Stick to a routine
You don’t have to be totally regimented about it, but breaking up the day (and the week) with a series of organised activities will help prevent the usual boredom-induced bickering from creeping in. Get the kids up, out of bed, breakfasted and dressed within a loose but regular time frame. Then have two to three activities to hand to break up the day. An activity before lunch and another after lunch, combined with an hour or two of free play, will help you all to get through the day.
Start a big art project
Kids love to get creative, and doing a summer art project that they pick up and put down throughout the holidays, but with the added goal of finishing it before they get back to school, will give them something to work towards. Let your children lead the way with this one. Sit down with them and discuss what they’d like to make. The first stage of the project could involve drawing up a series of ideas until they decide upon the creation of their choice. Next, get them involved in collecting up all the materials. Do a crafty shop, spend an afternoon trawling the art stores, or visit your neighbours and let them know you’re collecting a large number of yoghurt pots, bottle tops and the like. Once everything’s organised, have ‘art project’ sessions twice a week on afternoons when nothing else is planned and just let them get on with it.
Run a cookery masterclass
There’s nothing more fun than getting your hands sticky in the kitchen and preparing your own food. Plus, it’s good for kids to learn the basics in kitchen safety while also getting to grips with a few simple recipes that they can help prepare. Pasta dishes with sauces are very do-able, make a great family supper. Junior will feel really proud as everyone tucks into a dish he’s actually made. Funny pizza faces, veggie wraps, colourful salads and puddings are popular too. For a sweet treat, how about making up a batch of cupcakes (using a failsafe Victoria sponge recipe) and letting your little ones loose on the butter icing and toppings? If they finish at 5pm, it should be cool enough for them to run off all the sugar in the park afterwards.
Have a board game afternoon
These days, far too many kids rely on their PS2’s for entertainment, which don’t really allow other family members to get involved in the fun. Old fashioned board games, like Junior Scrabble, Monopoly, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders are a great way to wile away an afternoon. Even little ones as young as four can get into the spirit of things. A simple game of snakes and ladders can also help them improve their counting skills as they read the dice and move their tiddlywinks accordingly.
Make a costume
You don’t have to be Jane Asher to put together a half decent dress-up costume. Materials that can help you be a bit more creative are easy to get your hands on. Foil and a simple cardboard box can be transformed into crowns, swords, shields and even some pretty impressive armor, while different coloured sugar paper (available cheaply in big pads) and craft card can be used to fashion almost anything, from gun holsters to Bo Peep bonnets. All it takes is a little imagination (and some internet research). For example, if you have a pair of red wellies, draw web designs on them with a thick black pen and voila – you have Spider Man’s super boots! If you aren’t so hot at drawing, that doesn’t matter either, as most images can be googled, printed and cut out. For more inspiration, visit www.coolest-homemade-costumes.com
Have an active storytelling session
Nurturing your child’s love of literature, and feeding their imaginations, can be easily achieved through an active storytelling session. Select a few tales they’ve never heard before, collect up a few props and settle them down for a lively tale or two. To help keep little ones seated, organise a ‘story corner’, with cushions they can sit on and some music to begin and end your session. Then get on with the fun. Be as wacky as possible, putting on accents, and handing out the props so that little ‘uns can hold them at key moments in the story. Active storytelling works best when you have a group of three children or more to entertain. Younger ones will tend to behave better if there are a couple of older kids in the group they look up to as well.
Have a family movie afternoon
There’s absolutely nothing wrong in flopping down in front of a fun family DVD. Most experts agree that TV watching is only really harmful when done in huge doses, and when kids are left in front of the goggle box by themselves for hours on end. If you’re all enjoying a film together, that can only be a relaxing and bonding experience. There are loads of fab titles to choose from, and if ‘movie afternoon’ becomes a regular in your calendar, why not let your children take turns in deciding on which film to watch? The only stipulation might be that you all watch something nobody in the family has seen before. Otherwise, you might just end up sitting down in front of The Best of Barbie for the millionth time!
Put on a play
Pull the sofa out, arrange seats for the audience, and even make your own puppets! Kids who love to write can produce their own scripts and direct the show too. An activity like this is great for children aged five and up because they can all play an active role in putting on the show. If puppets are the preferred medium, dig out some of those odd socks and let them create their own characters. Alternatively, there are sets you can buy for next to nothing that enable kids to make their own wooden spoon puppets too. If actually playing the role themselves is preferred, why not do a bit of morning costume making, followed by a matinee performance? Adding popcorn to the whole experience could be a nice touch too.
Have a ‘kid’s room sort-out’ day
To you, it’s one of those arduous chores filed under ‘spring cleaning’ which involves going through cupboards and drawers to get rid of too-small clothes, old toys and the like. But why not involve the kids and turn it into something fun? Children love sorting through their old belongings and rifling in cupboards. Let them ‘assist’ you in the sorting process, by putting items in the charity box or the bin. Once everything is organised, a re-vamp of the room to give junior more space to do his homework, or to create a relaxing book corner, can help you all feel as though you’ve really achieved something. Picking out a new, more grown-up duvet set, or choosing a funky new wall mural could be a reward for all their cooperative hard work too.
Plan a play date tea party
If you get your little one involved in planning a slightly special playdate, they’ll be delighted to ‘help’. Consider either a teddy bears’ tea or even a Pirate picnic supper, where they design and send out invitations and help with the planning. A few traditional games (musical bumps, hide and seek and ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf’ are great options that require little preparation) will liven up the afternoon. Once supper is over, consider adding a mini disco – just close the curtains, flash the lights, get the iPod going, and let them bop ‘til they drop – or until home time at least!