If you’re the type of parent who’s never far from glitter glue, face-paint, a cupboard-full of home baking equipment and pens you can use in water, look away now. This is for the, what I like to call, average parents. Parents like me.
The announcement of school closures has been a real shock to the system for those of us who are usually happy to leave the messy stuff – you know, papier-mâché, potato printing and bead necklaces – to teachers and nursery workers. You see, I’m not good at that. I’m very, very bad at it.
And while they’re well-intentioned, the plethora of WhatsApp messages and YouTube tutorials suggesting ‘fun’ activities for parents to do with their kids just end up feeling like a whole lot of extra work, to me. No, I don’t want to learn how to make 500 flour-filled ninja balls, thanks – I’m just trying to sit down for a few minutes to get some work done.
If you, like me, are completely clueless when it comes to crafts, and are looking to occupy your kids as best you can (with minimal effort), this is for you.
1. Make chores sound fun
I don’t care how you do it, but for the love of all that is holy, make it sound like emptying the dishwasher is the leisure activity of a lifetime. My three-year-old literally gasped with anticipation when I told him he could empty the washing machine of wet clothes. I know. Living the soap-sud dream. My eight-year-old was less impressed with my dustpan-and-brush idea, but did enjoy a spot of role play with a handheld vacuum cleaner in the car. She even invented a whole persona and business, ‘Chloe’s Cleaning Service’ – but I think that was just to get a tip.
2. Run a Kitchen disco
No work involved at all – just chuck on Beyoncé and a disco ball, if you’ve got one, and tell them it’s party time. It also counts as exercise, if you’re fed up of PE with Joe Wicks. And it’s genuinely enjoyable. Plus, you get to choose the playlist.
3. Make-your-own lunch in a muffin tray
This is my parenting pro-tip, to be deployed at a future play-date of your choice. Get a muffin or Yorkshire pudding tray (the type with 12 empty compartments) and bung a load of different ingredients in each one. A splodge of hummus, a blob of peanut butter, some cucumber sticks, olives, blueberries, grapes, cubes of cheese, slices of ham, breadsticks, cherry tomatoes, grapes and mini sausage rolls. Everyone helps themselves – it makes lunchtime fun. Bonus: take lunch outside, if safe to do so. We’ve been eating ours on the front doorstep. We’re able to maintain a distance from the pavement and we also get to wave at passers-by, like the Queen. Plus, it gives us a different view – and in these days of confinement, anything you can do to jazz it up will help.
4. Draw imaginary people in a furniture catalogue
Got any old catalogues lying around the house? Well, they’re now an empty canvas, full of untold possibility. I used this Loaf catalogue to test my drawing skills, previously unseen since I did Art A-level in 1997. Have your child make amusing and creative additions. People, dogs, aliens. You name it.
5. Unleash the dressing up box
Fill a box or cupboard with all those old accessories and clothing items you bought in a sale because they were only £1, without thinking of when – or why – you would ever wear a pair of bright green shiny tights. Yes, the time is finally here for bad belts, dodgy hats, silver wigs, tops with the sleeves cut off, terrible floral shirts, big strings of pearls and rainbow sunglasses – we’ve all got them. Bung them together and let your child unleash their inner fashionista.
6. Create a home beauty salon
You’re going to have to get involved for this one. But to soften the blow, think of it this way: nobody is going out, so no one has to see the results of your child (or children) giving you a special makeover. The type where... you have more nail polish on your toes than on your toenails, and lipstick all over your cheeks in place of blusher. Beautiful.
7. Get the foil out
Empty toilet roll holders, plastic yoghurt bottles, and egg cartons. Stick it all together (badly) with sellotape, cover the lot in foil... et voilà. You’ve made a replica model of the International Space Station. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
8. Make a silly video
If you’ve got an iPad you don’t mind the kids using, a phone, or even an old-fashioned video camera – the easiest way to keep them entertained is by letting them take silly videos of each other, or themselves. Teach them the old trick of: record, pause, take something away, and record again – to make it look like the “thing” or person has magically disappeared. Remember to always keep your kids’ online safety at the front of your mind, though. Make sure WiFi is disabled or child safety controls are activated so they can’t post or send anything online without your permission.
9. Create a post box
I stole this idea from my son’s nursery homework – but it’s simple, and most importantly, keeps kids entertained for about five minutes. All you need is an empty PG Tips box or an old shoe box. Cut out a 2-inch wide ‘slot’, and have your child either paint it red, or colour in a couple of pieces of paper with red crayon. Stick them on to cover it... then bargain with them to write a bunch of letters. To their friends, their relatives, to their toys or to each other. Bung them in the post box and stick it next to the front door until you can get to a real one.
10. Form a production line
This is cheating, because it probably belongs in the ‘household chore’ section, but as every average parent knows – make one activity sound like two, and you’re basically winning. The ‘production line’ idea works on the proviso of old childhood games – the ones where you had to get from one side of the room to the other, without touching the floor. I have my children pass things to each other, hand by hand – we first line all of the things up in a row, so the transferral is seamless – and they take turns standing on a stool to put them away neatly in the fridge. Note: is also known more commonly as, “putting away the shopping”.
11. Make your own treasure hunt
This one comes courtesy of playHOORAY founder Claire Russell, who has a bunch of stay-at-home entertainment ideas available to download on her website. Russell suggests creating a treasure hunt for household items and letting your kids run around for a while doing that. She also suggests an alternative: going on a word hunt in a newspaper or magazine, or making your own word-search.
12. Trampoline time
My biggest lesson through the days of enforced isolation so far has been that trampolines are the world’s best invention, bar none. If you’re fortunate to have some outdoor space, and it’s big enough to host an enclosed oval-shaped trampoline, get one. My children barely gave it a look before, but now they’ve got limited options, they’re spending hours out there. Hours. What’s more, it’s not just for bouncing. They’ve taken blankets out there and made dens, had teddy bear picnics, read books and used it as a wrestling ring. If we’re still doing this in the summer, I fully intend to let them take sleeping bags out there and spend the night zipped inside it. Anything, for a bit of peace.