Wednesday, 9 August 2017

10 top tips to keep kids happy in the holidays.

I saw a very amusing post from the hilarious Hurrah for Gin.  Its about the six stages/weeks of the Summer Holiday, starting at positive and excited and descending through shouty and sweary and finishing with "rocking in the corner".  The replies to this post were all in agreement.  Many parents find the long stretch of the summer holiday quite hard work.  For some it's all about juggling paid and unpaid holiday from work with finding kind-hearted relatives or friends, or paying for holiday activities.  For others it's just not knowing what to do with these pint-sized people for all that time and feeling a vague sense of guilt whenever they are glued to a screen.

As you'll know from my post here on the 9th July, while I'm enjoying my long teacher school holiday I am also aiming to get a good head start on all my planning for next year as well as getting the classroom ready and organised.  To add further spice to the holiday we are also intending to move house during the final two weeks of the break, so there's an awful lot of clearing, sorting and packing to get done too.

Here are my ten top tips to keep the children happy in the holidays:
  1. Plan a few special "extras" - new things or places to go.  We've cancelled our proper holiday in order to move house, but are going away for a long weekend to a Folk Festival, and I've booked them on a climbing activity and in for a snorkelling lesson at the local swimming pool.
  2. Go out every day.  This doesn't need to cost much or indeed anything, and doesn't need to be a full day outing, but just breaks up the day into more managable chunks.  Examples are: go swimming, playdates, bike ride, grocery shopping, walk in the woods, geocaching, meet friends at the park, soft play, pick-your-own, skate park, play dates, free workshops at local nature reserves, libraries and museums.  Speaking of museums, use your holiday to be a tourist in your own back yard and check out your local cathedral, museums or walking tours.
  3. Spend time doing something with your children at home every day.  Even if you are busy trying to pack your house, paint the walls, clear out detritus from kitchen cupboards, plan literacy lessons and create exercise book labels, weed the garden and do the ironing (all simultaneously if you are anything like me), make sure to set aside some time to be with your children, or be prepared to stop what you are doing every now and then if they ask you to.  We're not talking about lots of fancy "Pinterest ready" crafts here, we're talking about your time.  Things like: face-painting your daughter, helping them make cardboard puppets for a show and then watching the resulting show, baking cookies, cooking dinner, making jam (with the fruit you got from the Pick-your-own), reading together, playing a board game, doing that craft kit they've had in the cupboard since Christmas, having a water fight, making stuff from Lego, making bracelets with beads, collecting unsuspecting mini-beasts.
  4. Involve them in your activities.  Yes, they can in fact help clear out the cupboards, they could even decoupage the pencil pots for your classroom, stick labels on exercise books and paint the walls.  They can't do everything, but often they'll be pleased to join in.
  5. Get them helping with housework.  It takes time to teach little people to do new things.  They don't know how to polish a table, wash dishes, cook, work the vacuum, clean shoes or hang laundry.  That's not to say that they shouldn't be expected to do these things at Primary School age, it's just that it takes time to teach them.  During term-time schedules are often very hectic and its easier just to get the job done than to spend the required time with an apprentice.  Take the opportunity over the holiday to tutor your child in a couple of new tasks.  By the time you get to September hopefully they'll have mastered it and be able to get on with it with minimal supervision and time investment and it can become a new responsibility for them.  I'm also working on getting them to take a bit more responsibility around the whole house.  I find the "tidy up" thing can be a bit overwhelming, particularly for my scatter-monster six-year-old.  Instead this last couple of weeks I've gone for a fifteen-minute-hammer approach.  I set the timer, we all clean and tidy like crazy in our allocated room for fifteen minutes, and then the timer goes off and we stop and all inspect one another's progress.  One day we spend the fifteen minutes in the bedrooms, the next day each person selects a folded slip of paper with one of the communal rooms written on.  If, at inspection, it's clear that the tidier hasn't spent their fifteen minutes very productively, then they must do another 15.  I try to do this just before dinner time so that the house is relatively tidy for the evening.
  6. Make them play outdoors.  Outdoor play is good.  It allows kids to socialise, connect with nature and get physically active.  Whether it's your garden, the street, the park, the woods or the beach.  Insist that your kids spend some time outside every day, even if it's raining (they won't dissolve!).  Sometimes this requires me to lead the way with a suggested (or instructed) walk, bike-ride or fruit picking expedition, other times they are out in the yard on their bikes before they've even had breakfast.  We're very lucky in that we are currently in the countryside with a large yard and field with safe access behind the house, I'm not sure how easy this will be when we move into a city, but even with a small yard you can set up swing-ball or a paddling pool, or encourage them to find a sunny spot to read or play outside rather than in their bedroom.
  7. Guilt-free screen time - Don't feel guilty about letting the kids watch the TV.  Most of us watched the box during the holidays when we were growing up and we seem to have turned out okay.  My eight-year-old has a tablet with parental controls, and we have set him a time limit of 2 and a half hours per day for the holidays, a large portion of which is used up before breakfast.  This may seem like quite a lot of time, but as he is still making stuff, reading books, playing on his bike and being sociable the rest of the time I'm okay with it.  They'll occasionally put a film on or watch a bit of TV late in the afternoon too, and since they've usually done something with me, been out, played outside and done some housework by then, this seems absolutely fine to me.
  8. Bicker-free zone.  Kids will be kids and if you have more than one, then it's almost certain that bickering will ensue at some point.  To keep this at bay try adding more children to the mix as often as possible.  They will get bored with each other's company, so arrange some play-dates with other children.  Also, don't be afraid to separate them.  If they are bored they will often gravitate towards one another, even if it's just to be annoying.  If you keep hearing bickering, insist that one plays outside while the other plays inside or has some 1:1 time with you.  The space may well spark some creativity and the time away from one another may provide new ideas for games or things to talk about.  Even if you are busy, I also find that the best way to diffuse an argumentative situation is to give some attention, so that's often the time I realise that I haven't been following my own advice numbered 2, 3 or 4 above, and quickly suggest a bike ride or trip to the swimming pool and then we all feel better.  If all else fails, put the TV on or plug them into a tablet!
  9. Give them time - despite what I've just said about bickering happening when children require attention, I do think that children need time to just BE.  Running them from activity to activity and planning a full timetable through the holidays is both unnecessary and expensive.  They should be allowed to make their own fun and learn to direct their own time.  Creativity and imagination flourish when the mind wanders.
  10. Keep it fun!  When you think back to the summer holidays when you were a child, what do you remember?  Do you have fond memories of the long holidays or were they an ordeal?  I have great memories of playing with my sisters, blackberry picking, playing outside in the street, doing a jigsaw with my mum, mum teaching me to make friendship bracelets, getting to go to work with my dad, chatting to the next-door neighbour over the fence... and I'm sure quite a bit of bickering with my sisters in between!  The point is that I remember the holiday time as being active but largely self-directed, fun and relaxing.
What do your kids get up to in the holidays?

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