What can our little family build?
December 3, 2020 8:03 AM   Subscribe

One of the ways I'd like to make our long, cold winter cozy and fun instead of tedious and demoralizing, I'd like to find some low-stakes projects that our little family can do together while eating snacks and listening to music. Jigsaw puzzles are an obvious choice, and will definitely be on the menu, but it would be fun to have some other options.

We are a family of 2 adults and a 5-year-old. 5-year old has average fine-motor skills and well-above-average literacy and numeracy. The kid is more into arts-and-crafts than the adults, but we all like board games and building/putting together things. We'd like something we can chip away at over a few days or a week and it should be collaborative. We should all be able to work on it at the same time, or one person should be able to sit down and poke at it for a few minutes independently. We live in a small house, so this project will need to share space with other activities like eating.

Some things we've talked about are a big lego kit we could build together, a 3-D puzzle (are those fun?) and a model kit.
posted by juliapangolin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I found Lego kits frustrating to do with other people BUT we all loved free build lego projects. ie "lets build the highest tower" or build our house in lego, or build a tree house. The Kits were too detailed to pick up from each person and often too fiddly.

We just decorated a prebuilt gingerbread house. Bought from Bulk Barn, along with icing and candies. It was a fun quick activity. We've been doing it for years and kids love it (both are teenagers)
posted by Ftsqg at 8:23 AM on December 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

Check out Kiwi Crates. You can buy them one-off or a monthly subscription and they send you a box each month that has a STEAM theme and 1-3 three projects to build, often incorporating artistic elements. They come with a storybook type thing that underscores the project, and they teach the concepts behind stuff like gears, tension, etc. We started them with my son at just-6 and he absolutely adores them. We do them together as a family and sometimes one parent will take dibs on a crate they are particularly excited about. They might be a nice addition to your overall menu for building projects.

The projects you build do not last forever, but you get a week or two of play out them and then they do tend to fall apart if it is heavy play. My son is the type who asks for every empty box, every empty paper towel roll, to make a project with, so the parts tend to go in the bits n' bobs type box we keep for him to create with.

Have you played Castle Panic? Good combination of board game and building!
posted by MustangMamaVE at 8:35 AM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I recently gave this book to an eight-year-old daughter of family friends and they are so excited to pick several projects to do as a family: 23 Things to Do Before You Are 11 1/2: A practical step-by-step guide for things to make in your backyard
posted by juggler at 8:41 AM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Our 5 year old loved marble runs like this and precision wood blocks like this. Many a weekend morning involved building something giant with dad. These are not exactly multi-day projects, but they are great for a few hours and the kid can play on their own or with parents, which is nice flexibility.
posted by Mid at 9:01 AM on December 3, 2020 [9 favorites]

We used to spend hours cutting paper snowflakes to stick on the windows.
posted by lemonade at 9:05 AM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

How about using household items to build Rube Goldberg machines?
posted by bondcliff at 9:10 AM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I loved a book of fancy paper airplanes, which was all tearout pages with the folds illustrated, from simple to very complex. Then there were races and throwing competitions and target practice with a fleet of different planes.

I also liked marble runs (could be accompanied by watching marbula 1 races on YouTube)

The kid may be a little young for Fimo and making miniature food but my siblings and I loved the stuff. Making salt dough is the cheap low-stakes home version of this, which I did used to do with my grandma at 5.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:24 AM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

There are marble run products that attach to Lego/Duplo. They're a good way to spend a couple of hours but you'd need a lot of them to make a multi-day project.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:18 AM on December 3, 2020

My kids that age liked playing "let's hot glue stuff together".
posted by bdc34 at 10:21 AM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I remember when I was a kid, my Mom used to help us make a lot of paper-mache constructions - I especially remember the pinatas we used to make before birthday parties.

It's not exactly 'building' but you can construct some pretty elaborate projects, and by necessity it's a multi-day project (things need to dry between stages) with a lot of simple steps that a 5 year old can do.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got a pack of plasticine in a bunch of colors once as a kid. We started making tiny food and it was all downhill from there. I forget how many packs we went through, but I think we did end up making ALL the foods. Highly recommend.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

My kids are older but we are building a (haunted) dollhouse together.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:06 AM on December 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

How about making a map of your neighbourhood on a big sheet of paper? You can come up with a list of points of interest you want to put on it (friend's houses, parks, treat stores, school) and then figure out how to present it all. For the actual points of interest you could make them out of separate sheets of paper, or models if this'll be a floor or table map, so you could all be working on your own parts of it and then put it together.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:13 AM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Save all the shipping boxes you get, and buy a shedload of plastic pop rivets like these, and then build castles and forts and temporary furniture with them.

(If there's anything you decide you looooove, then consider moving up to building it from wood!)

Some examples are here and here and definitely here.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:39 PM on December 3, 2020 [9 favorites]

Use an online calculator to figure out strut lengths and then build a geodesic dome or sphere out of drinking straws or bamboo skewers or something else easy to cut.
posted by rikschell at 1:55 PM on December 3, 2020

Modular origami?
posted by sibilatorix at 2:47 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I came to say paper snowflakes. What about making a comic book?
posted by medusa at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Speaking of origami, you could try for 1000 origami paper cranes.
posted by fancyoats at 3:18 PM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Snap Circuits is fun, and they have a beginner version that is appropriate for a 5 year old.
posted by SageTrail at 4:57 PM on December 3, 2020

This little print out dragon illusion is pretty simple, quick and free.

Here is a gif
of what it does.
The same illusion is available with other creatures if you Google it.
posted by BoscosMom at 6:52 PM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]



posted by wenestvedt at 6:52 PM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

There's these 3D Puzzle miniature house craft kits on etsy that seem kinda interesting
posted by wowenthusiast at 8:40 PM on December 3, 2020

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