1. Knock up some homeade bath bombs
They’re fizzy, they smell nice and they turn the water a pretty colour … it’s easy to see why children love bath bombs. Not only is making your own easy, it’s also cheaper than buying them and you get to keep the kids occupied twice (once while they make them and again when they use them). There are plenty of good recipes available online – check out this one from CBBC for starters.
2. Create your own family tree
It can be tough not being able to see our extended family members during lockdown – not least for little ones who may be missing their cousins or grandparents. So why not furnish them with pencils, crayons, a ruler and a big piece of paper and get them working on an illustrated version of their own family tree? Not only will this be a meaty project for them to get their teeth into, it will give them a clearer understanding of their place in the world. They can even call or FaceTime elderly relatives to find out what they know about their own grandparents.
3. Read a bucket-list of books
The Book Trust has drawn up a list of the 100 Best Books for Children to read by the time they’re 14 – and there’s never been a better time to start ticking them off. The list has been split into four age groups, from Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas for the 12-14s all the way down to Jon Klassens’ I Want My Hat Back and Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat for the under 5s (non-headgear-related titles are, of course, available). For grown-ups who want to catch up on the classics, check out the selection made free by audiobook library, Audible, which includes Wuthering Heights, Brave New World, The Picture of Dorian Gray and more.
4. Improve your cooking skills
Before Jamie taught us how to drizzle olive oil over everything, Delia Smith was the nation’s cookery teacher of choice. So, it’s only fitting that she’s here to help now we’re all in need of a helping hand when it comes to how to make the most of our precious food resources. The Delia Online Cookery School is a repository of step-by-step guides to culinary skills and recipes that covers everything from making muffins and omelettes to perfect roast potatoes and classic lasagne. Even better, it’s completely free.
5. Try your hand at film making
Unleash your children’s creativity with a spot of stop-motion animation. There are several free apps you can use – such as the App Store’s easy-to-use Stop Motion Studio. All you need to do is photograph a series of images and the app will bring it to life. There are plenty of online tips available (such as Tinkerlab and YouTube) and your film can be as simple, as ambitious, or as funny as you like. You can even create Hollywood-style trailers for your films using iMovie.
6. Learn a language
We can’t travel right now, but there will come a time when we’ll want to go overseas. You get a much deeper appreciation of a place if you can speak a bit of the lingo, so why not use this time to start learning a language? The free Duolingo app features 32 to choose between. There are indigenous UK languages such as Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, familiar European ones such as French, Italian, Spanish and German, and further-flung tongues including Ukrainian, Indonesian, Swahili and even Klingon. Lessons are in bite-sized chunks, each taking around 10 minutes, so it’s easy to incorporate into a daily routine. Also, during Lockdown, children are being offered three month’s free access to the language courses offered by Rosetta Stone, which would usually cost £50.
7. Make your own play dough
Modelling with Play-doh-style putty is great fun for kids and the good news is that it’s super-easy to make your own (provided you can spare a bit of your flour!) Mix together 8 tbsp plain flour and 2 tbsp salt in a bowl. Add a few drops of food colouring and 1 tbsp of vegetable oil to 4 tbsp of warm water and pour it into the flour, using a wooden spoon to mix it all together. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it feels smooth and bendy, then keep it wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge until ready to play.
8. Pick up an instrument
Always wanted to learn guitar? Perhaps you want your kids to play the violin or trumpet? Well, now’s a great time to get stuck in. It’s easy to pick up a cheap, second-hand instrument online. Then check the net for inspiration. Legendary guitar-maker Fender is offering three months of free lessons on its Fender Play app and website, while the Yousician app offers lessons on many different instruments, as well as chord charts for thousands of songs on multiple instruments. If your interest in making music is more to do with production than playing, then it might be time to learn how to use GarageBand – the Apple app that turns your smartphone into a recording studio, allowing you to create your own tracks using pre-made loops and instrumental effects.
