"Amber - what would you like to do today?"
"C'mon, it's my day off - what would you like to do - I'll let you decide?"
*Repeat these steps in increasing volume to your offspring approximately three times over until you feel invisible or faint*
Crouched over the precious glowing tablet of delight that's bursting with games, knowledge and wonder, my kids' attention is detained. I try to intercept. I fail. I need a plan.
Five weeks into the summer holiday and I feel like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape - along the tunnel, freedom in sight, but there's a long way to go before digging out of this hole. And for me, technology seems to have taken over the role of robo-dad. I'd pull my hair out, but there's not much of it left unless I begin on my beard.
Booking a day off to spend with the kids I was full of expectations of blissful, wholesome family time together. Riding bikes through sunny meadows, picking berries in hazy woodlands and happily playing ballgames in the park perhaps.
Oh how a whole year since the last summer holidays can skew your memory.
Prizing kids apart from technology can be like tearing barnacles from rocks fused together. I must stay strong. We will have fun and we will have fun together. So, I inflict a temporary gadget embargo. Reminiscing back to my favourite days as a lad, I thought I'd test drive a few of my favourite past-times with my kids. The experiment would include the kind of games that we'd play on the streets until the street lights went on, whilst dodging the odd car. Could they square up to the expectations of today's youth?
This is how I got on...
Board Games - rating 6/10
Playing board games went down pretty well with two children aged seven and nine. I caught them at just the right time - above or under could be hit or miss. Although this was fun, you almost always need to factor in that you need to really check through your inventory first - a missing dice or piece can lead to heated disputes later on. You've also got to remember your role as referee - you're not just there to have fun. Occasionally, the kids want to win so bad they resort to underhand tactics. Or maybe she really did just snap up Park Lane and Mayfair and bought a property empire for it, but we were too busy to notice?
Hopscotch - rating: 2/10
This one provided a measly four minutes of entertainment. Once the rules were grasped, and they'd done it one or two times, the boredom started to kick in. Drawing on the driveway seemed to be the most entertaining part, as their inner-graffiti artists came out. Plus, no one warned me how difficult it would be to rinse the chalk from the driveway...
Nature Trail - rating: 8/10
This one was a real treat. Our local park has a patch of woodlands, so we downloaded a pack from the National Trust filled with outdoor activities, and off we went. I took pity on the mini-beasts that wanted to get on with their day-to-day business of digging holes and looking for a mate, but the kids enthused about them so much and after all, they were in safe hands. This activity was a close contender for the top spot, but boys will be boys, and a day in the woods wouldn't be complete with a bit of a mud flinging contest which resulted in two very mucky puppies.
Water fights - rating 7/10
This was fun, and made so much better by the rare gift of sunshine. We had two super-soakers, and one was superior to the other so we had to ration out turns, but overall, pretty fair. The gentle water fight became a boisterous battle towards the end, but such is the nature of the game. Eventually, the lawn was transformed into a boggy, sliding runway, speckled with little florescent coloured pieces of rubber - remnants of the water balloons. Overall verdict - good for the kids, until I blasted Wilson in the face, bad for the garden.
Baking - rating: 7½/ 10
Surely anything that involves keeping the kids occupied and has an end result of gooey, chocolatey loveliness is a good result right? We used up the old bananas that were going black to make banana bread with chocolate chips. Seeing them co-operate and work together to get all the measurements right filled me with pride, and filled my belly when I was able to scoff down the end product. If I had a cleaner, this may get the full 10 points, but alas, I don't have that luxury. Our kitchen resembled a winter wonderland covered in snow from the flour, with numerous trails of buttery finger prints. At worst, expect a day of cleaning to follow the aftermath, or at best - one to two hours.
Sock puppets - rating: 10/10
Fellow parents - this is it. This is just the ticket. At first I questioned what my life had come to whilst rummaging through the depths of my drawers, looking for old socks, but then I thought a 'sock hunt' could all be part of the fun. The kids were scrambling all over the house looking for old socks, loose buttons, and old rags that could adorn the new sock puppet creations. Anything that could be salvaged, it was taken in and the odd socks of the house were brought together to be given the ultimate makeover. I felt so proud watching my kids use their creativity and their imagination to create something completely different, from something that might have otherwise ended up in the bin.
The real fun started once we had created them as we caused mayhem with them wherever we went. My favourite moment was seeing the responses of drivers to my kids hanging the puppets out of the car windows like a dog ... legendary!
I know - retro-playtime is a tight option compared to some activities. And of course, getting buy-in won't be the easy sell that a computer game has. But if you survive the slog and get there in the end - it'll be worth it.
Our favourite activity was making sock puppet friends, and the Love Your Clothes website has some great, free resources, including sock puppet templates and step-by-step guides. The sock puppets actually all became their own little characters, and later on starred in a sock puppet show. It's perfect for a rainy day, a perfect way to use old rags, and a super way to get those creative juices flowing. And if you're in need of a bit of inspiration, the Love Your Clothes campaign also has a really fun little video that shows sock puppets in action!