It might sound like way too much pre-planning, but pulling some pre-packed rainy day boxes from the cupboard might just transform the kids’ disappointment before it turns to frustration.
Spontaneity is always the name of the game for kids, so there’s no need to be prescriptive with the boxes. No doubt objects will move between the boxes, and the children will call them by different names or reinvent them altogether. The idea is more to group like things together to spark fun and creativity, and offer a way for the fun to progress through imaginative play. There’s also no need to spend loads of money on expensive items. I remember the feeling from my own childhood, when well-meaning relatives gave me those ‘make your own jewellery box’ kind of gifts. Everything you needed to replicate the item on the packaging was inside, and I always felt frustrated that there was no room for designing and creating your own unique item. There are even more of those kinds of gifts on offer today: a kind of creativity by numbers. But I do feel (and maybe I’m on my own on this one) that they don’t spark imaginations and lead to explorative learning in the same way a box of random bits and bobs does.
Boxes can be acquired easily from shops and decorated to suit your family’s tastes. Use old magazines or wallpaper samples to cover the boxes and label them clearly. Once they’re decorated, they make an attractive addition to shelving in your child’s room, and present easily accessible fun.
So these rainy day boxes are more about opening up a world of possibilities: an exciting afternoon of inquisitive play that enables everyone to forget the sunshine plans.
Dress up box – fill with old clothes, big bits of fabric, funny hats, gloves, scarves, jewellery (especially clip-on earrings), wigs, handbags, false teeth, glasses, furry bits of fabric to make beards, ribbons. Charity shops throw up some fantastic additions to the dressing up box and you can fill a box imaginatively with very little spending. Everyday items such as big envelopes can see a new lease of life as a chef’s hat for instance – the dressing up box offers endless ways to get creative by transforming things such as sheets into royal cloaks. If you are studying a particular era with your kids, you might like to include pictures of the clothes people wore at the time. If your kids enjoy sewing and/or making things, you could extend the dressing up box further by having an area for fabrics, sewing stuff and accessories like buttons, so your children can make dressing up clothes, or include cardboard, paint, stick on jewels, scissors etc. to make crowns.
Camp building box – fill with old rugs, pegs, pillows, cushions, sleeping bag, and sheets. Additional items might include camping essentials, such as a wind-up torch and camping crockery (plastic or tin).
Maths box – fill with coloured beads for counting, cut out shapes for making patterns, number cards, dice, plastic coins, graph paper, downloaded maths quizzes http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/maths/worksheets/ (lots available online), calculator, set square, ruler, protractor and compass if older child.
Magic box – pack of cards, handkerchief, dice, soft toy rabbit, magic tricks book, magic wand (this can be a piece of dowelling painted black with white tape at one end or just a stick you find), a magic hat, wizard’s cloak (try an old sheet), cups and beads for magic trick, and velvety fabric for covering the box and turning it into a magician’s table.
Painting box – according to your child’s age and abilities, you can customise this to suit. Older children might want to experiment with acrylic or oil paints, gouache and charcoal. You might like to add art books, or pictures printed from the Internet, of famous artists’ work in different mediums. Each type of paint or drawing or sketching medium tends to require different paper, e.g. you need board to paint in oils and thick paper for watercolour so factor this in when providing materials. If you’re sticking to a budget, or your child is just experimenting, use old cardboard to paint on. Paintbrushes are a must for the box, and you might like to add a box of pencils for sketching. A jam-jar provides a ready water receptacle so you don’t have to try and find one and wash it out in a hurry, and you might like to tuck some paper towels or tissue in the box too, so it’s all ready to go. Little kids will be happy with poster paints or pots of finger paints, plus lots of paper to experiment on.
Fairy or elf box – twigs for fairy wands, glitter, fabric or paper flowers, simple wings made either from cut out cardboard or fabric stretched over a wire frame. You can make these together of prepare them yourself for the box; older kids will probably like to design and make their own. You could include shells or walnut shells to make fairy beds, fabric to make fairy or elf clothes, pictures of magical fairy places like woodland groves, stories about fairies and elves.
Tool box – this is a fun one for budding mechanics and engineers. Bits and bobs from a parent’s workbox, like screws, nuts and bolts can be added. Items to be taken apart, such as old clocks, objects with springs and screws etc. create interesting challenges. Tools can also be included, and there is a good range of child-sized saws, screwdrivers and other tools, but these might be kept separately for safety. Bits of wood, nails and a child’s hammer create a woodworker’s box. Always ensure there is someone with your child when exploring a tool box; tools and small pieces can be dangerous.
Papier mache box – torn up scraps of newspaper, PVA glue, paintbrushes, balloons, glitter. For older kids, you might like to add wire for them to create structures to adhere the papier mache to, for younger kids cardboard is fine.
Cookery box – cookery books, wooden spoons, cookie cutters in various shapes, candles, sprinkles, recipes printed off from the internet all combine to make an exciting cookery box. If you prefer, you could simply have a ‘play cookery box’ with old pots and pans, spoons and other items so your child can have fun making pretend cakes.
Writing box – fun writing paper, cards, stamps, coloured pens, pencils, eraser, envelopes, stamping blocks, postcards and print outs of the alphabet make for a fun writing box. You might like to download or design letter writing templates. Include an address book of favourite family members and friends so your child can choose who to write to and copy out addresses onto envelopes. Card-making boxes are also a cheap and easy way to design and decorate your own cards – cut out funny pictures from magazines, and upcycle old cards to make your own unique missives.
Sewing box – pack this with scraps of fabric you find in charity shops, cut up old clothes, t-shirts and other items you want to customise. Throw in plenty of ribbons, buttons, zips, bits of wool, fabric badges, iron on transfers, coloured threads, sequins, beads etc. Felt is a really fun fabric for kids to work with as it doesn’t fray and comes in a delightful range of colours. You might like to add stencils for kids to draw around if you feel they need a little help getting into sewing things. Needles and pins can be added to the older child’s box, or you can keep them for younger kids for when the sewing projects start.