Spider Web Art for Kids

Feb 20, 2015

The other day my mum (and the kids' beloved Nana) came over to hang out. I thought that we could all do some art, as being creative together provides time for chatting, learning, connecting and bonding. Not only would we end up with some lovely artwork but also memories of togetherness that will last a lifetime.
I'd been saving some watercolour paper to create something cool with for a while, and thought we could use it to paint some vibrant watercolour spider-web designs.

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Independent Activity Ideas for Kids (so you can get Saturday's housework done)

Feb 16, 2015

Unfortunately, despite wishing every weekend could be full of non-stop play and family togetherness, we inevitably find ourselves using at least a portion of the weekend to do chores and jobs around the house. Our Saturdays usually include multiple loads of washing, vacuuming, cooking and general tidying up.

There are times that we engage the children to help with various household chores and there are also some jobs that we'd prefer to do as efficiently as possible, to quickly get it out of the way so that we can move onto more pleasurable weekend tasks. This isn't always easy with young children following you around, clinging onto your leg, hounding you for food or entertainment or trying to "help" in their own unique ways. Having a few independent activities (they're things your children can do without adult assistance) up your sleeve, can be very handy indeed.

When it comes to setting your kids up with an independent inside activity, you need to take into consideration their age and abilities. With younger children, activities that involve materials with a high likelihood of mess, like paint, water-play, rice etc. are probably best saved for a time when you can be more actively supervising. You also want to make sure that the activities are open-ended enough to allow for multiple experiences and self explanatory enough so the kids don't need long instructions or help figuring out what or how to do something.

Below are some of my favourite go-to independent activity ideas for kids.

Busy Boxes

A busy box is something that you make ahead of time so you can grab and give to a child quickly when needed. It is something that children wouldn't normally have access to and is just reserved for times when you need it. The draw of a busy box is the excitement of rummaging through a box of endless possibilities for creating. They stimulate children's minds as they go through the process of evaluating the materials and options and deciding how they are going to combine and use them.

You could provide children with a recycle box challenge (minus the paint for younger children), encourage writing and drawing with a writing box, set them up with a quiet box, a playdough train box, some busy bags, a lego patterns box, a portable road kit or a sight words busy box.

After your child has used a particular busy box or bag, it's fun to add new and interesting materials to keep it fresh and to entice them on other occasions.

Play-dough Invitations

So long as you have some playdough and some bits and bobs, you can entice a long session of creative, sensory play that isn't going to require your assistance. If you have older children who feel that playdough just isn't for them anymore, you could offer modelling clay as an alternative.

Chances are, the overall excitement of say, playdough paired with cookie cutters, will lose it's appeal over time as all the options for play are exhausted. Changing and swapping around the playdough's accompanying materials provides children with different experiences and different options for creating (and learning).

Some tested and well-loved combinations are things like playdough and magnetic letters, playdough with pompoms and pinecones, a playdough spring garden or playdough with pipe-cleaners and beads.

Add some blocks in this fun playdough bricklaying activity or set up a playdough sweet shop or pizza shop. You can even add some cotton-buds for a challenging construction activity.

Pairing your playdough with a playdough mat is also a quick and easy idea. You might like to try this flower playdough mat, this food playdough mat, these alphabet playdough mats or these people playdough mats.

Construction Activities

My children love building things and with just a few different materials, can be busily constructing away for ages. We have a variety of different blocks at our house, from standard wooden blocks to castle and tree blocks. We also have Duplo and Lego that we use often for constructing and playing with.

Beyond just building with the blocks, there are lots of different ideas sure to engage your children. Try pairing tape with blocks to see what you can come up with or engineering with toothpicks and marshmallows. Give children some books and cars or cardboard boxes. We also love to build with plastic plates and cups.

Print out these free printable windows and doors and provide with some recycled cardboard boxes for children to create their own city or find some sticky-tape and straws to challenge children's ingenuity.

Contact Paper Activities

Contact paper or sticky-back plastic, is a great low-mess medium for all kinds of fun, independent activities for children. The sticky side of the plastic allows for easy collaging, creating and learning opportunities. A sticky-wall, sticky-table or sticky-easel is quick and easy to set up by simply peeling the backing off a large sheet of contact paper, and attaching (with some tape in the corners) to your surface, with the sticky side up. You're left with an instant reusable sticky surface that is perfect for younger kids.

Try presenting their sticky surface with materials like ribbons and string or craft sticks and straws to see what they come up with. You can add cardboard tubes and marbles to make a marble run or these to inspire a garden like in the picture above. Stick some eyes onto bottle-tops for a fun sticky caterpillar game or try some contact paper art. Did you know you can pair contact paper with blocks?

You could give younger children some wool to stick, make gorgeous mandalas or design yourself some cool bracelets or cuffs. Here are even more ideas for using contact paper for play.

Role Play

Another great independent activity for children is imaginative play. When we were kids, we could get lost in our role plays for hours and hours and the great thing is that we needed very few materials and just a lot of imagination. To entice children to get into role playing at a time you're needing them to be independently occupied, providing a few pre-prepared materials could be the ticket.

Getting out a couple of props or dress-ups and putting them out for children to find, will often be enough to entice them. The more effort I go to setting the scene, the more enthused they usually are. (I'm talking things like hand-written signs you can quickly stick on the wall, a little table moved into the centre of a room with a chair behind it or a couple of house-hold items they may not play with regularly. All these little things add to their enthusiasm but you don't need to spend a lot of time or effort on it.)

Some ideas for role play set-ups are Doctor role play  (there's a free printable Dr check-list for you there),  pretend school, shop keeperspretend Vets, pretend schoolpretend travel, ice cream shop owners, office play or that you're going camping! If you're after more inspiration, here are tons of pretend play printables.


