It’s been the weirdest academic year ever, hasn’t it? Caitlin and Ieuan have both returned to school for a few hours each week but, the long summer holiday looms and the usual necessity to keep them occupied and stave off wall to wall gaming and moans of “I’m bored”!
Last year I asked my readers for simple suggestions for entertaining kids over the upcoming six weeks and here’s what they came up with. I’m sure parents and carers across the country are doing broadly similar things but sometimes a list helps (I do like a good list).
Anyway, see what you think and if you have any suggestions to add, let me know in the comments below. Bear in mind that these activities may all be affected by the various COVID-19 restrictions where you live. We can only hope that we will all be able to roam freely as the weeks pass by.
Ask your kids what they’d like to do over the holidays and then write all their ideas on pieces of paper and pop them in a jar. Let them pick out two different things every day so, for example, baking and a nature hunt.
Get the kids outdoors and, if you’ve got the energy to get the jetwash out afterwards (or wait for rain!), you’ll be amazed at home much fun they can have with a bucket of water and paintbrush or some coloured chalks. Create your own Roman mosaic on the patio or pavement. Just make sure it doesn’t annoy the neighbours.
Many kids enjoy baking and decorating simple items like biscuits and cakes. Not only is it creative, but you have an end product that everyone can enjoy together. Older children can be taught how to cook basic dishes too like Spaghetti Bolognese or even something really simple like poached egg on toast. Pizza dough is easy to knock up and everyone can decorate their own with their favourite toppings. Just ladle on some Passata on top of the dough, sprinkle on cheese and toppings and off you go.
Beat boredom with board games
Everyone’s got their favourite, haven’t they? Even though they might seem a little old fashioned these days, board games are still a great way for all the family to spend time together. From the sophistication of Chess (which I’ve never got the hang of) to the wheeling and dealing of Monopoly or the solving of the murder in Cluedo, there’s bound to be one they enjoy.
Several readers recommend large cardboard boxes as cheap and cheerful entertainment. One reader says that she spends a few weeks collecting cardboard boxes, tubes and bits and bobs then leaves it all out in her garden under the gazebo with paints, glue and other crafting bits so that the kids can create whatever they fancy.
Plus if you lose the cat, you’ll know where to find it.
Car boot sales
I’ve no idea if these are still going on but they are a great way to sell your own toys, books and games to make a few pounds for the family coffers. Car Boot Junction has a list of car boot sales across the country so check them out. Just be prepared for an early morning start!
Easy card games can keep kids occupied for hours, even Solitaire or Clock Patience. As kids we learned Rummy, Knock-Out Whist and of course there’s Snap and Happy Families. Poker might be taking it a step too far!
Chores for all
Many suggest giving kids a chore to do around the house each day and letting them know why they need to do it and how it will benefit them in their future. There are chores for kids of every age – even little ones can help put their toys back in the toy box.
One way of getting kids to do this, of course, is to bribe them but we tell our two that helping out around the home is expected of them. We might let them earn a quid or two here and there if they help out with bigger stuff like washing the car but I’d suggest you avoid paying them to do what your parents expected you to do for free.
If you choose to give your kids pocket money (and many don’t), you do have some leverage when it comes to getting them to, say, tidy their room. But, in our experience, not that much!
Create a holiday calendar
One parent commented: “I’ve found that the kids are less likely to keep saying they’re bored etc when there are days labelled on the calendar with activities. They seem to be calmer when they have things to look forward to”. I think some children certainly struggle with a lack of structure and discipline and, of course, you may need a calendar if you are still working from home. That seems to be on the agenda for many of us for quite some time to come.
As well as a structure to the day, lots of parents said it was important to go out every day with your kids, even if it’s just a quick walk around the block. Older kids can take the dog for a walk! We try to stick to regular meal and bedtimes too, although bedtime tends to get later. Tired and hungry kids are not the easiest to entertain!
Now is a great time to get everyone involved in wardrobe clearouts and general decluttering of toys, books and games that are no longer used. We have loads to take to the charity shops once they are accepting donations again. For anything that might add a bob or two to the family coffers, there’s eBay or even Amazon marketplace, although take into account listing fees and charges from Paypal that can eat quite significantly into any profit.
Again, who knows how things will pan out over the coming weeks but some fast-food drive-throughs are open and lots of places are now opening for takeaway or if they have outdoor space for tables. Pre-COVID, eating out used to be both a treat and a way of dragging the kids out to spend time as a family (and avoid cooking).
