There’s a certain type of Pinterest mum who manages to have both a clutter-free, largely white/grey house and the entire back stock of Hobbycraft hidden somewhere for rainy day activities. That’s not me! And frankly I wouldn’t want it that way either. But being springtime in the UK, sometimes we have a sudden downpour (or three day snow-in hmm) and we can’t just take the Childe out to destroy someone else’s fine soft play establishment or run round and round Horsenden Hill till she’s out of puff. I need activities that are quick and simple to set up, easy to do, swift to clear away afterwards and most important, keep her occupied.
Also, I don’t want to get the ‘screen time police’ sniffing at me for letting her watch Frozen … again. If only because I’ve worked in education and child development for almost twenty years and can’t be bothered to justify myself against some semi-informed meme circulating on social media.
So, here are my top suggestions for quick, easy rainy-day activities that don’t take cupboards full of kit, a trip to the shop or hiring a deep cleaner afterwards. A couple involve buying one or two very cheap items from a supermarket, but these are small and very easy to store long term for when the need arises:
1: Cupcake Box Kits
I love to cook with the Childe, that ten minutes of fun you have after thirty minutes of setting out the big table with a wipe clean cloth, two of every utensil, carefully decanted ingredients etc …and before the extensive damage limitation/clean up. Banana cake, pizza, vegetable soup; all great fun, but hardly fuss-free or instant unless you have an unlimited range of ingredients, fresh, to hand at all times.
For this reason I always have a boxed cupcake kit hidden in my baking cupboard. Not the fanciest of cakes, but there’s plenty of fun to be had counting the cases, breaking the egg, measuring the oil/water and of course learning cooking vocabulary like ‘whisk’, ‘scoop’ and ‘don’t eat that yet it’s still raw’.
They cost £1 to £1.50 (I sometimes buy a couple if I see them in a pound shop). For taste and ingredients I prefer Fiddes Payne ones like these Frozen Cupcakes, although other brands are just fine and I have no loyalty to Elsa bakeables and neither does the Childe.
2. Drawing Stories
You need some objects or toys you have lying around and some paper/pencils. In terms of having things lying around, I’m actually much better prepared than your typical Pinterest perfect parent.
What you do first is, look at the items and chat to your child – try to come up with a story which links them all together. Depending on the child’s interests, age and confidence you might make the objects really obvious (for example: literally putting out some Octonauts toys, a plastic fish and a plaster after they watched that ditzy penguin bandaging aquatic life that very morning) or a bit random and quirky (plastic dinosaur, wellies, tiara, shovel..?). You might need to ask questions and make suggestions, but it’s not school – provided they have some kind of picture in their mind, it’s OK.
Then, together, draw or paint the story or idea. This will go one of two ways: the first being “Mummeh, draw Princess Dinosaur. An’ now draw her crown. Also please mummy may you draw the hole she diggin wiv her tiny arms shovel fank you?”. The second: “NOOO. Mummeh I am NOT A BABY I am a BIGGER GIRL drawin’ my own self. You go drink coffee an’ talk to H___ mum on the instapad**.”. Tiny, chubby pen-stained palm in Mummeh’s face. Rejected.
One of the main bonuses of this one is the clean up can be very quick if you give them, like, 5 colouring pencils, a sheet of A4 and 3 objects. Also learning and stuff, but disguised, like the vegetables in carrot cake.
I don’t even know why I’m explaining this. You need a clothes ‘horse’ (airer, maiden, whatever) and a blanket or a sheet. Or a pop up play tent from summer under the stairs, although I have found this is less appealing to the Childe than building and furnishing her own den. Once you’ve helped them gather blankets, cushions, toy friends, cooking utensils (like a sullen teen, I long this bit out shamelessly) you’ll find it’s a base for extended play. Sometimes I’ve even gotten away with chucking some toast and fruit in and only having to retrieve her after a couple of hours because there’s no plumbing in her new ‘castle’ and she needs to remember the poo-poo-train needs to go to toilet-station when we hear ‘toot toot’.
4. Grown Up Dress Up
Yeah you spent £15 for Halloween and £20 for World Book Day but you know what? They just want to get their mitts on the grown ups’ clothes. This is quick set up (make sure they are clean and Nutella-free, and if yours is like mine getting them into their vest and pants is the easy bit as it’s their natural indoor state), and involves going into your bedrooms and chucking some clothes on the bed. Hey, I’m always prepared because I have the ottoman of doom, permanently covered in things I’ve worn for half a day and think I’ll just air and wear again. Ha. Added bonus for chunky jewellery, work wear, or props such as a pen and clip board, fake mustache or full barristerial wig and gown*.
Prepare to be roasted. Small children are vicious caricature artists.
5. Junk Models
There are loads of books or Pinterest boards with ideas for junk modelling projects, however these aren’t always so useful for spontaneous crafting because they need specific junk items. I do find having some basics around helps – so I do have a tupperware box where I keep some craft basics: safety scissors, sellotape, PVA glue and spreaders, packs of off-cut craft paper, glitter (!!). I buy this when I happen to be at a craft shop with a massive sale on, or in a pound shop, and I never buy more than can be fitted into that one box with a lid. With a lid! Well hidden (there’s GLITTER in there, people) with a lid.
When The Childe fixes me with her steely eye and demands “Stickin’!”, I look at what I have to hand and go with that. If we have several clean cardboard boxes, it’s modelling. Just paper? Paper chains, decorations or collage. If she doesn’t mind what she makes, I might google for ideas but often she knows … a great favourite is ‘food’ where we get a paper plate and decorate it with food (such as a yoghurt pot ‘cake’ with paper ‘icing’ or rolled up paper ‘sausages’). She also likes to make paper people and masks – Poundland do templates for these very cheaply (and they fit in the box!), but you can easily cut out your own.
So there are my top five cheap, easy, simple activities for a rainy day. Spur-of-the-moment and basic they might be, but I like to remember that being child-centred means asking what they are getting out of it, not always what you put in. All of these are low effort, high fun and I hope you enjoy them. Do add any rainy-day activities you love doing in the comments too!
*OK you might not have this lying around. I do. It’s easier to find than the clip board, ’cause that’s under the clothes pile at the moment.
**Instagram + Ipad. Which is actually a cast-off Samsung tablet but never mind.