By Jasmine Stephens, family editor
When I was a child, our school summer holidays revolved around one thing: the Calendar. This wasn’t your ordinary everyday variety, but something we made out of a huge piece of lining paper left over from the time my dad attempted to decorate the hall which we hung on the back of the kitchen door. We would draw up a grid and – with elaborate colour-coordination – would detail all our plans for the whole six or seven weeks. Not every day was action-packed; there were a fair few ‘Visit swing park’ or ‘Spend whole day in the garden’ and of course the plan for the first day was always ‘Make The Calendar’, but we tried to make sure every day had something planned. I see now that it was probably my mum’s way of keeping sane with four kids at home for weeks on end.
The summer holidays are nearly apon us and I’m starting to panic a little. Nowhere near as organised as my own mother, I tend to reply on sending last minute texts to friends to see if they want to meet up and join me in turning a blind eye to the havoc our kids are creating. School holidays aren’t only long, they can be really expensive, with even the most basic trip to a soft play centre costing a small fortune if you have more than one child.
Fortunately, some experts from Barracudas – the UK’s No1 Activity Days Camps for Kids – have come up with ten top ideas that will keep the kids busy, encourage parents to spend quality time with their children and just as importantly, won’t break the bank.
1. Binge on Books
There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a book. The best thing about this activity is that it can be adapted to suit children of all ages. If you’ve got younger children, you could set aside an hour or so each day to read together. Get a stack of books from your local library – their choice, of course – then spend the summer reading them together, as a family.
If you’ve got older, more independent children, you could embark together on a reading marathon. For example, you could challenge them to read the entire Harry Potter series by September. You could do the same – the first to finish all seven books wins – or you could devise a short quiz for each book, encouraging them not just to read, but to read thoroughly.
2. Paint a Pretty Picture
Get creative! Set a painting project: the house, the view from their bedroom window, or every member of the family and let their imaginations run wild. You’ll be nurturing their creativity, and if you yourself haven’t painted since leaving school, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy yourself.
3. Get Green Fingered
If you’ve got a garden, let your kids help out with the gardening. Younger children love digging through the dirt, while older children might be supervised using something louder, like a lawn mower.
Or, again, you could make it a project. Plant some seeds at the start of the summer and teach them how to take care of them. Come September, you’ll have grown a flower together, and your kids might well have learned to love nature. And if you don’t have a garden, you could do the same with a window box, or even with a potted indoor plant.
4. Make a Scrapbook
Get a big empty book. Your challenge, as a family, is to find something interesting to put in it every day. This could be a leaf found in a park, a picture you’ve drawn together, or even something as simple as a memory. At the end of the summer, you can sit down together, and live through all the great days once again.
Go to a park, a supermarket, or even a bench on the high street. Spend an afternoon watching people go about their lives. Make up stories about the people you see: where do they live? Where are they going? What did they have for breakfast? What will they have for tea? Not only can this be a lot of fun, it can also teach your kids to think of other people as individuals with their own lives, as opposed to mere faces in the crowd.
6. Hunt for Treasure
Hide some treasure in the house, or bury it in the back garden. It can be anything – their favourite toy, a bag of sweets, a set of keys. Then, draw a map, or come up with a set of clues to help them find it. With a bit of imagination, you can transform any environment into an adventure!
7. Decorate Some Jeans
We’ve all got old pairs of jeans languishing in the back of our cupboards. You’re never going to wear them again, so why not have some fun? Let your children go wild with paints, fabrics, and whatever else they need to create this season’s latest fashion. Then, once they’re finished, let them put on a fashion show.
8. Get Charitable
As your children get older, they’ll grow out of some of their clothes, toys, books, and games. This presents the perfect opportunity to teach them about charity! Ask the kids to choose a local charity– and let them know how they can help children just like them to have a better life – even if it’s just through donating their old things.
9. Get Theatrical
Write a play and put it on for the whole family! You can either come up with your own story, or adapt one of your favourite books, films, or TV shows. Every wardrobe and jewellery box in the house could become part of your dressing up box, and any room could become a stage.
10. Get Outdoors
Don’t waste time in front of a TV or a computer. Having fun in the sun is part of what childhood’s all about – so no matter what you do and where you go, and no matter what the weather’s like, try to spend at least a part of each day outdoors, together. Have a kickaround or throw a Frisbee in a park or your garden, or consider ways you could do any of the above activities outdoors. You could even spend a night camping out in your garden, eating marshmallows and telling ghost stories by torchlight.