Save money by having your main course at home and then going out for dessert or ice cream. You’ll find you’ll halve the bill you’d pay for a full meal for everyone.
And you can’t beat fish & chips eating on a park bench or by the sea – or a family picnic.
We know that left to their own devices, seeing our tweens and teens at all is doubtful when it comes to gaming and mobile phones. They vanish into their bedrooms and there they stay, surrounded by used mugs and crisp packets. We use software to limit access to Wi-Fi and try to set limits to screen time – in particular having a firm cut-off off 7:30 pm before bed. Do we always stick to it? Nope. Fellow work-from-homers will sympathise and my advice would be to do what you can but don’t beat yourself up. These are strange times and we all doing the best we can. We’ve enough on our plate without sinking into a morass of guilt on top of everything else.
Gardening is one of our kids’ favourite things to do when they visit their grandparents. Children are naturally fascinated by planting flowers and anything to do with mud and bugs!
Why not plant some herbs in pots or make some home-made bird houses. A birdbath is a great way to keep visitors to your garden cool but be careful if there are lots of neighbouring cats.
You could also paint some rocks to decorate paths and borders or create a fairy garden with fairy doors and painted toadstools.
Teens and tweens can learn to move the lawn, weed and prune!
Hire a beachhut
You can find many beach huts for hire around the UK, including at the fabulous Barry Island (known to us as Barrybados), home of Gavin & Stacey and some very fine fish and chips. A quick Google search will throw up lots of options.
And, talking of beaches, why not go shell or pebble hunting, or how about sea glass? Bring your treasures home for arts & crafts sessions.
Kids of any age just love rock pooling too – just make sure an adult is on hand close by to supervise.
Love your library
Community resources like churches and libraries often have craft activity sessions or days during school holidays and they are likely to be inexpensive too!
See also Reading below.
National Trust Membership
Pricey but worth it if you have lots of National Trust sites around you and once you have paid for your annual pass you do save quite a bit on entry fees. Here in Wales, you may be better off joining Cadw as there are only 2 NT sites local to Cardiff (Dyffryn Gardens and Tredegar House). Don’t forget English Heritage too.
Lots of the NT sites have great play areas and I once read of a couple who, rather than visit motorway service stations for loo and coffee stops, headed for their local NT site instead. Much nicer. And better scones.
Party time & picnics
No, not the nightmare of one of those teen parties ‘advertised’ on Facebook (shudders). My readers suggest holding an ‘unbirthday party’ – ideal for those kids who have a Christmas or Boxing Day birthday and tend to miss out – or what about a teddy bear’s picnic?
Who doesn’t like a picnic (well, leaving out the wasps obviously)? Little ones can spend hours with a set of toy cups and saucers. Let them play with water and make ‘cakes’ from your salt dough.
Or, get the kids in the kitchen to bake some cookies or cupcakes and serve them out in the garden with mini sandwiches, sausage rolls and some home-made lemonade.
If you’re going further afield, investing in a picnic kit is a good idea – try one that is in a backpack – or just use a cool box.
But please please take your rubbish home with you and don’t risk injuring others by doing daft things like burying those instant barbecue kits in the sand once you’ve used them or feeding the wildlife on scraps (especially horses).
Mobile phones have made almost professional quality photos available to everyone and there are plenty of apps that allow you to be creative and make flyers, posters, cards and collages (try Canva.com). That’s without delving into the world of Lightroom presets which I haven’t quite got to grips with yet.
One parent suggested having a daily photo challenge which would give you a wonderful memory book at the end of the holiday. Or you could theme your photo challenges and send the kids off to capture wildlife, beaches, food, whatever you can dream up. If you’re letting them borrow your phone, a good quality shock-proof case is in order. Not one for the little ones!
Playdoh (or make your own)
Ah the hours spent playing with Playdoh as a child but you can make your own quite easily. Here’s a simple salt dough recipe to try.
Rainy day blues
Lots of you keep craft boxes for rainy days, full of glue, sellotape, string, wool, felt, tissue paper and lots of craft bits. I’d avoid the glitter though – not least because it’s pretty environmentally unfriendly and you never get rid of it.
Good old Google will find you lots of free templates for your kids to colour and Crayola has some free colouring pages too.
