From about two years, children become fascinated by pretend play, so why not create your own dress-up box? You can stock it with old hats, scarves, jewellery and other accessories (belts, handbags, etc).
If you don't have any suitable items in your own closet, support any local charity shop or Hospice flea market. You can also buy fireman and policeman outfits (even just a helmet or two), fairy costumes, wands, tutus, swords, wings and crowns for reasonable prices. Also add some (fairly long) pieces of old material that can be transformed into a host of things from a skirt to a bandage. It's a good idea to have an everyday craft box and another "special" one for those times when you need major distraction. In the everyday box keep crayons (the big, fat ones are good for this age), scrap paper and a couple of colouring-in books. In the special one, keep some glitter pens, glue, feathers, paper plates, paper cups and a variety of stickers.
Painting is a great activity – but if you're not into too much mess, simply provide a paintbrush and a jar of water and let the child "paint" the kitchen door or the flowerpot!
Play dough is simple to make, but also relatively cheap to buy. Store in an airtight container and it will keep for ages. You can buy play dough accessories, but everyday items work just as well like cookie cutters, teaspoons, lids, forks, etc.
Tie a balloon from the ceiling and use a fly swatter to hit it. Whether it's washing dolls, teacups and plastic toys or pouring water from one container to another, there's something about playing with water that kids love.
Place a plastic bowl outside or on a towel inside (but make sure you supervise carefully, as children can drown in even a little bit of water) and provide different-sized containers, plastic cups and saucers, cutlery, etc. Make some holes in the bottom of an old margarine container for water to trickle through. Make an obstacle course with boxes and tyres (to crawl through and jump over) and some big blocks, stones or flowerpots (to balance on or hop over). Combine it with musical statues for a twist. Play some music and when the music stops, the child has to stand still – and balance!
Ages four to six Put a tennis ball into an old sock, hang it from a tree branch and use a tennis racquet to hit it.
Trace the shape of a crown or a sword onto some thin card. Cut out and decorate with glitter pens, feathers, glue and stickers.
Make a house out of a big cardboard box. Cut a door on one side and a window on another and let your child decorate it.
Empty plastic bottles make great skittles (Shipmate bubble bath containers are ideal). If they're too light, put some sand or water in the bottom for weight.
Cut out fish shapes from different-coloured cardboard and staple each one a few times. Tie a magnet to the end of stick with a piece of string and use it to "fish" for the fish.
Make forts or tents with sheets and cardboard boxes or chairs and remember to provide a picnic for your weary soldier or camper.
Big, chunky chalk is great for drawing on outside walls, driveways or pavements – but make sure it can be easily washed off before your budding artist lets loose!
Ages six to eight Board and card games are great for this age group. Old favourites like Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, Dominoes, Uno and Snap are always popular, but every year brings a host of newer ones to look out for – and you can always make your own. Come up with a theme and let your imagination run wild.
And don't forget forfeits! For instance, throwing a six may mean the person has to leap up and run around the table before they can sit down and carry on with the game. Knitting is something many children would love to learn. If you've forgotten how, ask an aunt or a friend to play teacher.
Here's a simple and effective experiment. Pour a little milk onto a plate up to the rim. Add a few drops of different food colours and then a drop of washing-up liquid into the centre and voila – instant pattern!
Choose some nice, big round stones and let your kids decorate them. They make a colourful addition to the garden or a great doorstop. Painting flowerpots is also fun.
Make a miniature vegetable or flower garden in a big flowerpot. Pick seeds that are easy to care for and produce quick results like beans, nasturtiums and petunias.
Make stilts using two large juice or purée cans (unopened). Punch two holes in either side of the cans towards the top and let the liquid drain out into a container. Rinse the cans out thoroughly with water and allow to air-dry.
Cut two pieces of rope long enough to go through the holes in the can and up to your child's hands. Thread each piece of rope through the holes in the cans. Tie the two ends of each piece of rope together.
You should have a loop of rope going through each can that's long enough so your child can hold onto the rope as handles. Decorate cans with paint or stickers.
Ages eight to ten Secure a dustbin on top of a cupboard and play basketball, netball or practise drop shots with a beanbag.
Liven up tackies by threading different-coloured and shaped beads onto the laces.
Make a dream-catcher. Use an old CD and drill about four holes about 0,5cm from the edge. Loop a piece of string through one hole at the "top" of the CD to hang the dream-catcher.
Tie strings approximately 20-25cm long through the rest of the holes towards the bottom of the disc. Apply glue to the entire disc (label side) and sprinkle sand and glitter on to glue to cover the label. Allow to dry. String beads onto threads and push feathers up into beads. Make funky fridge magnets with old dominoes. Cut out coloured paper or a picture to fit on one side of the domino and decorate. Varnish. Stick a strip magnet onto the other side.
Cut frames out of thick cardboard and decorate with paint, kokis, feathers, sequins, glitter, etc.
Ages 10-12 Build a volcano, moon landscape or monster with papiermâché or mould the papier mâché over a plate or bowl and create your own crockery to paint. For a T-shirt with a difference, use sun-dye (available from craft shops). Soak the T-shirt in the dye, then cut out shapes or use leaves or flowers, place them on the T-shirt and leave in the sun to dry.
Make a collage using old magazines. Choose a particular theme or colour if you're short on inspiration.
Transform slip-slops by threading fish gut with beads and twisting it around the straps, or stick plastic flowers, buttons, feathers, etc onto the straps with superglue or craft glue.
Make a funky brooch. You'll need several small safety pins, one large one and a variety of different seed beads in different colours. Open one of the small safety pins and slip seed beads onto it until it's full. Repeat until all the small safety pins are beaded and then slip each onto the large safety pin. Use a pair of pliers and squeeze the loop of the safety pin to close it.