As the summer holidays begin, many parents begin to dread the inevitable cost of keeping their kids entertained. But fun doesn’t have to be expensive, and we’ve consulted parenting expert Katrin Bain to help compile Mummy Belle’s Fifteen Free Activities to enjoy this summer without breaking the bank.
Dr Bain says: “It’s easy to think that today’s children require a lot of toys, day trips, technology and organised activity to be happy. Yet none of this is necessary in order for your children to have a good time. A lot of children I know have lots of toys and little time to play with them. Allow enough time for free play at home during the holidays. I know that I might be stating the obvious here but with all the festivals, workshops and events going on during the summer it’s easy to forget to book ‘play at home’ time. You can encourage independent play by structuring the environment, and placing favourite toys at hand, so they can make their own decisions and entertain themselves.”
And Dr Bain’s advice is backed up by research published this month by supermarket giant Sainsbury’s. They surveyed 1,500 children between the ages of 5 and 11. The kids rated their favourite summer activities according to how much fun they are and how happy they made them. Here are the results:
- Play date in the park or garden
- Water fight
- Building a den
- Bike rides
- Outdoor games e.g. Tag, stuck in the mud or hide & seek
- Climb a tree
- Mucking around in the mud
- Eating ice cream in the sun
- Feeding the ducks
With this in mind, Dr Bain has compiled a pocket Pocket Rescue book of activities to keep kids busy this summer, with some great ideas which are all either free or as near as dammit! – find this and more Pocket Rescue guides on everything from tantrums to sleep advice, at www.katrinbain.co.uk.
So, with Dr Bain’s help, here are Mummy Belle’s Fifteen Free Activities for the whole family to enjoy this summer. Can you tick them all off?
1. Street Art
A pack of big coloured chalk and a drive or pavement is all that it needed to keep the children busy. Draw a line from your house to a friend’s house down the road, sketch out their favourite characters, or get them to lie down while you could draw around their body – then use the outline to add details, clothes etc. Or stick to old favourites like a big snake and ladders or hop scotch.
2. Build a den
Cover a table with blankets to build an indoor den or use big cushions and mattresses, or build an outdoor den by placing a big blanket over a washing line and holding it down at each end with stones.
Be it outdoors or indoors, in the park, the garden, at the beach or in the woods, or just on the living room carpet, kids love picnics. Picnic food is easy to prepare and even the tiniest hands can help slice, spread or squish food into tupperwares. Or you could combine a picnic with “pick your own” fruit picking, den building or a treasure hunt to find the food basket.
4. Touch and Feel
Summer is a great time to use all your senses. So why not….
a) Make feel boxes: Fill old shoe boxes with different materials like stone, fabric, rice, pasta, grass, toys etc. Put the lid back on and make a small hole in the side big enough for your child’s hand to go in. Let them feel and guess what they are feeling.
b) Make a path out of different surfaces like sand, carpet, grass, pebbles, soil and let your child go over it bare feet and blindfolded. Again let them describe what they feel and what surface they think they are walking on. If you have more than one child they could guide each other. If your child does not like to be blindfolded, let them go over it seeing. They will still get a lot out of it.
c) Stick patches of different types of fabric, paper, cardboard or plastic onto a big board of card board. Make sure that they each feel differently for example silk and jeans fabric. Add another patch of each item on the board into a (fabric) bag. Let the children reach into the bag; feel one of the patches and find the matching one on the board.
5. Sand Treasure
Hide a selection of stones, glass pearls, shells and beads in a bowl, bucket or sand pit. Let your children go on a treasure hunt to find what’s in the sand.
6. Discover Nature
Local parks, woods, rivers or beaches are all great for exploring nature:
– How many different animals can you find?
– How many different trees can you see?
– make a daisy chain
– Blow dandelions
A timeless classic. Blow them, pop them, chase them, catch them. Hours of fun from babies to the biggest kids of them all.
8. Recycle Rubbish into Art!
This is great whether you are at home or away. For a week collect all boxes, nets and other clean food packaging that would normally go into the recycling straight away and then give your children scissors, tape, glue and paint and see what they make of it.
