Recipes: To Entertain Children…Home for the Summer


As a grandmother, mother and former-preschool director/teacher, I learned long ago that busy kids are good kids. My Grandmother Esther was a great believer in this theory and heartily subscribed to the notion that idle hands are the devil’s workshop and that especially applied to kids.

Entertaining children back in the days before television, video games and I-phones required patience and creativity.  Many of our games and activities were homemade and not store bought.  There was not money for those types of luxuries.

My grandmother lived with the attitude, learned by surviving the great depression and two World Wars, that we would just have to make do. She always recycled and reused. It was a sin to waste anything.  I spent many a time washing and drying plastic bags to go in her “bag drawer.”  Grandma certainly made do and could make fun toys out of the simplest objects and ingredients.

One example of her creative ability to see value and fun in objects that everyone else threw away was she collected colored plastic spoons from the A & W Drive-In restaurant, Dairy Queen and any other place that used them. After she cleaned them all up, they were were bundled together by color and size with rubber bands and kept in the cupboard.  They became one of my favorite toys.  I spent many enjoyable hours using those spoons to make large geometric works of art that covered her entire living room floor.  For added shape and color many an antique glass marble were used in my great creations.

Then, there was grandma’s art drawer. It may have seemed to be a junk drawer to the unobservant, but to me and grandma it was an artist’s treasure chest. There was white glue, string, bits of old greeting cards, pictures from the covers of old church bulletins, a scissors, crayons, pencils, a jack knife to sharpen crayons and pencils, different-sized jar lids, toothpicks, canning lid rings, cookie cutters, Popsicle sticks and a pile of paper that was good to use on one side.

For only having a fourth grade education, grandma was a great teacher of art composition. Her only rule was there could be no waste of paper. I had to use the whole sheet and the art had to touch all four edges of the paper. No drawing in the middle and calling it done. Two of my favorite activities were to take a black crayon and just scribble all over the paper, then spend hours coloring in all of the little shapes made by the scribbles.  The other thing that was so much fun was using canning jar rings like they were a Spiral Graft or just tracing them into a variety of designs.  Then, coloring the images.

Whether as a mother or teacher, I am a great advocate for keeping young children busy with artwork. Here are some art activity ideas, including old family crafting recipes, that will help keep youngsters busy during a rainy summer’s day.

Marble Painting:  Use a 9 X 13 cake pan .  Line with white paper.  Roll a marble or ping pong ball into acrylic paint. Using a spoon drop the marble into the cake pan.  Have the child roll the marble around to make designs.  Add more colors and marbles until the child feels that he has finished his work of art.  (Adult supervision for this activity is required.  Marbles are a chokeable!  With small children below the age of 5, I would use the ping pong ball.)

Straw Painting: Using thin non-toxic watercolor paint.  Drop different color paint onto white paper.  Have the children move the paint around on the paper by blowing through the straw to make a design.  This type of painting technique produces fireworks type of images. No hands allowed!

Car Track Painting: Use small match box cars to drive different color paint around on a white sheet of paper.

Chocolate Pudding Finger Painting: Buy a package of instant chocolate pudding. Make according to package directions.  On a very clean counter surface or on cookie sheets let the kids finger paint with the pudding. Licking fingers is allowed.

Homemade Finger Paint:
1/2 cup flour
2 Tablespoon salt
1/3 cup cold water

In a small bowl mix together flour and salt.  Add cold water.  Keep adding water until the mixture is thick like a hearty gravy. Stir until smooth.  Add food coloring until you get the desired color.

Mix additional batches for more colors.

Magic Crayon Art or Stained Glass Window Coloring:   This project requires color crayons, white paper and toothpicks. First have the children color the entire paper with bright colors. More than one color and the brighter the better. Next they will need to take their black crayon and color black on top of all of those bright colors.  Then, they can take the toothpick and scratch off the black paint to make their “magic” colored drawing.  It is am early lesson in etching.


Collage: There is  more to summer art projects than just painting or coloring–there is collage. It is so important to help strengthen young children’s fine motor skills.  They cannot hold a pencil correctly and learn to write in school if they do not have sufficient strength in their fingers.  One of the best finger strengthening exercises is using a scissors.

Collage is a fun way get the youngsters to use a scissors for an extended period of time to create great artwork to hang on mom, auntie or grandmother’s refrigerator.

First go through your recyclable paper to find old magazines, advertisements, greeting cards, scraps of colored wrapping and construction paper.  Let the children cut out any picture or shape that they want, but they must cut out enough small shapes to complete their own picture. The picture has to touch all of the edges of their paper, so they will need to do a lot of cutting.  No slackers allowed.

Once a pile of shapes has been cut out, add other piles of textures such as string, yarn, wrapping ribbons, uncooked pasta, small rocks, rice, glitter etc… Encourage the children to get really creative and think outside of the box.

Once all of the supplies for the collage are ready, supply the young artist with a bottle of liquid white non-toxic glue.  Having a young child do their own gluing can quickly become a mess, but it is also a skill your child will need for school.  Most young children when learning to glue use way too much…they make puddles and rivers.  My students were taught to make “dots and lines”. It was amazing how fast they learned the difference between too much  glue “a lake” and just enough glue “a dot”.  Drippy gluey art projects quickly ceased and were replaced by a proud child who could do it themselves.


Seed Art: Now that the children know how to glue, it is time to do collages gathered from nature–seed art.  Seed art here in Minnesota is a big deal.  If you have never seen a seed art competition and display at the Minnesota State Fair you are missing out.

This treasured Minnesotan art form must be passed on to the next generation.  So, get those kids out to a farm, field, woods, garden  or pasture to collect a variety of seeds in different colors, sizes and textures. Have them make a landscape, portrait or any design by gluing the seeds onto poster board or paper.

Who knows you may have just started the training of a future State Fair Purple Ribbon Seed Art Champion.

Another great activity to strengthen little hands is playing with Play-Dough.  Commercial Play-Dough is quite affordable and widely available, but should you be stranded at the cabin away from a store, this recipe for homemade play dough uses common kitchen ingredients. When you color the dough with Kool-Aid it smells so good.

Kool-Aid Play Dough
2-1/2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon cream of tartar
1/2 salt
2 packages of unsweetend Kool-Aid (Any flavor but grape, it stains hands.) If you do not have any Kool-Aid substitute 1 teaspoon food coloring.)
3 Tablespoons, plus 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 cups of boiling water

In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine dry ingredients together.  Add oil and boiling water, stir to mix together.  When cool enough to handle, knead until smooth.  Store in a ziplock bag and refrigerate until ready to use.


Last, but not least I would like to share the recipe for homemade bubbles.  I do not believe I have ever met a child that did not like to blow and chase bubbles.  This recipe is also made out of common household ingredients to help entertain the young and young at heart.

Bubble Recipe

2 cups of liquid dish soap
3/4 cup white Karo syrup
6 cups of water

In a  empty clean plastic gallon water bottle combine ingredients.  Put the cap on the bottle and shake.  Let settle for four hours before using.  Store, covered, in refrigerator to extend the suds shelf life.

Allow to warm to room temperature before using.   Some common kitchen tools work great for blowing bubbles such as slotted spoons or spatulas.




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