Fun and Games for Children

With schools off for the duration, self-isolation and now a full lockdown, it’s important to find fun and stimulating activities to keep your children active, entertained and busy during this time.

While it will be tempting to plonk kids in front of the TV or leave them with their screens, the more active, hands-on, challenging pastimes you can give them, the better.

There are many resources on the web which offer ideas for things to do and make, or games to play.

Here are a few simple ideas to get you started . . .

Make a Mouse Trap game

This is a simple game of reflexes for two or more players. (This isn’t the famous board game that involves building a huge contraption to trap mice.)

What you need

  • 2 to 4 mice – you make the mice from wine bottle corks, with paper ears and string tails.
  • A large plastic pot.
  • A disc of card or plastic (we used the pot lid).
  • A die or spinner.

Paint each cork a different colour.
Make a hole through the centre of each cork and thread some string through it. Tie a knot at one end (this becomes the mouse’s nose) and leave 10 – 15 cm of string at the other end for a tail.
Cut out some ears (an ellipse with one end cut flat) from coloured paper and stick these on to the front end of the cork (see the second picture).

Painting corks
Painting corks to create mice

How to play

  • Place the disc on the floor. The mice are placed, facing inwards, on the disc. The players sit around in a circle, each holding the end of their mouse’s tail.
  • One player is the catcher, who holds the pot a few inches over the disc. The catcher throws a die.
  • When a 6 is thrown on the die (you can choose any number, or even decide to have two numbers as the “triggers”), the catcher drops the pot over the mice, and the other players have to quickly pull their mice away before they are caught.
  • The catcher scores 1 point for every mouse caught. Each player whose mouse escapes scores 1 point. If a player pulls a mouse away when the wrong number is thrown, they lose 1 point.
  • After three drops of the pot, the next player (going clockwise around the circle) has a turn as the catcher for three drops.
  • Finish the game after everyone has had a go as the catcher and tot up the points for each player.
Mouse trap game
Mouse trap game using cork mice and a large pot

Make your own musical instruments

There are many simple instruments that can be made from household items.

Percussion instruments

Gather together some empty glass or plastic bottles or jars and part-fill them with dried pasta, dried peas or rice (or anything else that comes to mind) to make shakers.

The sort of round plastic pots that flapjacks come in (e.g. at M&S, Waitrose) make great drums. Either hit the lids or turn them over and hit the undersides. Use wooden spoons from the kitchen as drumsticks.

Tuned percussion

Part-fill glass bottles with water to different levels to make a “bottle organ”. Tune each note by adding or removing water until it sounds right (if you want accuracy, tune it to another instrument, such as a piano). You can use wooden spoons to tap the bottles.

If you have a circular metal mixing bowl (these are usually stainless steel or enamelled), there’s a very interesting sound you can make that kids love.
Pour a small amount of water into the bowl. Hold the bowl with one hand and tap it with the other (or with a wooden spoon). Just after you tap, tilt the bowl slightly to one side. You should hear the note change pitch – sliding upwards.

If you swish the water about, you can also get “wobbly” vibrato effects. Most young children find this very funny. (Tip: best to try this outside, as the water will probably get spilled!)

Sleigh bells

Bottle top shaker
Bottle top shaker – make your own musical instruments

To make sleigh bells using bottle tops: find a Y-shaped twig in the garden or on a walk in the woods. Drill holes near the ends of each arm of the Y and thread string or twine through to link the arms. Before passing the string through the last arm, drill or punch holes in a dozen or so metal bottle tops and thread these on the string. Then finish tying the string to the twig. (Many thanks to the Rangers at the Lickey Hills Visitor Centre for this idea!)

Cardboard boxes – and a child’s imagination

It’s a clich?, but it’s true: children often have more fun with the boxes that their toys come in than with the toys themselves. Cardboard boxes of any size have unlimited potential for play, craft and construction.

Destroy an entire town!

Collect equal-sized boxes from supermarkets (wine boxes are ideal) to use as giant building blocks. Paint doors and windows on them and construct a city with tower blocks, then your child can dress up as a monster and smash the city – Godzilla-style! (Don’t forget to take a video of the destruction – most kids love to see it again and again!)

Vegetable trays are designed to interlock and stack, so with appropriate holes and ramps cut into their bases these can make multi-storey car parks for toy cars – or be used for stackable toy storage.

