One thing I’ve found in my three years of being a mother, is having a child who’s not particularly ‘crafty’ limits the number of activities I can barter for a warm cup of coffe and a cursory glance over emails.

Many of my attempts at cajoling my pre-schooler, into making cards and decorating loo rolls have ended with me chasing him around the house trying to prise glue and scissors from his hands.

And there have been many attempts, as I on the other hand quite enjoy crafting.  Despite my disappointment at us not bonding over tissue collage, finding non-crafty things for us to do has been quite beneficial. Especially, on the days  when my nerves can’t handle the aftermath of cutting and sticking. There have been many of those too.

We so often ping pong from one activity to another that there is little or no time to clear up. So, it’s no surprise the house quickly looks like a bull ran through a craft shop.

A day spent navigating meltdowns is made easier by having a collection of activities that can be easily put together with things around the house and, more importantly, that create little or no mess.

  1. No bake baking – This evolved from the indescrible joy he gets from ransacking kitchen cupboards and when baking biscuits didn’t quite go to plan. A necessary compromise, my son enjoys lining paper cases in a muffin tray and filling them up with toy he’s ‘mixed’ in a bowl with a spoon. There’s little room for things to go disastrously wrong. Although, as paper cases are like gold dust these days, I do have to keep him from scrunching them up and rendering them unusable.
  2. Colouring and cleaning cars – Another happy accident! I’m forever telling him, “pens are for paper”, but if the markers are washable, I don’t mind if he colours on plastic toys. He enjoys ‘cleaning’ them with a wipe afterwards. It’s nice to see him so focused and absorbed in an activity. I often worry our lack of crafting means he doesn’t exercise his fine motor skills enough, so this activity appeases me.
  3. No cook playdough – This involves a tiny bit of faff, but the recipe is easy to remember and doesn’t require an age spent at the stove, stirring. He particularly enjoys breaking off bits of dough and moulding them around his cars and trucks. Are you sensing a bit of a recurring them here? He really loves his cars.
  4. Decorating paper plates and plastic cups with stickers – A sheet of stickers have prevented many a meltdown (his and mine) over the last few years. The peeling and sticking gets him focused and again helps with fine motor development. If you can get reusable stickers all the better, as they can be peeled back off and saved for another occasion.
  5. Water play – If we do this indoors, we lay down our ‘messy mat’ (a tablecloth size of a PVC coated material) and get a couple of plastic mixing bowls, some smaller bowls, spoons, utensils and Calpol/Nurofen syringes. I fill the bowl up about a quarter full with water to prevent too much spillage if he, inevitably, decides to make big splashes. It’s a great way to practise transferring and talk about volume. If the weather is nice, we can take it outdoors, but if you don’t have a garden it’s easy to do this at a sink, in the bath or even on the living room floor like us.
  6. Make a story box – This is a relatively new addition to the mix and was partly inspired by an episode of Jo Jo and Gran Gran and partly borne out of my exasperation at continually having to, “Be Thomas! Be James! Be Fat Controller!”. The latter most of which I took particularly personally. This is kind of like a sensory basket, but instead you make a story out of the objects you pick. If you have older, craftier children you can illustrate it too, but for us verbal role playing is sufficiently riveting. It doesn’t have to be a box and it most certainly doesn’t have to be a wicker basket, unless you want to of course. I’m using an empty storage box at the moment and it’s filled with a lot of his old baby toys and some clothes. You can of course add fancy dress bits if you want, but it’s fascinating how the most random of objects can spark a story.
  7. Kinetic sand – A rainy day and, now, lockdown staple. The sand that sticks is great for exploring different textures in a ‘contained’ way. You can buy a set which has some utensils, but a more cost-effective option is to buy a bag and fill an old tray and let them explore. He likes to bury and dig out his cars, obviously.

As well as being relatively low stress and low mess, I’ve often found these activities useful for diverting him from something unacceptable to acceptable. Like drawing on carpet with pens or pouring water out from his bottle all over the floor. He can get it out of his system in a way that is acceptable to me.

I also feel like you can scale these up and down as you wish. For example, with the playdough you can add scents and colours, but if you want to keep it simple there’s still plenty of play to be had.

It took me a while to appreciate that I didn’t need to have a stock of supplies rivalling a haberdashery to create engaging activities at home. Short, simple activities that can be clobbered together in an instant have been the ones we go back to time and time again.

They may not make the prettiest picture, but like the random objects in our story box, they can be woven together to create something memorable.

Sana Ali spent a decade working as a communications adviser before leaving city life to be a stay at home mum and content writer. She works with other female business owners to write compelling copy for their website, blogs and social media. Sana shares real time insights on adjusting to post-partum life and parenting a pre-schooler on her blog Sana is Bananas. She shares copywriting tips on Facebook and posts updates on her quest to ‘do life’ simply on Instagram.


Award-winning writer, blogger, social media consultant and charity campaigner. Social Media Manager for BritMums, the UK's largest parent blogging network Freelance clients include Firefly Communications and Save the Children UK. Works with brands on marketing projects. Examples include Visit Orlando, Give As You Live, Coca-Cola and Kodak. Cambridge Law graduate with many years experience working across three sectors in advice, media relations, events, training and project management. Available for hire at affordable rates.

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