Making playdough insects (portable playgroup fun!)

Playdough and straw caterpillar

Making playdough insects

Why not spend a rainy afternoon making homemade playdough and designing your own insects (or animals, or monsters!). It’s a cheap activity that’s also easily transportable to playgroup. Younger toddlers will have fun pushing the legs in and pulling them out again; preschoolers will have fun making their designs happen. Think about putting out some library picture books to help give them ideas!

What you 

  • Playdough (try making your own!)
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Knife (bamboo or wooden ones are great!)
  • Optional: Googly eyes (from craft stores)

How to make easy bracelets and crowns for kids

How to make easy bracelets and crowns for kids

How to make easy bracelets and crowns for kids

Kids are so wonderfully creative! There are lots of kit-sets for crafts at toy stores but it’s often much cheaper to visit a craft store or emporium.

All you need to make a crown, necklace, or bracelet is some pretty pipe cleaners, beads, and imagination! They’re a great activity for birthday parties, playgroups, and rainy days.

Fun things to do with beads!

Fun things to do with beads!

Make sure that you choose beads (or bells) with large enough holes for the pipe cleaners to feed through. Younger kids will need active supervision and assistance but by 4 years they’ll be shaking you off 🙂 You’ll also find they start coming up with their own ideas like making swords or funny glasses or monster crowns!

Warning: This isn’t suitable for babies and young toddlers due to small parts and choking hazards. Make sure young children are old enough to follow instructions and will not put beads in their mouths.

Bedazzling bags (rainy day crafts)

Bedazzling bags (rainy day crafts)

Bedazzling bags (rainy day crafts)

This is a great way to pass a rainy day – especially since a trip to the craft store will take up time as well! It’s also a fun activity for playgroups!

What do I need?

This is really up to your imagination!

  • Coloured paper bags
  • Glue (You may need a mix of paste, PVA, and a glue gun depending on what you’re using)
  • Wooden clips
  • Scissors
  • Buttons, sequins, stickers, fabric, wooden beads etc!

Directions

Play around with your materials to find a look that you like and start gluing!

These have wooden ladybugs hot-glued to the wooden clips. The flower is layered; there are plastic petals glued to the bag and then a fabric flower glued on top of that.

Cinnamon Playdough

Cinnamon Playdough

Cinnamon Playdough

Making playdough is something I love to do. Home-made playdough keeps better, is easier to wash out of carpet, and is better for your child. Until recently I’ve been using a few drops of food colouring;  after realizing how sensitive Miss 2 is to artificial colouring,  she does persist in eating little bits of salty dough, and reading Sue Dengate’s book about the impact of chemicals on child development – I’ve realized that I need to make a change.

It’s possible to buy ‘natural’ food colouring if you look hard enough but it’s expensive so instead I decided to experiment with what I already had cheaply and readily available in the kitchen.

Cinnamon makes a lovely light brown and is gently scented. Add ground ginger and you have Gingerbread playdough!

Ingredients

  • 1c plain flour
  • 1/4c salt
  • 1T cream of tartar
  • 1T oil
  • 1T cinnamon
  • 1c boiling water

Note: This makes a small batch, just double if you want a big batch.

Directions

  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Mix in oil.
  3. Slowly add boiling water. (You may not need all of. It should be smooth and pliable not sticky).
  4. Store in air tight container.

Make your own rainbow crayons!

Making rainbow crayons.jpg

Making rainbow crayons

Have you ever seen those PinInterest posts where they talk about how easy it is to make your own crayons? They tell the truth! These are a great idea for a special & personalized gift, or as favours in homemade christmas crackers (bonbons), or just because it’s a rainy day!

Ingredients

  • Silicon mould tray
    • Be careful to choose one that can go in the oven.
  • Crayons
    • This can be a great way to use up spare crayons or crayon ends.
  • Optional: glitter & sparkles!