9. Cook pizzas
Homemade pizzas taste great and they’re much cheaper than takeaway. More than this, they’re fun for the whole family to make. You can involve the kids in kneading or rolling the dough, or restrict them to adding the toppings. Jamie has a brilliant recipe for basic pizza dough – half of these amounts will make 4 reasonably sized one-person pizzas. There are a few tricks to bear in mind. First, less is more when it comes to the tomato sauce – add too much and your pizza will feel soggy, not crisp. Second, you want your oven to be as hot as it can go. As Meghan Trainor might have said, it’s all about the (crisp) base, so heat up a couple of baking trays. Then prepare the pizza on a cold tray (dusted with flour or polenta) before quickly opening the oven to remove the hot tray, carefully transferring the pizza from cold tray to hot, then placing in the oven.
10. Learn to draw
Drawing is the ideal way to keep children entertained. Not only can it keep them occupied for hours, but it’s challenging, so gives them a real sense of achievement when things turn out well. There are many illustrators offering online tips and tuition during lockdown. One such is children’s book illustrator Rob Biddulph, whose Draw With Rob website shares insight on how to draw everything from Sonic the Hedgehog to a self-portrait. Kids can share their works online using hashtag #DrawWithRob. For grown-ups interested in painting, online sources such as US artist Lois De Witt’s free-online-art-classes.com offer a good grounding in techniques, while the London Art College offers instruction on everything from still life to landscape painting (as well as a 15% Lockdown discount).
11. Get dancing
Not only is it a fun way to spend the time, dancing is a great way to keep supple and fit while not being able to get to the gym. The Sadler’s Wells Theatre’s YouTube channel is offering free online dance workshops, hosted by the theatre’s professionals. Among those available are classes designed especially for children and for old folks. Also free are the online lessons shared by Strictly’s Oti Mabuse. Dances already covered by her Instagram clips tutorials include salsa and the cha-cha-cha.
12. Have fun with chalk
Do you have any sticks of coloured chalk lying around the house? Then hours of fun await! A hopscotch grid can be chalked out on a patio or pavement (can’t remember how to play? – check here). Children can also use chalk to create a town map on a patio, complete with roads, roundabouts, parks, ponds and so on – just the thing for running toy cars along. Different coloured chalks can be used to mock up a game of Twister or create scoring zones of different values for a game of pitch-and-toss using hacky-sacks. Kids can even use them to create rainbow-hued messages of hope to cheer up their houses’ outer walls and driveways.
13. Exercise your green fingers
The mild, sunny spring has been a great opportunity to get into the garden – but you don’t need a plenty of outdoor space to get growing. A balcony, patio or even a sunny windowsill is all you need to grow soft-leaved herbs such as basil, parsley and coriander – as well as tomatoes, salads like rocket, chillies and kale. Even if you don’t want to get growing, you can still take an interest in the plants growing in your neighbourhood. There are plenty of apps that will instantly identify any plant from a photo – PictureThis is particularly good. Why not take it with you the next time you take the kids on a walk and jot down your findings? They’ll be amazed at the sheer number and variety of plants on their doorstep.
14. Learn about your local wildlife
Making the most of Lockdown is all about appreciating what we have close to home – which is certainly true when it comes to the local wildlife. Birds are a case in point. The reduction in noise levels has meant that bird calls are much more evident this year – even in towns and cities. Check out the Woodland Trust’s gallery of common bird calls and see which ones you can identify. Butterflies, too, are much in evidence at this time of year. Visit an online source such BigButterflyCount.org to print off a chart of UK species and tick them off when you see them. Then do your bit to help UK butterflies by submitting your sightings to the Big Butterfly Count survey in August.
15. Watch the skies
Even during Lockdown, you don’t have to narrow your focus to your immediate surroundings. The run of clear skies we’ve seen during spring have been a great opportunity for stargazing. The good news is you don’t need a fancy telescope – a pair of binoculars will suffice and there’s even a fair deal you can see with the naked eye. Download an app to tell you where to find things (Stellarium is very good and is only £2.49 from the App Store). It will tell you that the big ‘star’ you can see low down in the western sky each evening is actually the planet Venus – through binoculars, you will see it has phases, just like the moon. Up-and-coming events to watch for include an annular eclipse of the sun, 21st June and a rare conjunction of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn on 4 July.