Education Writer and Primary Teacher Phoebe Doyle writes on how getting creative doesn’t need to break the bank.
There isn’t anyone who isn’t feeling the pinch right now. Times are tough and so we need to make cut backs wherever we can. That said, we don’t want to let the children miss out – we need to make savings, but not at the expense of the children’s experience in our care. The good news is that there’s no shortage of ways to be frugal and creative – in fact the frugal element can sometimes enhance the pleasure to be had and can also serve to teach important lessons in green issues.
In my experience, both as a teacher and as a parent of two little ones, children need little persuasion when it comes to recycling and re-using. My two can be regularly found rummaging through the recycling bin in our kitchen, searching for inspiration, often alarmed at what I was actually planning on getting rid off; I mean, why would I be throwing out a cereal box when it could clearly be made into a house? Why throw out egg boxes when they’re use is un-measurable? What was formally known as the dining table is now the “making table” and our kids on a daily basis turn what was heading for recycling into houses, schools, cities – and many other masterpieces!
Children love all this ‘junk modelling’ using ‘real’ and everyday items. It seems instinctive; they learn so much through this type of play – they’re designing, constructing, assessing, tweaking – and as much as I moan about the “state of the dining room”, I’m always impressed with children’s inspirational and unique ideas that most adults (definitely me!) have long since lost the ability to have.
It’s not just modelling work that’s green, entertaining and economical; kids also love getting up to their elbows in stuff. Feeling, squidging, kneading, squeezing – it’s almost an involuntary reflex they have – to want to explore malleable materials. Education experts argue this sort of play is crucial for learning; it forms the building blocks of knowledge about the world, it’s materials and how they work.
Here’s some ideas to try out with your children…
1. Painting with Water:
Pop a waterproof apron on them, set them up outside with a bucket of water and a brush and let them paint your wall, your fence – whatever! They’ll probably prefer a proper decorators painting brush for extra grown-up-ness! For extra green credentials, encourage them to collect rain water in a tub specifically for this purpose.
2. Make a Robot:
Get them to dig through the recycling to find items to make a robot; egg boxes, toilet roll tubes, cereal boxes – all good! Invite them to stick the items together to make their model. Discuss how it’s important to use things again when we can. If you want to paint items like cereal boxes it’s best to turn them inside out first.
3. Jelly in a Fish Tank:
In a fish tank, or something similar, make jelly as you normally would. Before setting put objects in – cotton reals, toy animals or dinosaurs, then set it in the fridge. Watch them delight as they put their hands in and search for the objects.
4. Ransom Notes
I used to adore this when I was a child. Using old newspapers encourage your child to cut out letters, words and headlines and make their own letters, posters or ransom notes. This can be great for enhancing literacy skills as it really gets them to think about how words are made up.
5. Cornflour and Water:
If you’ve never done this before your in for a treat. With your child mix up some cornflour and water into a paste. Note with them the change of consistency. Once you’ve formed a lovely ‘gloopy’ paste they can try writing letters and numbers in it.
6. Paint Mixing:
Banish any paints that aren’t black, white or the primary colours (red, green and blue). From these you can make every colour and shade their little heart’s desire and it really gets them thinking about the make-up of colour. Use powder paints rather than ready made – they’re more ecological due to less packaging. Encourage your children to become descriptive about the colours they have made. They might even like to attach a mood to their colour, e.g. can they make a happy colour? A shocked colour?
7. Writing in Sand:
Children learn to write their letters best if they can have a go at writing them really big. Use slightly damp sand in a sand try and help them to write their letters, particularly any they find tricky. Talk through as the write, e.g. for ‘d’ say; “down, up, around, up and down”, saying it like this will help them to memorise how each letter is written correctly.
8. Make Bread & Write the Recipe:
Making bread is the perfect baking for kids and it’ll give you lots of opportunities to discuss environmental issues – provoke questions about packaging bread, where the ingredients come from, how to keep the bread fresh so that none goes to waster etc.
Your children are bound to adore kneading the dough – so satisfying! There’s loads of opportunities for science learning; discuss how the yeast makes the bread rise, what the heat does, and how we have to leave it to cool.
9. Take it outside:
Using your outdoor space, no matter how small it is, is a guaranteed way to let children get creative in their play. You don’t need to invest in loads of new and expensive equipment either – on the contrary, children’s play is arguably enriched by simply having nature to hand, when it comes to play outdoors, less can certainly be more!
Outdoors play can often be less gender orientated too, so children tend to work together better, helping eachother in a shared goal. Encourage them to build dens, go on insect hunts, look up what flower and plant names etc.
Making your own playdough is easier, greener and cheaper than buying in tubs – there’s loads of recipes out there, this non-cook one is pretty simple:
- 1/2 cup of salt
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar
- I cup of boiling water mixed with some food colouring
What you do
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and then mix well with the hot water.
It’ll be ready to play with once cooled. Give them a theme to their making; maybe they could design a playroom or make the animals you might see at a zoo.
When you've finished store in sandwich bags.
You can also…
Instead of using colouring add in cocoa to the mix to make it smell like chocolate.
Stir in some glitter to make it sparkly.
Frugal yet healthy: Quick teas that tick all the boxes...
Beans on Toast – the fastest way to a healthy tea – coming in at under £1. Cut up carrot and cucumber crudités to ensure some fresh veg too.
Macaroni cheese and garlic bread – I’m yet to meet a child that doesn’t adore this combo! Get them to help by making their own garlic bread with short bought half bakes baguettes, butter and garlic.
Risotto – kids love rice and it goes a long way. Try different combinations and get them to help by chopping the veg. Try onions, peas with grated cheese or red and green peppers.