The summer holidays are looming and whilst the children may be super excited about a whole six weeks off school, this long break poses a problematic question for parents… What the heck do I do with the kids?
By taking advice from every parent, grandparent and childminder who's been there and done that I've managed to create a pretty extensive list of activities to help keep the little ones occupied on a budget. Here are some of my (and their) favourites.
Hunt 'treasure' in the woods
Add an extra element of fun to a walk in the woods by giving the kids a list of 'treasures' to find. These can be as simple as a pine cone, a fern leaf, a bit of tree bark, a flower, some acorns and anything else you can think of. Bring along a basket or bag for each kid's treasures and encourage a bit of competition by offering a small prize for the first to find everything on the list. My seven-year-old son loves this game as it allows him to go 'off road', even if it is only a few metres!
Have a den-building day
If the sun is out get into the garden with a clothes rack, a few chairs, some bed sheets and a fistful of pegs to hold it all together. If the weather rains on your building plans simply use the sofas, the dining room table and a few heavy books to create an indoor den instead. Den building was my favourite thing to do as a kiddie and I always used to beg my mum to let me spend the night in my new super-cool HQ. And she always let me… until it was dinnertime.
Go fruit picking
High summer is fruit (and veg) picking season with strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, plums, sweetcorn, carrots and onions all ripe for the collecting. My kids love anything that allows them to be hands on, especially my younger daughter. She seems to take such pride in carefully placing each fruit in the basket, but I find most kids are more willing to tuck into fruit and veggies that they've picked themselves. To find a pick-your-own farm near you, visit www.pickyourownfarms.org.uk for farms listed by county.
Build a garden assault course
My sister-in-law is a reception teacher and she swears by this activity to entertain (and exhaust) younger kids. Get together a bunch of activity equipment like hula hoops, balls and skittles (they create a great mini slalom), make use of any climbing frames, paddling pools or natural obstacles, throw in some of dads clothes for the kids to pull on and include a final sprint for good measure. Make a short course and then cheer the kids round it.
Paint some VERY big pictures
At the start of the summer holidays I hit the local discount store and buy the cheapest roll of wallpaper I can find. Then on a sunny day I tear off a long strip and either pin it to the garden fence or secure it on the ground with rocks so the plain white side is facing up. Once the paper is in place I dress the kids in some old clothes (or you can use an apron) and let them loose with paint and brushes. My eldest loves creating colourful painted footprints and my youngest loves chasing him with the hose to clean those mucky feet afterwards.
Have a creative cook off
An afternoon in the kitchen is a great way to pass a rainy afternoon. With a few bars of chocolate and some breakfast cereal (cornflakes, rice krispies or shredded wheat are best) you can make yummy chocolate cakes or even tray bakes for all the family. Melt your chocolate in the microwave or in a glass bowl over (but not touching) a saucepan of boiling water, remove the melted chocolate from the heat and let the kids stir in their cereal before spooning the mixture into little cases.
I like to add an extra element of fun by providing bowls of smarties, dolly mixtures, edible glitter, raisins or even pieces of chopped dried fruit for the kids to use as decoration. Once the cakes are complete, place them in the fridge for an hour to set and let the kids loose on the bowl and spoon.