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How To Keep Children Amused The Old Fashioned Way that doesn't cost too much money.
Keeping children amused can be hard, sometimes TV and computer games just aren’t enough to keep them happy and occupied, especially during the long summer holidays. Well, okay, maybe they are but should they be?
As a mother who occasionally gets an attack of guilt when she realises that her precious little one has spent the whole day playing Word Of Goo I like to have a few non electronic activities for keeping children amused to fall back on. You don't have to spend a fortune on things either, kids can get a huge amount of pleasure from the simplest and the cheapest, of things.
Keep a large cardboard box and fill it with art and craft equipment such as crayons, paints, chalks, different coloured paper including black for the chalk, safety scissors, string, glue sticks, sequins etc. Save flattened cereal boxes, they are perfect for making decorative masks, toilet roll holders for model making, think castle towers, egg boxes, tissue paper, just about anything you think has potential. A bag of cheap pasta, macaroni is perfect for painting and then making into a necklace.
You can even get bright coloured pasta shapes that don't even need painting, so less messy to deal with. Odd bits of rice, dried peas and lentils make great pictures. All are great for keeping your children amused and happy. Don't throw away the last few pieces of pasta in a bag keep them for making something.
Find a nice container, a pretty old biscuit tin is ideal, and start saving buttons. I always cut any interesting looking buttons off old clothes that aren’t fit for the charity shop before I throw them away, I have also bought cheap clothes from jumble sales and charity shops just to get unusual buttons to add to my collection.
Young children will spend hours sorting through the box, making pictures out of buttons, even stringing them together on thread to make jewellery. A button box is a good thing to keep a sick child amused as it is small, non messy and can be played with on a tea tray if the child is in bed. I hope it goes without saying that the child should be past the putting everything in their mouth stage but there, I’ve said it anyway.
Obviously you can buy this from shops but the homemade variety is cheaper, can be made in any colour you fancy and helping make it can be an activity all by itself.
2 mugs of plain white flour
1 mug of salt, 2 mugs of water
2 tbsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp cooking oil
Mix together the flour, salt and cream of tartar in a biggish saucepan. Add water, oil and mix in the colouring, till you like the colour, stir well. Heat, gently stirring till it’s quite stiff, don’t worry about any lumps. Leave to cool. Knead it a bit to make it smooth, add a child’s imagination and who knows what you will end up with. Actually, in my experience, you usually end up with a bit of a mess but it does clean up easily and as any child will tell you making a mess is about as fun as it gets.
This can be as simple as a bag containing scarves, old strings of beads and a white sheet to make a ghost, or as complicated as a trunk filled with everything from a suit of armour to a pirate outfit, depending on your skills as a dressmaker or your pocket. An old lace curtain makes a good wedding veil, a piece of black material can be a cape for a witch or a vampire. For older children dressing up can be expanded to include a play. Script writing, arguing over who gets which part, making costumes, arguing over who gets which costume, stage making, arguing over who makes the stage, rehearsing parts, arguing over who plays their part the best etc, etc, etc…With any luck this one can run to two days. This has the added bonus of providing entertainment and amusement for doting grandparents too, invite them to the kids play, make a nice cup of tea and then sit back and bask in the reflected glow from your talented offspring.
Spread a blanket on the living room floor, use paper plates and finger food and ask the offspring to decide where the picnic is taking place. If they say the beach pretend you have to keep brushing sand away from the food, point out the seagulls, listen to the waves crashing on the shore, knock yourself out, they’ll either think you are a really cool parent or that you’ve gone mad. Either way they’ll think it’s fun.
Write out a series of clues each one leading to the next and hide them around the house and garden if it’s a nice day. The clues can be as simple or as complicated as you like depending on the age of the children, you can make up puzzles or rhymes or codes that need to be broken before they can work out the clue. If you’re really organised you can keep a few sets of well thought out clues in a folder, then all you have to do is place them out around the house. It sounds like a great idea, unfortunately, I’m not that organised so mine are hastily written and often make no sense whatsoever. I can’t say I’ve ever had any complaints from the kids though so I guess treasure hunts are just fun no matter how sloppily presented. Always make sure that there actually is a treasure to be found, this can be a bag of sweets, a small gift, anything at all that you think your kids will be happy to find. For very young children make a simple map of the house with arrows and pictures for them to follow.
This can be adapted into a scavenger hunt by giving the children a list of things to collect and handing out a prize to the first one to make it back to you with everything on their list. Keep consolation prizes too if you don’t want a fight on your hands. Both treasure hunts and scavenger hunts make ideal birthday party games too.
If you have a garden why not turn a small part of it over to your children, let them grow things that they can eat. Tomatoes, strawberries, chives, lettuce, radish are all pretty easy to grow and most crop quickly. A herb garden is a great idea, you don’t need anything fancy, any old pots will do just remember if you plant mint keep it contained and in a pot of it’s own or it will take over the whole garden and probably next door’s too. If you don’t have a garden or yard you can let them grow herbs or cress seeds on a window ledge. Cress seeds will grow on just about anything, even wet tissue and they germinate so fast you can almost watch them. They taste great in egg sandwiches or sprinkled over salad.
Soda bread is ideal for children to make as it is yeast free and is quick to make. It taste really good too - still warm with butter and jam. Yum.
1 lb (450g) flour
4oz (50g) rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 quarters of a pint (450ml) buttermilk
If you don’t have any buttermilk, and let’s face it not many of us do have that kind of thing to hand without a bit of planning, then simply add about a teaspoonful of vinegar or lemon juice to the milk a little at a time. Keep stirring slowly until it curdles, kids love this part.
Combine the flour, oats, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add enough buttermilk to form a soft dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough very lightly, if you go too mad at this stage the bread will be inedible so just let the child have a quick play with the dough. Shape into a large round loaf and place on a greased baking tray. Cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf.
Bake at 450°F/230°C for 8-15 minutes. reduce temperature to 400°F/200°C for 20-25 minutes until loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath
Make a den.
Kids can be amused for hours by simply throwing an old sheet over two chairs and making a den. It gives them their own space at the same time as keeping them safe, if the weather is fine let them make a den in the garden or yard. Provide drinks and snacks and they will be happy all day. Children's own imagination will soon turn the den into a fort, a castle , a haunted house - just about anything that pops into their heads.
No matter what you do with your children have fun the old fashioned way and don't spend too much money enjoying yourselves.