national costume might be? Can you invent a national anthem, or a flag? Can you draw a map? These are all great starting points to fire a child’s imagination.

Check out some of the Story Sacks I made

If you’ve got a copy of Lily Brown’s Paintings, or Ruby Nettleship, then I’ve uploaded some free PDF activity sheets in earlier posts. Whilst you might not have everything these ask for, they were specifically designed so that most people would have most of the necessary bits and bobs, so hopefully you’ll find something there to amuse small people.

Keep a Diary

At the moment, the lack of loo roll and pasta just feels like a huge inconvenience, but we’re actually making history right now. In the aftermath of many historic events, diaries of the very young can be few and far between. In this digital age, though, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Even if your small person isn’t much of a writer, you can keep a digital diary, using a smart phone or webcam. Ask them how they’re feeling, what they’re enjoying about being off school and what’s frustrating. Ask them what they think the future will look like, and what they hope will happen. Ask what they’d like to be when they grow up, and if seeing this outbreak has changed or impacted that.

Do some exercise

Cosmic Kids Yoga is an integral part of many a nursery/childminder setting I’ve been to. Fun in its own right, it might also help to ease the transition into spending more time at home – something familiar from an established routine. I know it’ll help in our house.

If you have a few more wiggles to shake out, how about a dance party? Put on some songs you can dance to and have a boogie in the living room. If grown ups join in, they get a million points!

For younger children, there are a lot of action rhymes available at the Scottish Book Trust website, under the Bookbug heading.

Enjoy some music

In addition to songs you want to move to, there are some great classical music pieces for children. A personal favourite is The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, by Britten. It’s available for streaming from many online, but I actually really like the narration on this one that’s on YouTube – it’s clear and simple without being patronising.

Another great example of music for children is Peter and the Wolf by Prokofieff. Again, you can get this on many music streaming services but YouTube also has a huge selection. I like this one – it names all the instruments at the beginning so they’re easy to identify. If you want visuals, you can find animations which match up.

And as with the others, Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens is available for streaming and on YouTube. Someone was telling me that The Wiggles did a version (one of those YouTube) but there are many others too, so I think it’s a case of picking the right tone for your audience. Johnny Morris’s attempt has little poems about the various animals at the start of each piece, but these haven’t aged especially well so might not play as intended to a young audience. The Kangaroo section makes reference to Foster’s Beer and cricket, for example, whilst my rather sensitive son got upset at the eating of a ‘chicken’s child’ – i.e. an egg.

Another piece of music that I always think is a briliant one for children is The Planets Suite by Holst. I remember listening to them all at school – Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune – then being asked to compose a movement for Pluto (which was, at the time, still a planet). I think this is a really fun activity for children, and they don’t need to have any prior musical knowledge – craft some shakers from a jar filled with rice, make some drums, use a margarine tub with elestic bands to twang, and the human voice.

Other great music includes In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg, and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. If you’re not tired out from all the yoga earlier, you could try moving to the music in a way that feels appropriate – big stomping steps, or little light feet. You could try and write a story to go along with these pieces, or act out a play imspired by them using your shadow theatre (see above).

I think it’s worth noting here; A lot of people feel like classical music is stuffy, won’t appeal to children, and is thoroughly outdated. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you have a reluctant listener on your hands to begin with, check out TwoSetViolin’s ‘Violin Charades’ videos. The Marvel and Disney ones are a great starting point. If you have a gamer on your hands, Taylor Davis and Lara De Witt play the Pokemon cartoon theme on violin and piano beautifully. I listen to it for pleasure. I’m not even ashamed. Canadian Brass are another great thing to watch for a musical giggle – I saw them live in Germany and it was such an incredible show!

I hope this has given you some ideas. I’ll try and update you with some of our adventures and reading over the next few weeks. I would love it if you could update me with yours! 

– Farn ❤

 

This Book is Not Rubbish by Isabel Thomas

After Daughter’s enthusiasm for Kids Fight Plastic by Martin Dorey, we thought we would have a look at This Book is Not Rubbish by Isabel Thomas.

Very similar to the previous title, this book details child-friendly ways to reduce our impact on the environment.

Firstly, as an adult reading this (and especially as an adult being expected to miraculously implement everything right now) I would have liked a link to the science that backs the claims of this book. I kept trying to find sources for the facts and figures stated, but kept coming up blank. I felt that some of the points contradicted what’s often accepted as common environmental wisdom but that’s possibly because I haven’t read enough recent literature on the subject.

That aside – again, as an adult – I felt that the illustrations and jokes were trying a little too hard to appeal to children. Daughter actually got fairly upset at the thought of sentient trees (pictured above) and would have just preferred a wholly factual approach as in the previous book. That said, we are a fairly atypical family in many respects, so perhaps this approach would work for those who found Kids Fight Plastic too blunt.

Regardless of these comments, I would definitely recommend this title for any small ecologists. The almost bullet-point nature makes it accessible to reluctant readers, or makes it a really quick read for those who are more confident. It’s also nice to have something to dip in and out of – ideal to read during short journeys, or to keep on a living room table for a quick ‘grab’ from bored little fingers.

