It’s a lovely time to get out and about when there’s a little more sun, a longer day, and a fresh spring feel in the air. Here are some lovely activities to do with young children that cost you next to nothing and encourage them to get off the X-box and start thinking creatively.
1) Go Rambling
Rambling is the name I use in my house for going out walking through rough, country side and getting pretty dirty, muddy and on the odd occasion rather bedraggled and wet.
‘How is that fun?’ I hear you ask: Well actually, we often spend quite a lot of our time preventing our children for getting dirty, muddy etc Rambling can be seen as a time when you completely allow them to enjoy themselves without you controlling their movements and dirt levels. If they temporarily lose their shoe in a muddy puddle and their sock gets soaked-bite your tongue and say ‘Oh well, we’ll change when we get home’.
Maybe you played out side as a child? Perhaps you derived a great deal of pleasure from digging outside, heading off over fields, exploring empty urban landscapes with your mates, playing 40 40 in the woods near your house. These are pleasures our children rarely have the chance to enjoy now, what with the dangers of fast moving traffic and untrustworthy strangers.
What we do when we go rambling. Well, we explore far and wide-they lead and I follow. Sometimes we take a picnic, or hot chocolate and biscuits, we collect natural objects, examine things, photograph things the children find interesting. They climb trees, collect mossy bark, build branch shelters, dig holes, find badger sets and bunny warrens, bird spot with binoculars, make twig and rubber band sling shots, and branch & string bows and arrows, play pooh sticks in streams, collect pond water and keep tadpoles and make up spy game adventures.
What I do when we go rambling. I go along with their weird and wonderful ideas (mostly). I sometimes get bored and Facebook, but mostly I try to stay engaged and use this as a moment to actually engage with the boys on their terms instead of on mine.
They absolutely love it!
2) Make Nettle Soup
Maybe you have nettles in your garden, or a little green down the road or maybe you’re lucky enough to have fields or woods near you. Either way, nettle soup is always a good immune boosting super food to make for your family.
Firstly go out and pick those nettle tops. Go for young new shoots at the top of the plant, these are the most tender and make the best soup. Equip you and your children with rubber gloves, a pair of scissors and a plastic bag. I’m usually in charge of cutting the nettles and the boys find it quite exciting to collect the nettles as I cut them and put them into the bag. They also love scouting on ahead to find really juicy nettle patches to harvest.
NB Make sure you collect nettles that are not near cars or a road as they will be full of pollutants. Cut the tender tops, not too far down the tough stem. Check that the area isn’t full of dog’s droppings (obviously). You can find nettles in shaded areas under trees and bushes. Wash them thoroughly and sort out any foreign leaves/bugs.
Cream of Nettle soup recipe:
I boiled a whole chicken to make a stock then roasted it. I used the stock, 4 cloves, a chopped onion, 2 bay leaves and one big potato in the soup. I boiled these first until the potato was nearly cooked then added the washed nettles for two minutes. Add crushed garlic and blend until smooth. I added low fat creme fraiche to make it creamy but single cream is lovely too. This soup is very similar to spinach soup but a little greener perhaps. It’s full of iron so make sure you consume with orange juice or something high in vitamin C to ensure the iron gets absorbed by everyone’s bodies. Serve with roasted chicken and potatoes and a big salad. Delicious!
3) Make a Mini Terrarium
Spring is a nice time to watch things grow so this is a project you could make as big or small as you want. Get your kids to collect interesting pieces of mossy bark, stones, empty snail shells, etc. Collect two empty bottles-I used some clean, old jam jars with the labels cleaned off. You could also use an old unused fish tank, a glass flower vase or something plastic if your kids aren’t good with glass like a clear 2 ltr coke bottle.
Have them put some soil into the bottom of the jar. We found two types of different coloured soil in our garden and they liked to see the strata of the soil in their jar. They then arranged their mossy bark, snail shell and other collected items on the soil in their jar and then planted a plant/seed in the soil as well. I had an old aloes plant that just keeps having babies so I used two of the babies for the boy’s terrariums. You could buy a packet of seeds for as little as 75 pence and use one of them instead.
4) Go and Visit a Farm
This can be a cheap option if you research around a bit. Some farms have spring open days where you can come and visit, pet/feed some baby animals, and buy some produce too or have a tea and cake. Here’s the link to Willowbrook Farm that does just this in Oxfordshire, UK. Other farms ask you to pay a little money but when you consider the day’s fun is cut out with petting and feeding baby animals, playing, exploring and sometimes mucking in with farm activities it’s well worth the pennies. Some farms may also have fruit/veg picking as well which is an added bonus. You can eat as much as you like whilst picking and then buy a punnet/bag of the produce to be polite. My boys love to dig up carrots with a big farmer’s fork. And obviously late spring/early summer’s first strawberries are a delight.
Rectory farm-has a great cafe, bouncy castles on w.e., Free entry, PYO (picking), farm shop. Farmer Gows– baby animals, hay bale treasure hunts, kids activities. Millets Farm Centre-PYO, garden centre, great ice cream, cafe, farm animals, Free entry play ground, sand pit, fields.
Although visiting a farm is not strictly creative in the obvious sense, I believe that providing the experiential information for your child is invaluable for fueling future creative activities. Seeing a baby rabbit, feeling it, holding it and looking into it’s shiny, big, black eyes will give your child that first hand information about a bunny which cannot be obtained through a book. Further creative activities that can stem from a farm visit include writing a story from one of the animal’s point of view, modeling a farm animal from clay, creating a collage using a selection of junk mail cuttings. Why not build a model farm out of different sized junk boxes, lollipop sticks for the fence, clay model animals, cotton wool and toilet paper trees-painted green, glue some sand or tiny stones for the paths and straw for the thatched roof etc. Paint/draw animals in the style of this by Picasso, or Joan Miro’s rooster below.
5) Spring Painting
Just like Ratty in the Wind in the Willows, spring is a great time for a change to our surroundings and one fun way to do this is to paint. There are some cheap and easy ways to change children’s rooms and I will include some here.
Buy a paper lantern (my local Wilkinsons UK do small ones for less than £2) and use a black marker to draw patterns on it. You can all work on it at the same time or take turns doing different jobs. Colour the patterns in in using either acrylic paints or easier still sharpies or felt tip pens. You can create very colourful patterns that look great when you put the light up. There are other things you could do like cut petals out of tissue paper and stick these in a pattern over your paper lantern. You could look at Japanese blossom prints and do your own Japanese inspired lamp shade.
Another way to change the look of a room is to paint furniture. Even painting draw knobs can add a fun and personal touch to a boring set of draws. We did this to all the draw and door knobs in our kitchen. I drew the pattern and the boys painted it, they were quite good and just occasionally I would have to go over the black lines where they had smudged. We used acrylic paints on wooden knobs and then varnished them with several layers of craft varnish.
If you really wanted to go all out you could paint the walls of their room and let them help, what about a jungle scene? Or maybe buy/make some plain curtains and then fabric paint/spray them? Or tie die them? What about getting two cheap canvasses from a charity shop and have your children do a painting (Mondrian style) that will then go up on their wall as decoration? Sew decorations onto a pillow case to personalize their bed space. Make hangings to stick from the ceiling. Card board birds with paper wings that can hang from string.Try black paper shapes/birds/flowers with small shapes cut out, stick tissue paper over the small shapes on one side to give a stained glass effect. Display these stained glass pieces on the window to catch the spring sunshine.
I hope that these activities inspire and help a few parents to get involved with their children’s creative side. I know it can be hard to find the time to spend with them but remember, very soon they’ll be all grown up!