Stack Overflow: 7 Activity Books and Crafts Kits


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Stack Overflow - Crafts and Activities

As summer approaches, it’s likely that your kids will soon find themselves unoccupied for several hours a day—but that doesn’t mean you suddenly have several extra hours yourself to entertain them, right? Activities and crafts to the rescue! I’ve amassed a lot of various crafts and activity books over the years—more than my kids could ever finish, actually—and here’s a sampling of what we’ve enjoyed. (Caveat: some activities will require adult supervision, but even these books can help you figure out ideas to keep your kids occupied and keep their brains active over the summer!)

Make & Move Mega: Dinosaurs and Creatures of the Deep

Make and Move Mega: Dinosaurs and Creatures of the Deep by Sato Hisao

These two kits, from Laurence King Publishing, feature awesome paper crafts designed by Sato Hisao. You punch out the pieces, fold, insert tabs into slots … and you end up with some huge creatures like this:

Daughter with Make and Move Mega: Dinosaurs
My daughter displays her Make and Move Mega: Dinosaurs. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

As you can see from the photo above, the models are pretty large and impressive. What’s more, they move—each model has a base, and a little paper loop at that hangs under the belly of the creature. You can wiggle the loop around to make the creature open and close its mouth and move around. Here’s a little video I made of a few of the models. (I couldn’t use the Jurassic Park theme, so instead I used the free “Medal Ceremony” tune from iMovie, which I thought was kind of close.)

My 11-year-old daughter really loves papercrafts of all sorts, and especially those that don’t require gluing, so both of these kits were a big hit. Just plan to clear off a lot of shelf or counter space if you’re going to keep all of them around!

Paint by Sticker Kids: Beautiful Bugs

Paint by Sticker Kids: Beautiful Bugs from Workman Publishing

My whole family enjoyed the Color-by-Sticker book last year (which I featured in this Stack Overflow column), so I was pleased to see this new series in a similar vein. For each picture, you get a picture and a sticker sheet (helpfully perforated so they’re easy to remove from the book).

Daughter working on Paint by Sticker
My 5-year-old works on a picture of a praying mantis. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

These pictures are quite a bit smaller and less complex than the Color-by-Sticker book, so they’re better for younger kids, like my five-year-old, who has been enjoying making these pictures of various bugs. Workman Publishing has a whole line of the books, so if bugs don’t strike your fancy, you could also try zoo animals or aquatic creatures.

Terrific Timelines: Cars and Dinosaurs

Terrific Timelines: Cars by Richard Ferguson and Isabel Thomas, illustrations by Michael Kirkham
Terrific Timelines: Dinosaurs by Richard Ferguson, illustrated by Aude van Ryn

These two titles have a papercraft element and an educational element. First, you punch out and assemble the timelines: we tried the cars and the dinosaurs. Each figure has a tab that slots down into a particular slot, and then locks into place. Then, you assemble the three eras into one long timeline: Veteran and Vintage Cars, Classic Cars, and Modern Cars, for instance.

Terrific Timelines: Dinosaurs
Our dinosaur timeline. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The rest of the book is filled with facts about each of the eras, plus detailed dives into each figure represented on the timeline. It’s a fun way to learn about a particular subject, and see everything arranged chronologically. Just be ready for when your kid asks “So, why isn’t it called Cretaceous Park?”

Scratch Magic: Mandalas and Flowers

Scratch Magic: Mandalas and Flowers from Barron’s Educational

Coloring books can be fun, but I think there’s a limit to how much you can color before you want to try something else. Scratch Magic kits have 10 sheets of scratchboard and a small stylus so that you can scrape and scritch to make lovely pictures. In case you’ve never done scratchboard before, there’s a layer of black that scrapes off, revealing the colors underneath. For these pictures, the scratch-off layer has a design printed in white, and you can choose which areas to scratch off to reveal the colors below.

Scratchboard flower in progress
A scratchboard flower in progress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The pictures are very striking, with the bold colors set against a black background, and you can also try different types of scratching—scrape away everything for solid blocks of color, or leave some of the black on for more of an etching look. (Or do what my 5-year-old did, and scratch away everything.) My wife particularly enjoyed these after she had knee surgery and was less mobile for a couple of weeks, but my kids all tried their hands at them, too. One warning: be prepared for lots of little black dust everywhere.

My Current Stack

I just finished reading the third volume of Best of Enemies, so I’ll tell you more about those soon, and I just started a middle grade novel called The Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield. Not much more at the moment!

Disclosure: I received review copies of the books and kits included in this column.

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