How to keep kids entertained for an afternoon

Keep kidsOK, you've dressed them, fed them, the two from next door have been dropped off unexpectedly, and just as you're about to suggest a bracing walk outside to fill a couple of hours, it starts pouring. Sound familiar?

A rainy afternoon with a gaggle of kids to entertain can seem to stretch forever. Before you reach for the DVD remote control, here are some ideas for arty activities that will fill an afternoon, but won't break the bank from some crafty mums in the know.

And remember, if they're 12 years or younger, you can get them working on masterpieces for the Barclays Mini Masterpiece Competition 2012, for a chance to win a family holiday and lots of other prizes, not to mention hours of budget-friendly entertainment.

Let them take the lead

"With my three active boys, I use the same 'Art & Crafts Activity Plan' again and again, which always keeps them entertained. Simply gather up all the bits of pieces left over from other projects, and anything else you have about the house, and provide a range of materials and see what ideas your children have. If they are struggling (which I doubt!), suggest a theme like puppets or space. For older children, set a challenge like who can make the tallest creation."
Sarah at, mum to Sam, 13, Ollie, 11 and Josh, 10

What you need:

Anything that's in the house

  • Pens and pencils
  • Crêpe paper, card, glue, glitter
  • Toilet rolls, old dishcloths


Stick to tried-and-tested projects

"Recently I made a huge collage to cover some glass doors, using a method I'd first used when I was child. Make sheets of 'stained glass' by gluing coloured tissue paper shapes onto plastic bags. Once the glue has dried, you peel the paper from the bag and sellotape it to the windows. Then the sun shines through them and you have a gorgeous window display.

"If your children are a bit older, get them sewing. It's amazing how focused and careful they can be when entrusted with using pins, needles and a sewing machine."
Florence at, mum of two

What you need for stained glass windows:

  • PVA glue
  • Coloured tissue paper
  • Plastic bags


Give kids a theme to get behind

"Everything I do is cheap and cheerful. I have five children, and the biggest challenge is the range of ages, so I have to create things that are fun on all levels.

"My top tip? Theme days. We recently had a red Indian day, which both girls and boys love, so there was face painting (mummy's red lipstick!), dressing up, and we used old bamboo sticks to make a wigwam.

"And if I had to choose one necessity? I'd say the most important thing to have is PVA glue – it's one of the best things ever and you need it for most craft projects!"
Helen at, mum to Gigi, 11, Rufus, 7, and Dora, Lucia, and Gus, 5

What you need for theme days:

  • Old clothes for dressing up
  • Old make-up for face painting
  • Old bedsheets and tablecloths for building dens and setting the scene


Home-make whatever you can

"Rather than take another trip to the arts and craft shop, we tend to make whatever we can at home. Homemade fingerpaint is great – all you need is ingredients from the back of your cupboard (see below) and old baby food jars for storing the paint. They're non-toxic, too, for inquisitive youngsters and there are great recipes for no-cook playdough around.

"And if you really need convincing that you can make art out of anything, try dressing loo rolls up to make loo roll people."
Maggy at, mum to Max, 4 and Pippa, 2

What you need for homemade fingerpaint:

  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup corn starch
  • 2 cups water
  • Food colouring


Go big

"Make giant self-portraits by getting the children to lay down on the blank side of some old wallpaper, then draw their outline and let them colour themselves in. The kids get to express themselves and decide what makes up their self-portrait and you get fantastic, unique wall art, too.

"And for the junior scientists in the house – create a rocket launcher! Take some old four-pint milk cartons (without lid). Make rockets by rolling pieces of A4 paper into cones, sellotaping and decorating them. Place the rockets on top of the cartons. When you thump the sides of the carton together, the air pressure launches the 'rocket'. Now get the kids involved in a rocket launching competition – the one that goes the furthest wins!"
Andrea at, mum to Ollie, 10 and Lottie, 5

What you need for rocket launchers:

  • Four-pint milk cartons
  • Sellotape
  • Paper
  • Pens and crayons


We've got loads more cheap-and-cheerful tips and ideas for crafty afternoons. When your kids have finished their creations, enter them into the Barclays Mini Masterpiece Competition, or use them to make your own personalised cards? Then pour yourself a big glass of something and wait for somebody else to clean up the mess.

Head to Barclays on Mumsnet for lots more:

  • Expert information on starting your own business
  • Family budgeting and saving tips
  • Money-saving videos and inspiring start-up videos


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Last updated: over 3 years ago