One enterprising parent suggested that you get some card blanks and get the kids to make Christmas cards for friends and family. Now that is thinking ahead!
And, talking of colouring, there are plenty of colouring apps like HappyColor – painting by numbers that I find very calming and absorbing – great for kids and adults alike.
When I was a child I spent hours reading. (Here’s my list of children’s classics). These days there are Kindles and Kindle apps on phones and tablets for kids who won’t pick up an actual book. We know that reading helps develop our children’s vocabulary which will stand them in good stead as they go to secondary school but we’ve found you do need to find the right books for them. Authors such as Jacqueline Wilson (Tracy Beaker), Rachel Renee Russell (Dork Diaries), Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider books) are great places to start for older children.
There are plenty of classics that are free to download to a Kindle on Amazon and, of course, local libraries are beginning to reopen. Many of these run reading challenges over the summer which are worth checking out.
Safari at home
You don’t need to go to Longleat. Why not take your kids on safari in the back garden or at a local park or countryside. Take binoculars and a magnifying glass, borrow a nature guide from the local library and head out for some wildlife spotting.
As well as keeping your eyes peeled for bugs and animals also search for evidence such as paw prints and habitats. You can also teach your children to recognise different flowers, trees & shrubs or even birdsong.
I’m happy to say that our soft play years are behind us but, if you can find a good one that’s clean and well supervised, it’s a great way to let younger kids burn off some energy whilst you grab a coffee and a little welcome me-time.
Sports day at home
Whilst I’ve never been a fan of school sports days, holding your own sports day at home sounds a lot more fun. Sprinting challenges, egg and spoon and three-legged races are easy to organise and you can award a suitable prize to the lucky winner. If you haven’t got a garden big enough, hold your competition in the local park and take a picnic. The adults can compete too.
TV & Tablet time
Fewer young people than ever are watching TV it seems, with most preferring to stream their entertainment rather than rely on BBC and ITV. For little ones, though, CBeebies can be a lifeline for parents trying to juggle work and home, especially since COVID hasn’t exactly helped childcare providers.
A family movie night is always popular (generally because it means popcorn and a later bedtime) and there’s plenty of choice on Netflix and NowTV.
Tablets are very useful for travelling and for entertaining kids anywhere you have to wait like airport lounges and dentists’ waiting rooms. There are plenty of apps that are fun but also educational. Caitlin does all her school work via Google Classroom on an iPad.
As well as Happycolor (mentioned above), we love simple but absorbing game favourites like ToonBlast and older kids will love lost object games like Murder In The Alps, or my current obsession, June’s Journey. Be mindful that these games do offer ‘in-app’ purchases so make sure you’ve got any Apple passwords locked down!
Tents & dens
A tent in the garden is always a hit. It can be a den, or restaurant or where ever the children’s imagination takes them. You can pick up a two-man tent relatively cheaply from somewhere like Go Outdoors but don’t leave the tent up for too long if you don’t want to wreck your lawn.
A cheaper option is old blankets and pillows and a little creativity.
If you’re going to let the kids sleep under the stars, they’ll need a responsible adult with them to supervise.
If you’re lucky enough to own a campervan or mobile home, even better.
A great way to burn off energy for all the family if you’ve got the space. Just make sure that your trampoline is safely assembled and keep an eye on little ones. Nobody needs an unnecessary trip to A&E at the moment, do they? The same applies to any garden equipment. My two have managed to fall off swings and slides plenty of times!
Free and good for you, a walk in the park, through the forest, along a canal or across a local beach is a great way to blow away the cobwebs. Combine it with some Pokemon Go and try your hand at geocaching, the world’s largest treasure hunt. Use your trips out to collect items for crafting later in the week – twigs, leaves, pine cones, feathers etc. Don’t pick the wildflowers though – leave them for everyone to enjoy.
You’ll also find lots of guidebooks for local walks and trails in your area either on Amazon or your local tourist website.
A popular idea is to set up a Whatsapp group for friends and parents at school to share events and ideas. You can coordinate plans for playdays, picnics at the park, games of rounders etc. Pick up any flyers from the local library or community centre advertising free and discounted activities and share the details.
Zoos and aquariums
These guys really need our support at the moment due to the Government only recently allowing them to reopen. We love The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and Bristol Zoo, both great days out. You may find your visit a different experience due to social distancing so make sure you take food and drink with you.
So hopefully there is something in the list that appeals. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below.