Thursday, 23 November 2017

Ideas for keeping the small ones in your life festively amused

Let's be honest - no child needs to be coerced into feeling the festive spirit!  But some of our little treasures get so over-excited and impatient at the very thought of Christmas that having a couple of quick, inexpensive and creative ideas on hand to keep them amused between now and 25 December can be a lifesaver.

In our house, the Boy has been employing every trick in the book to put Christmas on the family agenda since September.  The Girl's birthday is in September, which gets the Boy thinking about his birthday which is just before Christmas, which gets him to thinking about Christmas itself. Around mid-September he launches into a 'how many days to Christmas' question-a-thon. Which we knock on the head immediately, and tell him he can't mention it again until at least after Bonfire Night.  And to be fair to him, he pretty much sticks to it.

Well, we're far past 5 November now - school production rehearsals are in full swing, Christmas letters are being drafted and re-drafted, the Argos catalogue is consequently well thumbed, and the season to be jolly is certainly making itself known here in Comfy Marmalade land!

I've come up with a number of ways to keep the kids amused in the run up to Christmas, including some craft-based activities that won't break the bank and are suitable for all ages, even smallies.

The Boy has made a start on his Christmas preparations this year.
This set of plaster tree decorations were gifted to him and the Girl
by a wonderful family friend, and he loved painting them

My first suggestion is a Christmas tree collage, which can be stuck temporarily to a wall in your home and enjoyed throughout the season.  All you need is some green paper (which you can find in all craft shops and even in supermarkets at this time of the year), plus some other brightly coloured paper and some crafty bits and bobs.

Firstly, cut out (or get the kids to cut out, with supervision if necessary) a Christmas tree shape out of the green craft paper.  It can be as big or as small as you like / as the paper allows / as you can fit on your wall.  It can be a simple triangle shape to give the essence of a tree, or can be a traditional Christmas tree outline.  We've gone for a reasonable sized one, cut out of a sheet of heavy paper that I got at a local craft shop for £1.50, and we made the tree trunk out of a small section of cardboard.

Never one to miss a photo opportunity,
the Boy was keen to 'help' with this photo!

Then, let the kids go crazy 'decorating' their tree! Here's ours part way through the process:

Here are a couple of ideas that you could employ to help give your tree a festive feel:
- Use glue and glitter to create 'tinsel' or, if you have a hatred of glitter (as I do! And not just because of the recent bad news stories about its effect on the environment) you could use actual tinsel.
- drawn around a circular object and cut out lots of bauble shapes in Christmas wrapping paper. Or cut out some in plain white and get the children to decorate them with pens, paint, glue or stickers - anything they like really. The baubles can be stuck to the tree (if you stick them on temporarily with sticky tack they could make a whole new set of decorations in 2018).
- Use small circles of coloured paper to make fairy lights.  Draw a couple of lines across your tree in black felt tip, then stick the 'fairy lights' onto the line.
- Make a tree topper - perhaps a star, or a Father Christmas? One friend I know made a fish finger tree topper, because that's what her toddler son wanted that year! Or, buy an actual star topper and stick it onto your wall using a drawing pin or sticky tack.

For our tree, we used Christmas wrapping paper, scraps of various crafts papers in our stash, some white pompoms, and a bit of a wallpaper sample to make a star.  All in all, I think our tree cost about £1.70 to make. What do you think?

The Boy had great fun helping me to make this lovely
tree, which I plan to hang on our landing wall,
just outside his bedroom

This 'star' is cut out of a retro-style wallpaper sample, which you can get
free from any bigger wallpaper stockists. Most online stockists offer
a free sample service too
You can buy all manner of craft goodies that could come in handy here - felt shapes, glittery pompoms, etc - but if you look around your home you can find lots of things that cost little to no money but that work just as well.  How about dried pasta? It looks great when painted and comes in all manner of crazy shapes. Coins also look great when painted, especially in glittery paint. Why not start a craft box or drawer and keep offcuts of felt, old clothes made of nice fabric, pennies, used shoelaces, the ribbons that you cut out of new tops… they may not look like much to you, but to a child's imagination they're a treasure trove!

My second suggestion is super easy, harks back to a much simpler time, and costs absolutely nothing but the price of a couple of pieces of sellotape - I'm talking about some good old fashioned festive bunting, which can be hung from wall to wall, or draped around picture frames and the like.  First, get yourself a Christmas gift magazine - one of the freebie ones you get at bigger supermarkets and stores at this time of the year. The cheaper quality paper the better as it's more flexible, and the ones focusing on children's gifts are the best as they're so colourful.

Now you need to rip the pages into equal sized strips, from top to bottom.  The quickest way I've found to do this is to take a 30cm ruler and place it so that the ruler's edge is about a 2cm away from the edge of the page.  Now hold the ruler down firmly, take the corner of the page and carefully tear down the edge of the ruler.  You'll need a fair few strips if you're going from one corner of the room to the other, not so many if you're just draping it around a picture frame or something similar.

See how colourful these strips are? Don't make them any wider than around 2cm, so that
you get random patterns and colours rather than actual photos of toy

Take your first strip and tape the short ends together, making a paper loop. Thread your next strip through the loop and stick the ends of this one together, to make another loop.  Keep going until you have the bunting length you require.

As you can see, once the strips are joined together they look really colourful and
fun; this a really quick craft, and super-easy so the kids will love it

Here's what ours look like 'in situe'!

I've hung ours between two of our wall lights - I can't reach our ceiling as it's too high! - but
you can make the bunting as short or as long as you like.  One magazine should give you
an ample amount of strips

So simple but really effective, and the kids love this craft - it keeps them amused for ages.  It doesn't even involve any scissors, so extra small folk can take part with ease.  If you're looking for something slightly more co-ordinated, buy a roll of festive wrapping paper (again, cheaper quality paper works best) and use that instead. And if you're a minimalist and / or want a more sophisticated look, this style of bunting looks brilliant when done in a single colour paper, such as white or grey.