Directions

  1. Break your crayons into small pieces (i.e. adult thumb nail); you may need to use a knife.
  2. Pop them into the silicon mould. Have a think about what kind of colours you want (i.e. rainbow? ocean theme with various shades of blue & green?)
  3. Add sparkles & glitter shapes if you want.
  4. Bake in the oven at 200’C. Keep a close eye on them as you only need it in there until the crayon has melted into a thick liquid (i.e. you’re not trying to get it to bubble & boil).
  5. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  6. Pop out of the moulds and have fun!
Rainbow heart crayons.jpg

Rainbow heart crayons

Hint: Wondering what to use the silicon mould tray for afterwards? It’ll probably need to get relegated to your arts & crafts box (rather than cooking in the kitchen). The good news is that it’s great for paint!

Silicon moulds as artists easel.jpg

Silicon moulds as artists easel

How to dye Easter Eggs – easy and edible fun!

How to dye Easter Eggs.jpg

How to dye Easter Eggs

I published recently about how to explain Easter to children; this week Miss 2 has been looking longingly at the vast arrays of chocolate eggs that seem to be everywhere we go. I do have some allergy friendly chocolate for us to eat next weekend but it isn’t egg shaped!  I thought instead we’d start a family tradition of making our own (non-chocolate) edible Easter eggs. Messy play afternoon here we come!

There are some stunningly beautiful pictures out there of vibrant colourful Easter eggs, or how to make your own natural dyes, but I was looking for some ideas for the more energy-challenged.

Making your own decorated dyed eggs really is ridiculously easy as long as you prepare carefully – the degree of care being directly proportional to the age of your child. So for Miss 2, I hardboiled the eggs and mixed up the dye while she was napping. I put out all the craft materials we needed plus extra drawing paper to distract her during clean-up. I had paper towels and cleaning products directly to hand; we wore aprons and messy play clothes; I set everything up on a metal kitchen bench with lino floor directly below us; I cleaned up spills that touched anything other than the bench immediately – including the little pot of yellow dye that she knocked over; I ran a hot bubble bath and popped her in it afterwards. Net result – great time, no damage to the kitchen, and we both have normal coloured skin the next day!

FYI  I did try blowing one egg and decorating it once hollow. Miss 2 admired it for a brief time and then experimented with the physics of force meeting a hollow mass. The squishing was pretty much what I expected to happen. It’s less work and more satisfying to just eat the results after decorating them!

Ingredients

  • Water
  • White vinegar
  • Food colouring
  • Eggs (hardboiled)

Equipment

  • Little bowls or containers
  • Newspaper
  • Empty egg carton
  • Spoons
  • Optional: crayons, rubber bands, stickers, velcro dots, poster paint, paint brushes, tooth brush, glitter & glue.

Directions

  1. In little containers mix up the water, vinegar, and food colouring. You can use approx. 1/2c water, 1T vinegar, and 10 drops food colouring but it’s pretty forgiving. The main thing is that you need the vinegar to help the dye set.  You can use less water and more vinegar, or adjust to the size of your containers. You might want little bowls to dip or big glass jars to fully submerge several eggs.
  2. Prepare your hardboiled eggs.
    • My favourite was drawing on them with crayon (it shows through the dye).
    • You can obscure parts of the shell with rubber bands, stickers, velcro dots etc., dye it in one colour, remove the obscuring parts, and then dye in a second colour.
  3. Dye the eggs.
    • You can completely submerge them or just dip them (your fingers may get a bit colourful). The colour will vary depending on length of time submerged (i.e. less time means lighter, more time means darker).
    • Try creating colour gradients you can experiment with things like: submerging the entire egg for a short time, then half the egg for more time, then the base of the egg for longer again.
    • After dyeing the egg in one colour, you can ‘paint’ it with another dye. The dye will run so you can to make rings or just splash.
    • Try dipping the egg in two different colours (i.e. half the egg in each).
    • You can let the dye dry and then speckle it with gold or bronze poster paint using a toothbrush.
    • Try concentrated dye (with just a few drops of water to dilute) and then sponging it on.
  4. Let the eggs dry. You can rest them on a drying rack but an empty egg carton is ideal!
  5. Eat and enjoy (or refridgerate for later)

 

 

Sometimes it’s all a matter of perspective

Annoying mess or modern art?

