School here has just broken up for Easter. I think parental emotions were mixed. Some seemed merely relieved to be avoiding the tyranny of 8:55 registration and appropriate packed lunches for two weeks, others focused on the 24/7 x 2 nature of the upcoming interaction with their progeny.
Holidays without plans can be hard-going. I am not new to school hols, having lived through a number, so I thought today might be a good time to share some of the things we have found to pass the weeks, without going crazy. Of course, if your budget is limitless, you need no ideas – there are enough zoos and theme parks to keep you entertained, but if payday seems some distance away, I have some suggestions that may be of use.
National Trust – if you’re not already a member, get googling to see what there is around you. I have about 5 places within a 45-ish min drive, which we visit in rotation. Paying by direct debit costs us about £10 per month for family tickets, which works out for us to be a good cost:visit ratio. My children are less than high-brow and are generally bored senseless after more than the most cursory, whistle-stop tour around a stately home, but the grounds and play areas mean making a day of it is possible. Close to us, Lyme Park and Erddig have brilliant playgrounds and my kids love exploring Biddulph Grange Gardens and Quarry Bank Mill. We take a picnic, look at every item in the gift shop, endure brief friction because I won’t buy what they want, tear around the gardens and have a lemonade in the cafe. Day out: done. Over Easter there are generally good Egg Hunts as well. Look into it.
If you’re within a reasonable distance – Alton Towers. Usually I wouldn’t include this on the list, because at almost £200 for a family of four for a day trip, this wouldn’t – for me – class as a bargain. However, if you love a good rollercoaster and you live fairly close by, then a £55 season ticket may work out to be a good investment. They are valid until November with quite a lot of exclusions (Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays in August. 1st & 2nd September. Scarefest (6th – 7th, 13th – 14th, 19th October – 2nd November) & Fireworks (3rd & 4th November)) Still, with 6 weeks of summer days looming, it may be worth it for you.
Cinema – obvs, eyeroll – but this is another excursion that seems to end up costing a fortune. If you’ve got little children, then I find they’re not really all that bothered about the film they’re going to see, it’s more about the experience of sitting on booster seats in the dark, piggying popcorn and needing a wee half way through. In this case, most cinemas run a morning showing of a recent-but-not-quite-current children’s film every morning of the school hols. It costs around £2.50 per person and has got me through many a rainy day. As they get older, they have stronger feelings about what they want to see, so this may be more limiting, but I have just checked and seen that our local Odeon is showing Early Man as the Kids AM film next week, which mine have been pestering to see for a while. Excellent. When my children were much smaller, I used to do a cinema afternoon (it was quite lame, but fooled a 3 year old) where I would set out a few snacks as a shop, then close the curtains and put on a DVD. It wouldn’t get an overwhelming response these days, with my 9 year old (“Mummy, are you actually just putting the telly on?”), but my 5 year old may still go for it.
Baking. I bake a lot and am reasonably proficient with a mixing bowl, but still my heart sinks a little at the thought of getting small children involved. It is obviously a fairly drastic entertainment option for many, but kids really do love it and you generally end up with something edible to help settle your nerves once the mountains of washing up have been cleared. If it’s going to be a long day of being housebound for one reason or another, then maybe consider making some dough – for a loaf or a pizza. It’s pretty straightforward and watching it rise might keep them out of your hair for a little while. Otherwise, muffins are easy and bake quite quickly so there’s not much hanging round. Likewise cookies. If you want a healthy variety, I have a recipe for chocolate banana muffins. If you need the sugar after all the stress, there should be something here for you. If the thought of engaging the oven is a little too much – and who could blame you? – then buying a tray of fairy cakes, making some buttercream icing and throwing on some sprinkles and edible glitter will be a creditable alternative.
Crafting. If there’s something less appealing than baking with children, it’s probably crafting. The key to keeping your sanity, I find, is to engage in things where paint isn’t an option. PVA glue washes out of clothes and peels of tables, but washable paint, in my experience, is washable only in name. One craft project that works quite well with a range of ages (and more importantly, need involve no paint) is converting shoe boxes – or other boxes with one side removed – into little rooms. We made an Egyptian one as a homework and because it was relatively painless, made another as a living room for mouse, or some other woodland creature. (It was a long, wet, winter weekend). We used wrapping paper for the walls and parcel paper for the floor and then they ferreted about in the Playmobil to find the necessary to furnish it. They drew some pictures for the walls and cut out some silver foil for mirrors and stuck them on. It kept them busy for a couple of hours or so, and lasted as long as it took me to slowly edge it out of the house to the recycling bin. If you were keen (?!) or have more children, these can be stuck together to make a house… or a mansion…or a village.. how keen are you?!
I feel like the enemy for even suggesting slime, and it is the recourse of a desperate parent, but they will LOVE you for it, and the Imagination Tree recipe is actually easy to make successfully and not toooooo messy. You’ll need contact lens solution with boric acid in to make it, so if you’ve got 20:20 vision don’t go recklessly promising this without nipping to Boots first. The solution isn’t cheap – I paid about £10 for it – but it made a good few batches. The website with the recipe recommends one from Amazon for about £5.50, so it’d be worth ordering if you thought you might succumb. If you do make it – keep it away from carpets and varnished surfaces and give your little cherubs lidded tubs and strict instructions. Good luck.
If you’re feeling community-spirited- you might like to give Love on the Rocks a whirl. You need to decorate a pebble with a pic or cheery message (Sharpies should work nicely – you don’t want to be getting into acrylic paints, surely?), write ‘Facebook Love on the Rocks UK’, and upload a photo with details of where you will be hiding it. To be honest, we’ll probably cut out the middle steps and just decorate and then hide them, but you may be more thorough than me.
I find that children of primary school age are more keen on libraries than you might imagine. There are often events on in the school holidays that you can take advantage of, but even if not, most kids will happily spend much longer than you’d think browsing the books. I am a big fan of libraries and books for kids – I have made a list of some great picture books if you want some ideas, but browsing will undoubtedly turn up some gems.
I try to get my children into the garden as much as possible – mostly for the peace, but partly because fresh air has got to be good for them, surely? I am a hopeless gardener and our efforts at planting the most reliable of crops proved fruitless, but they are anyway happiest with a stick and a trowel and a bucket, making potions and building ant hotels. We don’t have a mud kitchen, but I would like one and if you’ve got space, they keep little ones amused for hours. You can buy them widely, but they’re also the sort of thing you could cobble together quite cheaply – there’s some good info on www.diygarden.co.uk if you’re thinking of having a go.
I am tiresomely enthusiastic about being by the sea and like a trip to the coast in all seasons. This is all the better with the company of another family. So long as they’re wrapped up and busy, children seem to rarely complain about the weather. They often complain about being hungry, I find, so I have endless snacks and a flask of hot chocolate (very Malory Towers) for cold days. If you pack a kite, buckets, spades and fishing nets for them, and a blanket for you they’ll probably be happy until you’ve gone blue. We have sports’ day races, collect shells, investigate rockpools, have games of rounders, climb on the rocks, build castles and forts and dig holes. It all sounds terribly wholesome and it actually is, I would go every day if I could. The children forget to argue and I forget what ratbags they can be. Everyone goes home happy and tired. Obvs, if you can squeeze in some fish and chips and an ice cream, this is only going to make the day better. But that’s true of any day.
I would LOVE to hear what you do to keep the holidays moving along nicely – please do get in touch; I would be delighted to add further ideas to this.
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*All the prices mentioned were correct March 2018.