More elaborate cardboard box buildings

Older children may enjoy making custom buildings for their train sets and road layout mats, by cutting, gluing and painting small boxes.

Windows can be glazed using thin transparent plastic from food containers (usually found in the packaging for large pies and tarts).

The buildings’ surface textures can be painted on, of course, but a modern alternative is to find photos of textures (e.g. brick walls, roof tiles) on the web, step and repeat them in computer art software to the size and scale needed and then print them on a colour printer. Then cut them to the right shapes and stick them onto the box.

Fun Lego ideas

Child with big box of Lego
Child with big box of Lego

Everyone knows that Lego is flexible and adaptable: a box of assorted bricks can make millions of different toys. But these days many sets are designed to build just one particular model, rather than be a collection of bits that could make lots of models. While many children will have no trouble thinking of new things to make with their kits, some may need a little encouragement to exercise their imagination.

Lego instructions to download

Most children have no difficulty in using the same bricks to make other things, of course. But if your child needs some inspiration, go to the official Lego website and download instructions for other sets that they may not have, then check the inventory pages against their stock of bricks to see if they have the parts to make it anyway.

There are nearly always one or two special bricks required that won’t be in your collection (perhaps this is deliberate policy?) and the colours may be wrong, but it will often be possible to make a reasonable approximation of a particular model without needing to buy the proper set.

Alternative Lego instructions

Some popular sets that come with printed instructions to make one model have alternative instructions available online only to make a different model.

Get inspiration from film, comics and TV shows

These days, there are ready-made Lego sets for characters, vehicles and scenes from most popular entertainment franchises. But why not take inspiration from other sources that your children enjoy? For example, our 6 year old is a huge Thunderbirds fan (both old and new incarnations), so every now and then he wants to build a scene or vehicle from an episode. Over the years, we’ve attempted to build the Thunderbirds (not very successfully!) but had more luck with other vehicles from the shows, particularly the Elevator Cars from “Trapped in the Sky” and assorted Helijets. To start with, just use a photo from a fan web site as reference (or freeze a frame on DVD), but if you can’t figure out how to start it, look online – you can bet that someone will have made one and put a photo on the web! It’s not only fun for children to do this, but they learn how to overcome design and engineering challenges more than if following printed instructions.

Lego games

A fun game to play with Lego is to have a competition to see who can make the most interesting new model from a limited set of bricks (such as those that form an existing set).

Award prizes for the best idea, the idea that uses the most of the bricks (ideally one that uses all of the bricks) or (for older children) the idea that most closely meets the criteria of a design brief.

If you have enough bricks, make sure each child has the same bricks, start them at the same time and see who can finish first.

Don’t forget to take photos of all the entries!

Further Lego inspiration and ideas

You can find more ideas for Lego projects at these sites:
100+ Lego Building Projects for Kids
20+ Awesome LEGO Building Ideas for Beginners
Ways to use Lego in the classroom

The official Lego website

Other construction toys

If your children already spend a lot of time using Lego, maybe you could suggest that they put it aside every now and then and try another type of construction toy for a change (e.g. Meccano, K’nex, magnetic connectors, Stickle Bricks. . .).
Our 6 year old even enjoys the challenge of going back to basics with his old wooden blocks (we didn’t have the heart to pass them on. . .).

Often the different construction methods involved will require them to think a bit more about how they make their project. This may in turn inspire them to do something different with their favourite system when they return to it.

Puzzles and crosswords

Most newspapers and magazines have various puzzles inside. While we don’t suggest that your kids attempt the big Cryptic Crossword, most publications also provide Quick Crosswords, Wordsearches and Sudoku which children can take part in solving (perhaps with some help and guidance). Children gain a real sense of achievement from filling in all the boxes.

Wordwheels are good for stimulating a child’s vocabulary (but a bit dispiriting for us adults when we can’t even reach the recommended “average” word count!). We usually do Wordwheels as a family. We ask our son to start the ball rolling by finding as many of the short words (three or four letters) as possible before we move in to tackle the longer words.

You could create your own Wordsearch grids, but we found the process to be too long-winded when we tried it: the hard part is filling in the random letters without accidentally creating additional valid (possibly rude!) words. If you can manage this, though, then you could make personalised Wordsearches with the names of friends, pets, favourite TV characters, etc.

There are several apps available for phones and tablets which can generate Wordsearch grids.

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