Buttons are great for playing and learning (once toddlers are old enough not to put them in their mouths).

I emptied my Bag of Buttons into a wooden tray and we practiced counting, colours, sorting (by colour), shapes, and sizes (big/small). She also just had fun moving them around.

Inevitably some ended up on the floor and I joined in the game. Not only did this make her joyfully delighted but I’d carefully chosen an afternoon when we weren’t in a hurry and dinner was cooked (leftovers). The floor being covered in food / colouring pencils / toys etc isn’t uncommon as a parent. It can be incredibly frustrating and it’s nice to have a change of perspective and see it as art instead.

Then we played treasure hunt. We collected the buttons into our treasure chest. She was surprisingly focussed and I found it surprisingly peaceful. It was fun finding buttons with flowers on them, or admiring different shades of colours, or unusual shapes.

Making play dough is easy

Home made play dough

Home made play dough is super easy to make. It’s cheap, keeps well, you can choose what colours you want, and it doesn’t colour little hands the way commercial play dough often does. It also retains its colour much better if you’re using more than one colour rather than turning into an amorphous purple-brown.

Ingredients

  • 1c plain flour
  • 1/4c salt
  • 1T cream of tartar
  • 1T oil
  • 1/2 tsp food colouring
  • 1c boiling water

Note: This makes a small batch, just double if you want a big batch.

Directions

  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Mix in oil.
  3. Slowly add boiling water. (You may not need all of. It should be smooth and pliable not sticky).
  4. Store in air tight container.

Orange play dough

Combining colours

How to make a simple spider

Thankfully toddlers are not art critics. They take joy in simple pleasures and aren’t going to worry if your arts and crafts skills aren’t going to get you a gallery listing.

You can make a simple spider using:

  • Cardboard inner tube
  • Scissors or sharp knife
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Marker pen or felt tips (or buttons or googly eyes).
  1. Cut your paper tube to size (toilet rolls are a good size but a paper towel roll will need cutting in half or thirds).
  2. Make eyes. The simplest option is to draw then on but googly eyes are great if you have a packet lying around.
  3. Make 4 holes on each side of the paper tube (roughly parallel).
  4. Push 4 pipe cleaners through the parallel holes so they stick out each side. You now have 8 legs!
  5. Draw a web for your spider or print one out from Worksheet Fun.

Art Gallery


Rainy days can sometimes seem endless with an active toddler. One place to go is an Art Gallery – though it pays to get there early if you’re driving as many other families may have the same idea! They’re often free to enter which makes them budget friendly 🙂

Find out information about your local art gallery before you go and consider how this will work best for your children in terms of timing, naps, snacks, and transport. Do they allow prams or do you need to check them in? Can you eat anywhere in the building or do only in designated areas? Do they have parking on-site or validate parking nearby? Do they have activities for children?

Auckland Art Gallery for instance will validate an hour’s free parking at Auckland Transport’s Victoria Street carpark when visiting on weekends or after 6pm. They have a free bag check and big clean bathrooms for disabled access or pram & baby changing. They also have creative family activities (currently origami), a storybook nook, and an interactive Creative Learning Centre for kids with an installation that changes annually. In 2017 the installation is titled “Once Upon a Time in Art” and has a Cabinet of Curiosities type theme inside. There is paper and drawing materials to encourage children to draw – either a still life from what’s displayed or to draw on the room for inspiration. They can then hang their artwork inside one of the frames on the wall if they want.

If you’re going to an art gallery with a young child then go with the mindset that you’re there to help them have a positive experience (and stretch their legs); have reasonable expectations about their tolerances. You may find that they only last an hour (including bathroom and snack) and you’re more likely to get cursory glances at the artwork then lengthy appraisals.