Crafting from the Collections: What to Do with Kids at the End of Summer Vacation

This title expresses what many families are wondering right now!
How? Or, Spare Hours Made Profitable for Boys and Girls, by Kennedy Holbrook. [New York, Worthington co., 1887]

We’ve reached the stage of the summer when camps are winding down, friends may be out of town, the weather is really hot and sticky – and those dreaded words “I’m bored!” ring out. So how to fill the last few weeks before school starts without resorting to too much screen time? Parents and caregivers, the Informal Learning team is here for you! Some of us are in the same situation – so we’ve done what we always do and turned to the Library’s online resources for help.

Crafts and activities are a great way to fill time and foster creativity. There are many digitized children’s craft books in the collections. They are from the late 1800s and the early 20th century, and are definitely “old school” – so you may come across attitudes that are very out of date. Their age is also apparent from the titles, which often include “for girls” or “for boys”, but there are plenty of entertaining ideas for everyone to try out.

Here are some titles and project ideas to get you started:

Little Folks’ Handy Book, by Lina Beard and Adelia Beard, 1910

  • Organize a boat race with a flotilla of homemade paper boats which “will float and sail out in the open on pond, lake or river, or at home in basin or bath tub” – or a swimming pool. Directions start on page 15.
  • A transformation scrapbook project is bound to raise a smile from older family members who may remember these funny mix and match figures from their own childhoods. It would be a nice bonding activity across the generations, with a chance to tell and hear stories from when relatives were young.
  • Making old envelope toys would be a good way to recycle junk mail.
  • A chapter on tissue paper flowers starts here.

Story Telling with the Scissors, by M. Helen Beckwith, 1899.

  • Aimed at younger children, the cut out silhouettes in this book would provide a wonderful way for kids to use their imaginations and come up with fanciful stories. Read the introduction for suggestions. When you get to the part about adhesive paste you’ll be very grateful for modern glue sticks!

Cardboard Construction Plate System, by J. L. Noll, 1917.

  • For the more precise or mathematically minded, this collection of templates for cardboard construction would be a good way to sneak some geometry into crafting.

How? Or, Spare Hours Made Profitable for Boys and Girls, by Kennedy Holbrook, 1887. The author developed these projects to occupy his own children “on rainy Saturdays and during the long vacation” – the little Holbrooks must not have had a spare minute! Some of the proposals sound downright dangerous, like using a red-hot poker to cut glass bottles. Glass-blowing isn’t an ideal home hobby either. But there are some safer, if tamer, ideas.

  • A paper snake is a very simple activity. Intended for the “little folks of the family” it would probably be a hit with cats too.
  • Pages 33 – 42 include a card trick and several mathematical puzzles.
  • Paper windmills and silhouette portraits are good old-fashioned fun. Why not make a whole bunch of each?
  • Instructions for papier-mâché ideas start on pages 73 and 90, and for paper boxes on page 119.
  • If you’re really ambitious, try making a camera obscura.
  • A toy panorama is complex, but the idea could be adapted to create a diorama-like stage set for plays and storytelling. Use images from Library collections* to create backdrops and characters (attach these to popsicle sticks or similar to move them on and off the stage).

The Child’s Rainy Day Book, by Mary White, 1905.

  • If you have a bunch of old home magazines, how about making a book house for paper dolls?
  • For the game/geography quiz United States Mail, you create all the pieces before you play – which will eat up lots of time.
  • Mary White also wrote The Book of Games (1902).                         

    Handicraft for Handy Girls; Practical Plans for Work and Play. By A. Neely Hall and Dorothy Perkins.
    [Boston, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co, 1916]

Handicraft for Handy Girls, A. Neely Hall and Dorothy Perkins, 1916.

Some books assume you have access to a workshop and know how to use its equipment. If so, titles like Practical Mechanics for Boys and Carpentry for Boys might be worth a look.  Even then, a whole chapter on roofing trusses seems a little intense for an end of summer vacation project – but if that’s what you want, it’s available!

We hope some of these ideas help you fill the last few days of summer vacation. If you have any projects you’d like to share with us, email [email protected]gov, or comment on this post.

* Look through the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for images. To make sure you’re not infringing copyright, please be sure to check the “Rights and Access” section for each one. If it says “no known restrictions” or “in the public domain”, you are good to go. The Free to Use and Reuse Sets, are another great resource; you may use these as you please.

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