9. Create Personal Cards and Presents
Christmas might be the last thing on your mind but now is a good time to make home made cards for birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations. Making cards is a great project and without the stress of Christmas preparations. It also means you have one thing less to worry about in December when there is suddenly a mad rush to get everything done. Everyone’s a winner: the children are busy during the summer, you have less stress before Christmas and your loved ones get personal cards and presents.
10. Marble Art
Take the lid of a shoe box or another low box and add a few splashes of poster paint. Add a couple of marbles and let your child move the box so the marbles move and turn the paint into art.
Like bubbles another timeless classic with lots of ways to play. Blow them up and let them go, fill them with water, draw faces on them, whatever takes your fancy!
12. Make Mud Cakes
A bit of mud, a few sand toys or old kitchen cups, spoons and boxes and your children will be entertained for a good while. This is really great from toddlers onwards but even school children (and especially boys) won’t pass on the opportunity to play in the mud. Be prepared for dirty clothes and a bath afterwards. To make the mud you need soil, either in the ground or in a bag and water. Let the children make the mud by mixing both. That way they can experiment with wetness to see what is best for building, scooping or ‘cooking’.
13. Jump in Puddles
Summer rainy days can still be enjoyed outdoors. Put on wellies (or go bare feet) and jump in puddles – just like Peppa!
14. Rainy Day Walks
Rainy days offer a great chance to find and observe all the animals that come out in the rain. Whether its snails climbing up a wall, slugs crossing the pavement or earthworms coming up from under the soil there is lots to see. If you lift up stones you have good chances of finding lots of wood louses, ants and bugs.
15. Messy play
Summer is great for messy play even if you do not have a big garden. A builder’s tray is enough to set up a variety of activities including:
a) Play dough: The builder’s tray is big enough for two small children to sit in. Ideal for play dough without mess. They can roll, mould and build with the play dough and all the little pieces stay in the tray.
b) Paint: Line the tray with packing paper and add colours. Can be used to paint with brushes or fingers. A good way to make foot prints (use a sponge to lightly colour feet). Alternatively make some marble art. Scatter a few spots of paint around the tray and add a few marbles. Help your children to let the marbles run by lifting the tray and moving it gently.
c) Shaving foam: Distribute shaving foam on the tray. If you are up for lot of mess your children can play with it as is. Otherwise cover with cling film and let them experience it through it. If your child has sensitive skin use the cling film to protect his/her hands from direct contact.
d) Water: This is one for outside. Take a few bath toys, watering cans and the tray outside on a sunny day. Fill the watering cans with water (or let your children do it if you have an accessible outside tap) and let your children go wild.
e) Sand: Great if you do not have the space for a full sized sand pit. Add sand to the tray and let the children dig and play. You can add some building site vehicles or hide some toys in the sand for your children to find.
f) Rice, Pasta, Corn, Flour: are great for mark making and getting a feel for different textures by running it through the fingers. The best thing is you don’t have to have a plan. Just give it to your children and they will find a way to use it.
g) Gloop: Gloop is a mixture of corn flour and water. Use very little water to mix with the corn flour. You are looking for a consistency that is hard on the tray. Through the warmth of your finger when picking up it gets soft and drips from your finger. Use food colouring to add more colour.
Use the warm summer days to let your children get messy while you put your feet up and take a well earned rest!
- Dr Katrin Bain (Diplom-Pädagogin) is a tantrum expert and the author of the PocketRescue parenting series. She studied pedagogy, psychology and sociology, got a PhD in Applied Social Studies from the University of Warwick. Katrin has two children that have taught her all about real life motherhood and strongly influenced the personal and flexible approach to parenting that she now shares with other parents in workshops and talks. For more information and articles see www.katrinbain.co.uk
If you run out of activities before the summer is over here are some free resources with lots more ideas and activities: 50 things to do before you are 11 3/4; the National Trust list with 50 outdoor adventures for every child: www.50things.org.uk
The Woodlands Trust nature detective page offers 1000’s of outdoor games and ideas to download: www.naturedetectives.org.uk
Lenore Skenazy promotes independence and unsupervised space for children to grow and develop: www.freerangekids.com
Advice on getting the neighbourhood children together to play safely in the street: http://playingout.net.