There are plenty of benefits of technology for kids and so long as you've established a way to control kids' technology use (so they don't have unrestricted, unsupervised access to the internet or games), some computer or tablet time can be perfect for an independent activity while you get the ironing done. Currently on the ipad, the kids and I are loving discovering and learning with the amazing MWorld, making up stories on the Play School Art Maker and exploring the interactive Play School Play Time app.

There has to be enough ideas there to at least buy you a few Saturday's worth of chores. What are your go-to independent activities for the kids?

Happy playing,
Debs :)
This post is part of a Nuffnang native advertising series

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Toothpicks and Paint. Invitation to Create

Feb 14, 2015

After we finally dismantled our toothpicks and mini-marshmallows constructions, we were left with a container of toothpicks sitting around, just begging to be used for something else creative.

As my favourite activities for children contain simple materials and no set instructions, (allowing them to think creatively and experiment with ideas), pairing the toothpicks with some paint and paper seemed like a good challenge.

We got out some paint, I provided one piece of paper and one doily each and presented them with the tub of toothpicks. After watching them experiment with mark making on the paper with just the toothpicks, I also popped a couple of paintbrushes on the table to add to their experience. 
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Simple Banana Berry Muffins. Cooking with Kids

Feb 8, 2015

The other day I looked in the fruit bowl and found some bananas that were getting beyond the fresh eating stage. When the skin starts going brown like that, I know it's time to either whizz them into some smoothies, make them into some frozen treats or bake something. As the school year has started and we are back into the daily lunch-box making routine, I am in need of some healthier treats that I can add in for morning or afternoon tea. 

We love making muffins as they are easy to make, freeze well and come in portion control sizes already. We had some bananas, we had some blueberries, so we whipped up a quick banana berry muffin. 

I played around with the recipe a bit to make it super simple to make and reduced the normal amount of sugar to make it as healthy as I could (whilst still tasting good). My 3 year old was able to make them with minimal assistance and the kids woofed them down so I consider them to be a success.

Here's how to make them. See the bottom of the post for a quick view of the ingredients and instructions in full.
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How a before and after-school routine helped us.

Feb 2, 2015

When my daughter first started school, everything was new and fresh, everyone was eager and keen, and getting all that we needed done for the day wasn't difficult. She eagerly checked off all the items she needed for the day in her schoolbag and I dutifully re-checked and packed everything each afternoon and morning to make sure nothing was ever missed.

As time went on though, and we all settled into the routine of the school weeks, things started not running as smoothly as they had in the beginning. As my daughter took on more age appropriate responsibilities during the year, I found myself in an almost daily battle of trying to ensure everything had been done. Asking multiple times to please put a jumper or a lunchbox in a bag, having to drive back to school to deliver missed lunch-boxes and asking 5 thousand times to please put your school shoes on! (I'm not alone, right?) Between that and wrangling a toddler intent on finding any way possible to delay us, it was becoming increasingly difficult to make it to school on time each day.

After school wasn't much better. After all the busy morning caper and then a full day of school, it was no wonder that as the year went on, Maddie got more tired and by the time we made it home from school, it was another struggle to get our reader/homework done, the general responsibilities accomplished and have time just to play and be a kid!

Something needed to change and for us, it was as simple as writing a before and after-school routine that outlined everything that needed to be done in a day, in a logical and manageable way.

Why have a written routine?

Having a written timetable/routine that my daughter could read, follow and refer back to as needed, was just what the doctor ordered. Ever since putting it in place, our before and after-school experience has definitely improved.
My daughter (who was 5 when we first started this) loves knowing what to expect. It gives her a sense of control. Reading, referring to and actioning her own special list also gives her a feeling of responsibility, and only needing to use the phrase, "what's next on your list?" has helped my stress levels as well. It has helped us get to school on time each morning and by shifting around the time we did readers/homework (from before bed time to during the afternoon), our afternoons run much more smoothly too.

Here is what our before and after-school routine looks like:

How we implemented a before and after-school routine

Obviously this wasn't something that I could provide a printable for, as each family will have different things that need to be done and a different way or order of doing them. I made our timetable just as a simple document in Word.

After sitting down and carefully considering all the things that needed to be accomplished each morning and afternoon, and writing it all step-by-step in a logical manner (that works for us), I printed off and laminated (for extra durability) 3 copies.

Along with my husband, we sat down and went through the list with our daughter, so that everyone was on the same page and we all understood and had the same expectations.

I stuck a copy in my daughter's room, a copy in our kitchen on the pantry and another floating around for us to grab as needed. (By the front/back door could be another good place to keep one)

When you first implement your new routine, continually refer back to the list and go through each step with your child if needed. From there, try to stick to your routine as best you can for consistency. If certain things aren't working, go back and reevaluate and make changes as needed until you find a smooth flowing routine that works for you. Our routines often change and develop further as time goes on so it's important to allow a bit of flexibility and be prepared to switch things around to work best for your family.

We started this new school year with our routine already in place and it has been great. I do still have to remind my daughter here and there to check her list and see what's next, but otherwise, everything is getting done, we're easily getting to school on time and there are no battles over homework in the evening. With everything running more efficiently, without arguments and nagging we are finding ourselves happier and with lots more time for play!

For pre or beginning readers, some printable routine picture cards (from Childhood 101) would work well and get your child used to following a routine while practicing some simple, useful words. When you have a more confident reader, adding in extra text as well as using a list format is great for them to practice and develop their literacy skills further. Adding in some rough timings allows your child to also practice reading and telling the time.

Further reading

Happy playing,
Debs :)

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