Small Space Challenges


It’s mid-January. Looking out of my window at the moment, I’m hopeful for a little glimmer of sunshine through the forbidding, steel-grey skies. It’s rather doubtful that I’m going to get my wish today, but I’m comforting myself with the thought that technically we’re half way through winter. That means we’re almost over the hump and set to slide down the other side to a hopefully much brighter Spring.

At the best of times, Winter can be challenging for those whose accommodation has limited space. This year has been particularly hard with increasingly tighter restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic and often limited opportunities for a change of scene.

Keeping children occupied, is especially tricky when you have limited space to do it in, so here are some ideas for activities that are suitable for small spaces and which don’t require much in the way of resources.

Reading and Writing Challenges

Most children love playing games, so practical activities can be a fantastic, fun way of helping to enhance their reading or writing skills.  Challenges such as Hide and Seek Reading, where you chop a short story into sentences and hide them around the room, are much more exciting, particularly for reluctant readers, than just sitting down with a book. Another easy idea is to make your own Sentence Snap cards, where two halves of several sentences are written on different pieces of paper and have to be matched to result in a shout of SNAP!

A great, effective writing activity is to write the alphabet vertically on a large piece of paper, and then challenge children to think of an animal that begins with each letter. (It doesn’t necessarily have to be names of animals, you could think of all sorts of other things such as fruit, flowers, cars, countries or sports etc.) What I love about this challenge is that it’s so flexible. It could just be kept simple, or there are endless topic ideas that could be built around it, such as researching the animals and writing about them, drawing them, or even branching out into science topics such as food chains. It’s a challenge that provides a brilliant opportunity to tap into children’s natural enthusiasm and to follow where their interests lead.



Art and Music Challenges

In a small space, it’s not always easy to have lots of art materials out all over the place, so it makes sense to use resources that are readily available and can be done on a table for example. One idea is to create a Kitchen Collage, which is great fun and only needs paper, PVA glue (or flour and water paste if glue isn’t available) and small bits of whatever you can spare from the kitchen cupboards, such as pasta, lentils, tea-leaves, sultanas or whatever you can find. The challenge can either be to make a free collage, or to use a simple picture outline as a guide.

Making a torn, or cut paper picture is another tricky challenge that’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds. All this activity requires is some paper and glue (and scissors if you’re cutting paper shapes). If you have coloured paper to create your picture on, that’s great. If not, either colour in your shapes when you’ve cut or torn them, or make them from newspaper, which can look very effective too.

When it comes to music, there are so many easy ways to have some musical fun. I defy any child not to enjoy seeing how many sounds they can make with their bodies (and yes, I’m afraid there will undoubtedly be some mischievous ones). Another exploratory challenge, is to provide a range of kitchen items such as different sized saucepans, a sieve, cups, wok, or whatever you think is suitable to be gently tapped with a wooden or plastic spoon. Once the initial excitement of simply making different noises abates, the challenge is to see if you can use the different sounds to create a simple tune such as twinkle, twinkle little star.

Brain teasers

Brain teasers, or memory games are a great way of engaging children at the same time as helping them to build some really important mental skills. Again, there are lots of simple ideas out there. Try this one, for example: set out some small objects on a tray or table and give your child or children 10 seconds to look at them. After the 10 seconds are up, cover them with a cloth then ask each player to say, write or draw the objects they can remember.

Or there’s the old-fashioned game of pairs (which my nan used to call Pelmanism). For this you’ll need some cards with either pictures or words on (or both). When the cards are spread out on a table, face down, players take it in turns to turn over two at a time, trying to find the cards that match. It’s definitely quite a challenge to remember where the different cards are placed. Handy tip: it’s very important that unmatching cards are put back face down in the same place, otherwise it becomes a guessing game rather than a memory one.

As you see, there are all kinds of challenges that can work very effectively in a restricted space: in truth, I’ve barely scratched the surface of possible small space challenges with the above ideas. What I also haven’t had the room in this article to think about, is mathematical challenges, science challenges and physical challenges (clearly not everything fits into a small space…) so I shall follow up with some thoughts on these topics in another article.

If nothing else, I think that the limits the Covid 19 pandemic has imposed on us, have encouraged people to be just that little bit more creative. Finding new ways to adapt activities so that they are appropriate for your own circumstances, especially if you have a restricted area to work in, is possibly one of the most demanding. Luckily, there are a vast number of ideas out there, and I hope that this article has also given you just a few to work with.

Stay safe, well and happy!

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