Here are a couple more crafty kids ideas for you:

When I was at Hobbycraft last week, I picked up two of these plain cardboard baubles for £1 each. 
Cardboard bauble, £1 each, Hobbycraft

They're for the kids to paint / decorate, and we'll hang them on our tree. Or if they want they can hang them in their room or on their bedroom door handle.  These baubles also make fantastic gifts for grandparents. For longevity, varnish them once complete if you can (you can do this using PVA glue).

Think outside the box and make a festive display using gift tags or inexpensive Christmas
decorations. I got these gift tags at a local supermarket for 70p for 6; I've gone for a rather goofy looking reindeer as I plan to hang them in the Boy's room!

Reindeer gift tags, 70p for 6. I'll make these into some quirky and thrifty
bunting to hang on the Boy's fireplace
Hang the tags on some festive ribbon (I picked some up at a local craft store for 60p a metre, but loads of shops are selling it at the moment) and hang your display on a mantelpiece or across a chimney wall. If you're lucky enough to find gift tags that are the same shape when placed back-to back, stick them together and then you'll have double-sided ones, which you could hang across a window so that they look fantastic from both the inside and outside.

Photo bauble from Boots, £4 each
I saw these baubles in the Boots catalogue - a bit pricey at £4 each, but great as a gift idea or keepsake for your own tree.  Basically you create your own personalised bauble by slipping a photo or drawing into them. Get your kids to draw a beautiful picture, or take a festive photo of them. Pop them into the bauble and give to loved ones for their own tree, or keep and adorn your tree with it year on year.

Finally, if you're all out of creative ideas and just need something to keep the little tykes amused without breaking the bank, try some of these ideas:

All the bargain stores sell really well-priced books and activity pads, and many have festive themed ones.  I bought the kids one of these each in Home Bargains recently for 99p...

99p from Home Bargains, and they're really quite good!

...and my sister bought my kids these advent activity books (below) from Aldi for £1.99 each. There's a different page / activity for each day leading up to Christmas - which means you have the potential for at least half an hour's peace and quiet every day from 1 - 24 December!

Aldi A3 sized Christmas activity pads, £1.99 each

All the charity shops have their festive stock out at the moment and you can get some amazing goodies.  You can pick up children's festive books for next to no money - one of our local hospice charity shops sells children's books all year round for just 25p each.  Visit your local charity shops and buy a selection of festive books, decorate a large-ish cardboard box using inexpensive wrapping paper (better still, get the children to do it!) and pop the books into it to make a 'festive library' for your living room.  The kids (and big kids!) can dip into it whenever they like, and it can be brought out year on year, making it an extra-thrifty idea.

A selection from our 'Christmas Library' stash, most of which
have come from charity shops in recent years

If your child has an abundance of toys and you're keen to clear some space in anticipation of their festive haul this year, I have an idea for you. Give your kids a bag - somewhere between a carrier bag and bin bag in size. Explain to your child that some children have much less than they do, and that as a festive gift to others, you'd like your child to pop a toy or book that they can live without into the bag every day for two weeks.  I've found that my kids are usually (not always, but usually) much more responsive and positive about clearing out some of their toys if they understand that other children might directly benefit from them.  At the end of the two weeks, I take our kids with me when I take their bags to a charity shop - it's good for them to see their donations being put to good use. Perhaps choose a charity that particularly supports children or young people, and of course make sure any toys or books you donate are in a good enough condition to be sold on. I usually give the kids a festive chocolate as a reward for their compassion and generosity.

Visit your local pound shop - you can get some amazing festive bargains and decorations here which really won't break your piggy bank.  Our local one has some really beautiful decorations, gift bags and lights at the moment, none of which cost more than £1 each but which look much more expensive. Pop along to my Comfy Marmalade instagram account (@comfymarmalade_blog) or Facebook page (search for Comfy Marmalade) to see a recent festive Comfy Make that I created primarily using items bought at the pound store.

Get outdoors!  If you can wrap up warm and the weather is half-decent it's a cracking way to keep the kids amused.

This photo was taken on a cold January day a couple of years ago - as you can see, 
the kids are wrapped up in all manner of wintery woolies, but we had a fantastic day

If the weather allows, you could even visit your local park - a great way of getting the kids some outdoor exercise, even in the winter.  Wrap up warm, and take an edible treat, a flask of warm blackcurrant cordial and an old tea towel to wipe the play equipment if needs be. Kids really don't seem to mind the cold too much, and you can use the walk to and from the park to collect sticks to spray or paint at home, pop in an old jam jar, and hang small, £1-for-the-set-from-a-pound shop decorations from when you get home.

And if you're REALLY all out of ideas, pop them in front of a festive DVD! Give them a small bowl with some chocolate money or other edible festive treats in it, and a mug of warming hot chocolate (we always put marshmallows and squirty cream in ours - yum!). Get the blankets out (my crocheted ones are the ideal size for this activity), snuggle up, and enjoy a fabulous festive film. There are literally dozens of festive movies to choose from, but here are some of our family's favourites, suitable for everyone from the smallest tots to the biggest kids: The Polar Express, Elf, The Snowman, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Santa Claus The Movie, Miracle on 34th Street and Merry Christmas Mr Bean.

Elf. In my humble opinion, one of the best
Christmas films ever made. Ever.
Have some fantastic fun with your young charges in the run up to the festive season this year, and rejoice that you can do so while being frugal and creative at the same time.  To paraphrase Mr Andy Williams - with a little imagination and effort, it really can be 'the most wonderful time of the year'...

Bye for now! xx

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