150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, by Asia Citro, MEd
About: This is hands-down one of my favourite books and a regular go-to for “What can we do this afternoon?”, “Mummy, please play with us” and “I don’t know what to DOOOOOOO” moments. I look through the book myself for something I’m willing to face up to, or I hand the book to the kids and get them to pick something out that they like the look of. I’ve also handed this book to Daddy for his nights-doing-stuff-with-kids and told him if he picks something he wants to do, I’ll make sure we have the ingredients. I really like Citro’s approach – she encourages a lot of the fundamentals of very-early-childhood science, which is basically investigating substances and the way they behave when you do stuff to them. It’s all play. Much of it is messy. It’s fun, it’s delightful, it’s imaginative, it can be wondrous. Many recipes and activities are suitable for kids who put things in their mouth, or who have allergies. Some take more prep or cleaning up than others, so I can choose what I’m capable of on a given day and find something fun. There’ll be a few activities I post up on this blog that have come from this book, or from Citro’s blog, FunAtHomeWithKids.com, which is well worth an explore. The age range of activities is probably 0 to 10 years, at least, so it’s a book you’ll get plenty of use out of.
Wide age range suitability
Lots of ideas with accessible ingredients
Well laid out and photographed
Kids can look through the book themselves
Good science fundamentals (and literacy and numeracy and manual dexterity)
Basically, all-round good early childhood resource
What: Some of the activities we did at Kid 5’s make-lots-of-art birthday party – painting balloons, making paint, decorating party bags.
1. Painted balloons. My husband battled the breezes to attach as many white balloons to the punching bag as he could using string and tape. I saw this done at a community fair where they’d attached dozens together close and tight to a rope to make a dragon shape for painting. After our efforts, I have no idea how they got the balloons attached but I applaud their skill. Then, paint. I put some acrylic poster paint in plastic party cups, put a paintbrush in each cup, and put the cups on a milk crate (which has slots about the right size to hold these cups upright). Up to five kids at a time were clustered around this activity, painting on the balloons. Several of the balloons were later taken home by kids, on request. Except for the one where the kid asked, and his mother made frantic waving motions of “No wet paint in my car!!!” behind him so I had to say no, we wanted to keep them to remember the party by.
2. Making paint. The kids got to make a little bag of paint and take it home with them. I set up a bag of flour, a bag of salt and a jug or water, each with a metric tablespoon in them. The kids had to take one spoonful of each and put it in their little ziplock bag. I added food colouring of their choice – about a lidful – then they sealed the bag and mixed. In theory the proportions should be 1:1:1 of flour:salt:water, but in practice most kids needed two tablespoons of water because Kid 5s don’t know to level off their tablespoon of flour (or even that there’s enough of a difference to matter in how much is in a level spoonful vs a heaped spoonful), and there was enough of a crowd around the table that I wasn’t able to tell or help most of them with that. I kept my hands on the food colouring and insisted that only an adult add that. Which meant we didn’t have anyone accidentally tipping the entire bottle into their bag until the very last child, so that was good. Once the paint is mixed, you can keep it in the sealed bag and run your fingers over it to “draw” pictures mess-free. My original plan was to tape the bags of paint to a glass door so that they could do the finger-drawing there, but with all the chaos going on most of the kids were happy to just put the bag of paint in their party bag and move on to the next activity.
3. Party bags. I’m not keen on loot bags at parties, but the kids were going to need some way of taking their art home with them. So the very first activity we had set up before doing the main party stations was this one. A pile of coloured paper bags from the local craft store, and lots of coloured dot stickers of various sizes. The kids had to write their name on the bag first, then make themselves a picture on their bag using only sticky dots. We had a wide variety of results! Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the final products. It was good to have the sticker sheets cut into strips, because each of the Kid 5s tended to take a strip and then put all the stickers on it onto their bag somewhere before making the next decision. They’re not visualising what they want to make and then choosing the bits that will make it, at least, not to the degree that they can put a sticker sheet back down without using ALL the stickers. This worked well as an icebreaker, as kids who didn’t know very many others got something to do without feeling lonely, and it got everyone busy and thinking about making art. It could also be relatively unsupervised, unlike the main station activities.
What: A chalkboard on the underside of the (wooden) dining table.
How: I got a $4 pot of chalkboard paint from the local two dollar shop. Any chalkboard paint from any paint store or Internet recipe will probably do. I swept under the table thoroughly (see my last blog post!) and put masking tape around the inside edges to cover up surfaces that weren’t supposed to be painted.. I could have done this much more thoroughly than I did. For some reason I thought we weren’t likely to make much mess. Please learn from my experience.
The paint went into two “meat trays”, those styrofoam things that they sometimes sell batches of fruit in. I gave the kids half a sponge each and they sponged the paint on. It took a little while. I helped with corners and tricky bits. Then we left it to dry. I did come back after the kids went to bed and do an extra layer in places where they had trouble getting the paint thick enough, but I didn’t bother with a full second layer, I didn’t think we needed perfection.
24 hours later, it was five minutes til dinner time but Kid 6 and Kid 4 needed dinner Right Now and were ready to kill each other if not distracted or sated. So I handed them a packet of chalk and told them the table was dry. That ended up earning me a full fifteen minutes to finish cooking and get food ready and on the table.
Extras: The important thing I think about this was that they had a hand in making it. It’s a space that’s there for them, and they helped make it that way. Plus it’s given me multiple holiday crafternoon distractions – the painting was one afternoon, we’ve had a few drawing afternoons since. It’s also very much about making the most of small spaces and not needing a 40-square house to contain small children. The other thing this goes well with is my “cubby” tablecloth, which turns the self-same table into a blanket fort and which I’ll post about eventually. Oh, and it goes well with sweeping. But that seems to be my job.
About: Saffioti retells one of her family’s stories, of her mother-as-a-young-girl entering the school’s fancy dress parade. This is one of those books that reminds you that history isn’t just about the big things, but also about the little things, the things that make us family and town and nation. The illustrations are warm and in an Australian palette, easily bringing the emotions of each page to life.
True story and historical event, retold by someone with a direct connection to the event
Aboriginal author and illustrator
A small event with a big impact, easy to empathise with
Lead character is female, Aboriginal, POC
Strong and present family supporting the lead girl
Setting is Australian, non-Eurocentric
Artwork is warm, Australian colours, shows a range of emotions clearly
written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So
About: A cute little tale about finding the magic within, told in the style of a Chinese folk tale. Plus, noodles! That made it an instant hit with my kids. The author spent 16 years living, working and studying in Asia, the illustrator is Hong Kong-born and British Empire raised. This book goes nicely in my collection of books about makers.
Non-Eurocentric / Western-centric setting and characters
Little girl finding her own ability to do incredible things
A maker story
Author and illustrator both having a genuine connection to the culture they’re depicting