This week’s blog is a bit different. Rather than my usual focus on education for the parents of older children, I am focusing on younger children and those of you trying to keep your children occupied at home on a budget. It is inspired by my daughter, Tess, who is currently trying to keep my very active granddaughter busy in their very pretty, but rather bijou cottage. We have had several of those ‘Mum when we were young I remember we …’ conversations, and the more we have talked the more I have remembered about ways I used to keep my children occupied at home on a budget.
I am a mum of 2 grown-up children, and a grandmother of 4. When my kids were small in the 1980s we didn’t have screens or any of the amazing electronic toys available now. We had a TV in the corner of the sitting room, a radio in the kitchen, and a radio alarm clock in the bedroom – that was it! When were given an answerphone as a Christmas present (a massive machine that used cassette tapes) we thought we were at the pinnacle of technological advancement. Callers didn’t get cut off after a short message as they do nowadays, so if I wasn’t in my mum would use up the entire hour-long cassette for a chat, to save me calling back.
We were also financially quite hard up, as those were still the days when mums were expected to stay home with the kids and not to bring in a second income. But necessity being the mother of invention, we found lots of ways to do things cheaply. We did all of the activities below, and many were firm favourites.
9 Ways to keep your children occupied at home on a budget
Remember to make it fun. Be prepared for a bit of mess at times, but also remember that they should help you clear up.
You may already have propagators at home, or you can buy little funky propagators on Amazon but if funds are tight you can save yoghurt pots and use those instead. Start collecting them now. If you can also collect lolly sticks or straws, and you can use those as supports once the plants begin to grow. This can turn into an educational lesson too, if your children carefully measure and record the growth of the plants. You can make them a simple chart and they can fill it in as the plants grow. When the plants are big enough, later in the year, your children can plant them in the garden if you have one, or maybe they can make a window box if you have not.
Make salt dough
Play dough-type moulding material is fun and but it is expensive and if you run out you don’t want to be going out hunting around the shops in the lock down. However, there is a cheap alternative you can make at home which is arguably even more fun. This is salt dough. This is what was used to make the pretty blue fish in the main picture. You can knock it up in the kitchen with your children’s help and you can either colour it with some food dye, or you can leave it plain and your children can paint it later. You can put their salt-dough creations in the oven to dry out, which means they can paint them later.
Make potato stamps and prints
Like the salt dough, these were a firm favourite in our house. For safety, an adult must cut the potatoes, but then you hand the project over to the kids. This video that shows you how make the stamps using pastry cutters, which gives a neat finish. If you haven’t got any pastry cutters in your kitchen, or you want something different, you can do them free hand by just cutting into the potato. However, simple shapes tend to work best. Your kids can use ordinary poster paint to dip the stamps in and print them onto paper.
TIP: if you have PVA glue and they dip into that instead of paint, they can then sprinkle glitter all over their prints for sparkly effects. Why not let them make cards for your family or their friends who they cannot play with at the moment?
Make Shadow Puppets with your Hands
This game is free! Obviously, this will either have to be in the darker evening before they go to bed, or you need to be able to darken the room effectively. You need a blank wall – a plain painted one is perfect – and a bright light source such as a desk lamp with a flexible stand. I have found that many children are absolutely fascinated with shadow puppets and, if you are lucky, they will occupy themselves for ages after you have left the game trying to make the shadow creatures themselves. What we used to do in our house was make up stories for the shadow creatures and turn it into a little theatre. A good tip is for you to get them going and start the story, then ask them what happens next. This will encourage their narrative skills and verbal skills. Here is a guide to making shadow puppets.
The memory game
This one is also free and used to be a favourite at childrens’ parties. Everyone (but you) should close their eyes. No peeking! On a large tray, or coffee table, place several everyday small objects. They can all now open their eyes and look at the objects for 10 seconds. Then cover it with a tea towel. Everyone shuts their eyes again and you remove one object. When you say ‘ready’ they open their eyes and have to say which item is missing. A harder version for older children is to give them a pen and paper, put up to 30 items on the tray, give them a minute to look at them, cover the tray and ask them to write down every item they can remember.
If you have a garden and it is a nice day – teach them hopscotch. This is a brilliant way to keep your children occupied at home on a budget. Plus, it is also good exercise for both you and them. Here are the instructions.
Bake little cakes
Bake with them as a treat. I did this with the children, with some of the grandchildren. They all loved it and our family favourite was always butterfly cakes, followed by chocolate-chip cookies. Of course, you can do amazing things with cupcakes these days, as my granddaughter Ashleigh is demonstrating below. However, even if you don’t have fancy ingredients, cupcake baking trays, or any specialist tools at all, you can still make cheap and simple things like butterfly cakes to keep your children entertained.
Try Papier Mâché
If you are brave enough – try papier-mâché. This one is messy, so it’s best to do it in the kitchen if you can, or have an old sheet over the floor and aprons for the children. Messy or not, it is great fun and it will keep your children occupied at home on a budget. It is cheap as chips! Until recently I had a lovely bowl made with gold and bronze wrapping paper; it had lasted about 20 years.
Here’s a good video showing you what to do. We almost always used balloons but we didn’t get them out carefully in the video – my children were just waiting for it to dry so they could pop the balloons to get them out.
Put on a Play
Encourage them to put on a play for you. Have you got a dressing-up box? Perfect! If not, you might have to scout around a bit and see what you can pull together so they have a variety of costumes. Explain to them that they need a simple plot. What is going to happen? They will also need simple lines, which they can rehearse. In practice, I’ve never come across a child that doesn’t ad lib like crazy, but that’s just part of the fun. Let them get ready in another room and come in as if they are entering the stage to perform to you. Bear in mind you need to sit through it and applaud a lot, but it’s worth it because sometimes they will produce something that blows you away. Obviously, the more children the easier it is to produce a play, but if you have an only child then you might have to take part too. But who cares? It’s fun!
I hope some of these 9 ways to keep your children occupied at home on a budget work for you. They worked for me in the 1980s and I hope you have fun with them.
A Bit About Me
As well as being a mum, grandmother and education blogger, I am the Founder & Managing Partner of The Tutor Team. We are a family business, where I work with both my daughter Tess and my son Anthony. I am also assisted by Lisa, my PA. We are proud to have a team of 55 qualified, experienced teachers and university lecturers offering high-quality private tuition online.
My next blog will be published on Monday 6th April on our social media channels and here on the website. The next in the series will be on free downloadable classic books and tips on how to help your child analyse them.