We’ve got one earth-friendly book to review fromm our reading so far. Are there any similar books you would recommend?

Farn ❤

Kids Fight Plastic by Martin Dorey

I have seldom seen Daughter as excited by a book as she was when we found Kids Fight Plastic by Martin Dorey at our library. Which is saying something – she gets really excited by books.

Just before the summer holidays started, she took part in a litter-pick and since then has been on a one-child mission to eliminate plastic waste from our home. Now, fully armed with a handbook on how to do that, she’s become a force to be reckoned with.

So, having had this book flashed at me more times than I care to admit to, I thought I would take a closer look.

For the most part, I really like the tone of the book. It’s not anti-all-plastic – there is mention at the beginning of good vs bad (i.e. Lego & medical equiptment = good plastic, single-use straws & clingfilm = bad plastic). I also really like that nothing is dumbed down because it’s written for children. It states in black and white that sea birds are dying because of what we’re throwing away, and whilst that’s a grim fact, it’s not going to change unless we talk about it and let our children make informed choices for themselves.

On the other hand… titles of segments such as ‘Fight Plastic With Pester Power’ made me feel as though the book was targeted at a very… specific demographic. Suggestions of ditching the supermarket in favour of farmers’ markets are well meant, for example, but they’re just not within everyone’s means – whether as a result of financial restraints or the fact that there just aren’t any farmers’ markets in your area.

But that aside – the illustrations are lovely and as I said, the text isn’t in the least bit patronising. And whilst living where we do, there’s no way I could use a milk-man, or visit a weekly farmers’ market (they only run monthly and ours tends to sell hobby crafts rather than produce), I did get some ideas as to how I can further reduce our household waste, particularly in regards to things like stationery.

I think, coupled with a healthy dose of managed expectations, this is a great book to get small people thinking about, and talking about, the waste we’re creating. Hopefully doing so will help them to make wise decisions further down the line.

What are your favourite books about the environment?

Farn ❤

M is for Autism by The Students of Limpsfield Grange School & Vicky Martin

M is for Autism is a book by The Students of Limpsfield Grange School & Vicky Martin.

I definitely think that this is essential reading – not just for children/young teens, but also for their parents. The searing truth with which its written makes it one of the clearest, most concise insights into what life is like as an autistic person that I have read.

There were two sections which really stood out for me as being especially piercingly honest.

The first is from M’s perspective and concerns her feelings following her diagnosis;

It’s like I can be shelved correctly or put in the right section. I mean, do people even know what being autistic is? The truth is they don’t really know me. I wonder if they really knew me they might get scared, so it’s easy for them to say ‘she’s autistic’ and label me but the truth is they have no idea of the shape, texture and size of my world.

The next is from M’s mother’s point of view;

So here I am, chopping onions and trying to bond with my beautiful daughter but it’s not easy. It should be, shouldn’t it? But reaching her and connecting with her feels so hopeless, so futile, but today I am making a big effort. I am her mother and I cannot give up on her or let her down.

The prose is this vital, this direct, throughout the book. So, although it’s a very slim volume which reads really naturally, it actually took me a long time to digest the words properly – I took my time over it, which I think everyone who reads it needs to do.

The artwork is also really honest – bright, block colours and really graphic prints. The art can be quirky and fun whilst simultaneously thought-provoking, generally just suiting the age and feel of the protagonist perfectly.

I feel as though this is one of those books which every home needs – whether autism impacts you directly or not. If everyone read this, there might be a greater degree of understanding and awareness in the world.

Have you read M is for Autism, or another book with a female autistic character?

— Farn ❤

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Super Duper You by Sophy Henn

I really liked Sophy Henn’s book, Pass It On, so when I saw she had written Super Duper You, we checked it out of the library and took it home for a read.

Before I start, talking about the book-proper, I just wanted to say that even though our house seems to be constantly overflowing with books, I don’t often buy them. Generally, we only really use the library, read a story until everyone is tired of it and then take it back, knowing that should we want to read it again we only need to place our order and then go to pick the book up.

Generally…

Every so often though, we read a book and I want to own  it. Super Duper You is one of those. It’s got shades of ‘Oh! The Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr Seuss to it, but it’s vastly more succinct and I love that it’s accessible to even the smallest of listeners. Again the art-work is modern and bright and pleasing. Again, I feel like my accent works against me with the rhyme.

I think I love the illustrations and the colours of this book most of all – especially the rainbows and the quirky background ‘grafitti’. I wish my big, special camera was more cooperative so I could take better photos for you, but for now you’ll have to make-do with my tablet’s lens and have a look the book for yourself… 😉

I think the page above is my favourite. It can be used in conjunction with other books to start conversations about the positives of neurodiversity, or about differences in family situations – or about anything, really..

I also really like the fact that it is a love-letter between siblings. There are lots of books which explore the parent/child relationship, but off the top of my head, the only nurturing siblings I can think of are Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola or The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton. It makes a nice change from the usual ‘my brother smells’ dynamic that seems so prevalent in children’s books.

Have you come across Sophy Henn’s work yet? I’d love to hear what you think.

  • Farn ❤