Making fun out of nothing

2010-12-28 00:00

WHILE teachers are enjoying their much-needed holiday break, many parents are facing up to the challenge of keeping their children occupied. Johannesburg-based parenting consultant Nikki Bush, of The Bright Ideas Outfit, offers some ideas for fun activities that do not require lots of complicated or hard-to-find materials. More activities are available on her website:



MAKING their own puzzles is an inexpensive way of keeping children entertained because they can make as many as they like, and they get to choose their own pictures. Any bold and colourful picture will work, whether from magazines or personal photographs printed out on the computer. The number of pieces and size of the pieces you decide to make will depend on the age of the child.

You will need:

• One large photo or magazine picture (A4 or A5 is best).

• Cardboard (use waste like cereal boxes or school-project cardboard).

• Glue.

• Ruler.

• Pencil or pen or khoki.

• Scissors (blunt-nosed for preschoolers).

What to do:

• Stick the picture onto the piece of cardboard so that the cardboard forms a frame around the picture.

• Using the ruler and pencil or pen, draw cut lines onto the picture, making sure to help the under-sixes.

• For two-to-three-year-olds cut the pictures into two and four pieces. You can cut them into smaller pieces as your child masters the puzzle. A six-year-old should be able to do at least a 24-piece puzzle for school readiness. As you are working off photographic material here, the level of difficulty is higher than if you were working off a clear children’s puzzle picture.

• As children master the use of scissors and cutting accurately along a line, they can cut out the puzzle themselves. They should be able to do this sometime between four and five years of age.

• Make the activity more challenging for older children by cutting up the puzzles into more pieces or irregular shapes that fit together. This then becomes a problem-solving, brain-teaser type of activity and makes it more challenging.


ALL you need is a bit of wool and your hands for a fun activity that both girls and boys can enjoy. Do it while waiting between activities, or when travelling in the car. See who can make the longest chain. This is a great fine-motor co-ordination activity to strengthen reading and writing skills.

The more you do it the better you get!


You will need:

• A ball of wool.

What to do:

• Make a slip knot and put the loop over the pointing finger of the hand that feels most comfortable (see pictures).

• Hold the short tail in your other three fingers.

• Using the long end of the wool make another loop over the same finger, next to the first loop of the slip knot. Put the remaining long tail in the same hand as the short tail.

• Now, pick up the slip knot loop and pull it over the second loop and off your finger. Give the short tail a gentle tug. You have created your first daisy chain.

• Now repeat step three over and over again and your chain will start growing. You will find your own rhythm and create your own tension for the stitches so that they start looking even and identical.



NEXT time your children have ice creams or ice lollies, keep the sticks (or ask your doctor or chemist for some tongue depressors). With a few khoki pens you can create some really fun stick puppets in just a minute or two. No gluing, no sewing, no cutting.

You will need:

• Wooden ice-lolly sticks or tongue depressors.

• Khoki pens.

What to do:

• Give the ice-lolly sticks a good wash and let them dry completely. No need to do so with unused tongue depressors.

• Take your khoki pens and draw eyes, nose and mouth, using different facial expressions on each stick. Add details such as hair, glasses, a necklace or a tie, etc. Parents of preschools may need to help.

• To be more creative, you can stick wool on for hair, bits of fabric for clothing and sequins or buttons for decoration.

• If you have enough sticks you can create your family for your child to play with, or a bunch of characters for a little play. Write the names of the characters on the back of the puppets to help the puppeteer.



USE this fun activity for a purpose like making place mats for the dinner table or to decorate gift tags or cards. Paper-lace making is creative and great for stimulating fine motor control and eye-hand co-ordination. And, if a special someone lives out of town, why not let your child post his or her creation as a gift? The simple experience of posting a letter is an adventure for a young child.

You will need:

• A4 paper (white or coloured).

• Scissors (blunt-nosed for preschoolers)

What to do:

• Fold the A4 piece of paper in half.

• Fold the paper in half again (now you have quarters).

• Using your scissors, cut triangular notches out of the folded sides of the paper. Vary the size so that you create a different design.

• Cutting rounded shapes is a more advanced activity for older children.

• The full A4-sized piece is easier for the younger child to use. Older children may wish to use smaller pieces of paper.

• Glue the coloured lace work onto a white or black piece of paper to show off the design.


SURPRISE your children with this no-bake treat. They will love helping you create these sweet sandwiches. Do try one first so that you can judge when they are cool enough to eat.

You will need:

• Marie biscuits

• Marshmallows

• Microwave oven

• Microwaveable plate

What to do:

• Place a marshmallow on the centre of a Marie biscuit on a plate in the microwave oven. Cook on high for just a few seconds — watch it all the time. The marshmallow will balloon and almost reach the diameter of the biscuit.

• Remove from the microwave and place a second biscuit on top. Squeeze gently to make a sandwich with a gooey centre.

• Eat while still gooey but not hot enough to burn.


CHILDREN from three to teenagers enjoy flying paper aeroplanes, but few children know how to make them today. Paper planes are a cheap way to keep children entertained at home or on holiday. They are fascinated with the concept of flight and love to see whose plane can fly the furthest. The design is for a basic plane and parents will need to help until their children are about six or seven. Paper-plane folding is a spatial-planning and fine motor-control activity. Many other designs and modifications can be made to improve the aerodynamics — the secret to a good paper plane is in the accuracy of the folding.

You will need:

• A4 paper (scrap paper from your printer or photocopier is fine)

• Crayons or khokis for decorating if you want

What to do:

• Fold the paper in half lengthwise.

• Open it out and fold the top two corners of the paper into the middle to form a point.

• Fold this point into the middle of the paper, forming a square.

• Fold the top two corners of the paper into the middle again to form a point.

• Fold the paper in half, creasing well along the centrefold (all the folded bits will be on the inside).

• To make the wings, measure a line approximately one centimetres upwards from the centrefold. Fold back the paper along this line and crease well.

• For even better aerodynamics, fold the tips of the wings up one centimetre.

• You’re ready for take off.



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