It's that time of year once again, when parents the length and breadth of the country take a collective intake of anticipatory breath:
The Summer Holidays.
For many, the dilemma is how to entertain our Darlings for six long weeks, in a constructive and socially acceptable way...while all they crave is to dissappear into an abyss of games consoles and Facebook. (They may not be the only ones guilty of this, but since that point doesn't support my campaign, let's agree to gloss over it.)
For others (by which I mean me), the difficulty is basically the same - but for an altogether different reason...
My daughter is not quite two. Her favourite days out (ergo our regular haunts) consist almost exclusively of soft play, petting farms, parks, and swimming pools; ie. all those places that inevitably become overrun with rowdy 'older' children come summer. Fun for all the family...
Except I can't abide crowds - or their cacophony; I detest them. Throw some overexcited - read boisterous - kids into the mix, and that's essentially our entire summer ruined.
And so, I've put together a list of activities which does not require a small second mortgage in terms of affordability. And it doesn't include soft play, petting farms, parks, or swimming pools.
Good for you, good for me.
1. A Puppet Show
This is a good one for multiple ages, because you can have the youngest making, decorating, and acting. Naturally the oldest will thrive in the role of director. You, meanwhile, get to sit on the sofa with a cuppa 'playing the part' of the audience, whilst covertly being Smug Parent for orchestrating a harmonious family activity. High five.
2. Cupcake-Decorating Competition
Mix, bake, decorate, CAKE. Or, you know, this one will satisfy everyone equally... Ahem.
3. A Gardening Day
Admittedly, you'll probably be met with a bit of reluctance here. I find the best way around that is bribery. For example: 'if you help me - and I mean properly help me - clear these weeds, then you can have an ice-cream every time the van comes to our road. (There's no way it's coming more than twice. And if they do properly help they can burn off the calories easily.) Also, since it's essentially exercise, when they get stuck in they'll forget it's a chore and find satisfaction in their progress.
4. A Bike Ride
Sunshine, fresh air, the wind in your hair. Perhaps a picnic if you can balance it on your handlebar without ending up in the stingers or the dyke...
5. A Water Fight
Weather-permitting (I know, I know, we're talking about the height of summer - but this is England) kids of any age adore water. For the older ones the absolute must fun they could have is annihilating the 'rents - if you let them. (Let them.)
6. A Nature Trail
Plan ahead and print off a page of several items to collect to take home for creating Nature Art, as well as critters and birds to look out for. Include a couple that you know won't be in the location you're visiting. What? Don't look at me like that, you just wish you'd thought of it first!
7. Board Game Stations
Another which could seem boring on the face of it. So be creative: get some friends over and play a tournament, winner stays on. Of course it's important to ensure there are alternative activities available for those who go 'out'. Stuck for ideas? Luckily this is not the only awesome idea on my list!
8. Retro Outdoor Games
If you don't have enough people for Kiss Chase and Stuck in the Mud, then how about hopscotch, skipping with ropes or a game of badminton? (You could do board games inside and these games outside.) Chuck a couple of large cardboard boxes in the garden too, and I can (probably) accurately predict which items the kids will gravitate towards.
9. Chores for Pocket Money
It's a win for you and a win for them. Sweet.
10. Walk Along a Pier
I'm fortunate to live close to the longest pier in England: it's over a mile long and on a glorious day there's nothing better. You're rewarded at the end with fish and chips and penny slot machines, or if you fancy something sweet you can grab hot doughnuts or an ice-cream. And best of all, there's a train to bring tired little legs back to shore. Naturally, not everyone will have access to this local attraction, but you must be near to something similar, even if it means a little ride out to the beach. Road trip!
That concludes my list of ideas to entice you away from other more expensive alternatives. Of course, I'm merely trying to present options here.
But cheap and old-school sounds good, right?
It may even result in you and your tiddlywinks creating cherishable childhood memories, retro-style. (And hopefully my tiddlywink can continue to frequent her favourite places without mummy completely losing her mind...)
Besides which, your child won't remember the computer game they were so desperate for - their memories will be made up of the quality time you spent together. I'm not even clutching at straws here - promise. Good old-fashioned family fun is the foundation of a magical childhood. I'm pretty sure that's a fact. (It also happens to suit my purpose, but it is the undeniable truth, I think.)
N.B. For anyone who mistakenly thinks I'm being a hypocrite, parents do not crawl through soft play apparatus holding their 7 year old's hand. Ido. It's not my favourite pastime - it's hers. She's happy because she's playing and we're together; I'm happy because she's learning (and content).
A special message to parents of toddlers: I've tried, I've done my best. Now it's your turn to do your bit for our cause: please share, far and wide. The more people we reach with our message, the higher the likelihood of converting the masses.