This winter, gather your little ones around you and take your pick from activities that never date!
While adults may sometimes equate winter with lugging in endless baskets of firewood, and drying yet another load of laundry indoors, for children it can be one of the happiest times of the year. Busy with arts and crafts projects and imaginative indoor activities, the cosiness of winter can provide a relaxing backdrop to family fun and sibling bonding.
ways with wool
Head for the closest op-shop and let the kids select a big bag of colourful yarns. Make sure they include frothy ribbon, as well as bright acrylics and textured wools. Grab some chunky knitting needles while you’re at it, and keep your eyes peeled for off-cuts of hessian fabric and big plastic darning needles (the sort where yarn can be threaded through the eye). For next to nothing, you’ll be well on the way to a fabulous collection of winter craft materials.
Making pom-poms is popular with any age, and if you’ve forgotten how to do it, two excellent YouTube sites will remind you in minutes. Search Youtube.com for ‘How To: Make a Pompom with a Cardboard Disc’ by Bernat Yarns which offers simple instructions for making the traditional pom-pom (using cardboard) – the sort which will keep little ones occupied for hours, while How to: Make Pompoms by Bernat Yarns gives instructions for making almost instant pom-poms (a favourite with older children). For something different, remind the kids that pom-poms don’t have to be round. They can be trimmed into cubes, triangles, and even animal shapes. Once completed, adding stick-on eyes creates further character. Pom-poms can be hung on door handles, made into colourful mobiles, sewn onto home-made or purchased hats and socks, glued to slippers, attached to headbands, or fixed to magnetic tape for use as fridge magnets.
Tissue-paper pom-poms, although still very easy to make, require a little more skill than the wool variety, so are perfect for older children to try. For instructions on how to master the art of these delightfully frothy creations, search YouTube.com for ‘Tissue Pom Pom / How To Make Paper Pom Poms / Wedding Decor’ by StyleIconsCloset.
create a family treasure
Knitting is a favourite activity with children of all ages, but because it can seem to take forever to finish even the simplest of articles, turn the activity into a family project. Once everyone has learned to master basic stocking stitch, leave the item (a scarf, which requires no shaping, is perfect) around the house so that anyone who feels in the mood can pick up and start knitting – the more stripes and changes in tension, the more unique the finished item will be.
Arm the kids with yarn, a plastic darning needle with a big eye, a piece of chalk, and a square of hessian. Let them draw onto the hessian with chalk, then encourage them to stitch along the lines to create a picture in yarn. When completed, let the artist fray the edges of the fabric to form a colourful place mat. If you have the time, the square can be backed with soft fabric and turned into a cushion cover or oven cloth. Stitched hessian also looks great behind glass when framed. (Op-shops sell frames for next to nothing and the wooden variety are perfect for painting in colours that match the craft creation.)
prints and patterns
Celebrate the arrival of winter by donning coats and hats and venturing into the park to collect print and pattern-making materials. Look out for skeleton leaves, dried twigs, grasses and seeds. Back home, break out the acrylic paints, smear them into a recycled polystyrene meat tray, and let the children drench their new found treasures in bright colours. Sandwich the objects between two layers of paper and press down on them lightly with a hand, craft roller or kitchen rolling pin. When dry, snip the prints out and paste them onto card to make gift tags, or bookmarks. Pop prints into recycled frames or use them to decorate mini storage boxes. If it’s too cold to go hunting outside for pattern making materials, turn children’s attention to the kitchen pantry, spice jars, or fruit and vegetable storage shelves, and a whole range of print-making materials will be instantly available (think star anise, spaghetti, and slices of orange dried on paper towels before being dipped in paint).
Wild weather will never get in the way of an indoor camp-out, especially if your tent is small enough to be erected in the living room (if not, a double bed sheet draped over a table will soon create the same effect). So dig out the torches, pack the pillows, head for the living room and unroll the sleeping bags! Add atmosphere to your camp-out by turning off the lights and packing an early midnight feast (let children carry their own ‘gear’ and snacks in a day pack). If you’re really getting into the swing of things, light up the barbeque and cook dinner on the deck or sizzle some sausages by candlelight in a pan on the stove. Shadow puppets by torchlight, a mild ghost story or two and, if space permits, a game of torch tag (played on hands and knees) will soon exhaust the campers and make for a restful night for the adults sleeping comfortably in a bed next door!
Why should the northern Europeans have all the fun! Wait for the coldest winter day, then dig out the Christmas decorations, and set up the tree. Get the children making home-made Christmas cards and paper bunting taped to string. Older children will enjoy decorating candles with tinsel and baubles. There’s no need to create an elaborate feast – a few Christmas treats will set the scene. Let everyone help stir spices into fruit juice for mulling, wrap some ten cent pieces in tinfoil and stir them into an easy-to-make steam pudding. Lay a bright cloth on the table and fill a vase with holly or branches of red berries. Set out some nibbles in Christmas colours (bright strips of capsicums and wedges of red and green apple), and play carols which everyone can sing along to.
With just a few bits and bobs of craft material and loads of imagination, turning winter into a playful, creative time is not only easy, inexpensive, and loads of fun, it’s one of the best ways to ensure your children grow up with the happiest of family memories.
Catlins author, Diana Noonan, is one of New Zealand’s best-known writers for children. A former editor of the iconic School Journal, she writes for a wide range of educational resources, and takes a strong interest in the New Zealand Curriculum.
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