School. Summer. Holidays. Three little words that can bring a parent or foster carer out in rashes for different reasons. For some parents or carers, it’s the struggle of finding child care so they can continue working; for others, it’s the dread of hearing ‘I’m bored’ 15 times an hour, and for some it’s the worry of how much the summer holidays can cost.
Having children of different ages can be a challenge as finding things to suit a preschooler and a preteen, or a teenager and six year old can be next to impossible. I fall between the cracks as M is 16 and no longer wants to do anything with me, preferring to be with her friends, whilst Baby S is easily entertained with an old water bottle filled with dried pasta. J is harder to entertain, at 10 as he is no longer happy to splash around in puddles or have an hour playing in the park. He wants real entertainment and I feel the pressure!
Money is a worry during the summer holidays for a lot of families as day tickets to attractions can cost a fortune and that’s without food, drinks and a trip to the gift shop.
My guide to the summer holidays is certainly not fool proof but it works for me.
I try to have 2 big days out planned (as well as a week’s actual holiday – usually, but not always, abroad) that the kids can look forward to and I decide early so I can look for vouchers or money off incentives.
Most big attractions charge more at the weekend, so plan a weekday outing if you can. Voucher Cloud or Martin’s Money Tips have a list of Days Out or Attractions and where and how to get the offers and deals. After these 2 or 3 big days are planned and budgeted for, I try to keep entertainment free or cheap.
My local libraries do a variety of activities throughout the summer, but most are for preschool age children; however one of the bigger libraries offers a toy/DVD/games console borrowing service. The toys are aimed at younger children but there is a huge choice of DVD and gaming console games for older children to borrow for a rainy day.
I find lots of things to do for J and Baby S on HOOP which is a free app. You can filter by area or by cost, and there is always something to do within a couple of miles. Lots of events are free and they have a dedicated Summer section with ideas and offers.
Another resource is your local council websites parks, sports and leisure page. Any local events will likely be advertised on the page and will also give you a list of all the local parks in the area. The parks page will have the facilities listed at each park. I always look for parks with a free outdoor gym* which J loves. They also list the type of children’s play areas.
This is how I found the park not far from me which has a free zip wire for kids, a free adventure playground for older kids and a great indoor soft play for Baby S (chargeable). Another park I found via the council website has free tennis and basketball courts – you just need to bring your own equipment and of course, it’s first come, first served.
Local papers are good for church and school fetes, fairs, the circus, car boot sales and family events and can often include a money off voucher to cut out. J is still young enough to enjoy a fete for an hour and loves going to markets and car boot sales where there is always something available at pocket money prices.
Museums are great resources during the summer and are usually free entry or for a small donation and many have a dedicated children’s touch and explore area. Not all museums are free and some charge for special exhibitions so check out the website before you leave. Don’t get caught out by spending on food; I take sandwiches or a picnic and we eat in a nearby park if the weather allows.
Younger children will enjoy mucking around in water either in the back garden in a paddling pool or in a free toddler splash park which can be found in bigger parks and have the benefit of parking, toilets and other children to play with.
If you don’t mind the risk of being a target and having to deal with soggy clothes, invest in cheap water pistols or soakers and send them outside. Alternatively helping in the garden can be great mucky fun and they can learn about worms and how plants grow. Buy a pack of seeds and they can have their own patch of garden or window box. When J was younger he used to love just going on the train to the next town or jumping on a bus and going on a mystery tour. It’s not free, but it is a cheap day out, especially if you add to the thrill by taking a picnic.
It’s more of a challenge when it’s raining, but there is plenty to do other then watch TV. Every young child loves building a fort or den out of cushions and a blanket, pretending to play house, or being a pirate. I had a roll of old wall paper that I never got round to using and J used it as craft paper. It would keep him occupied for hours with paints and potato stencils. Make birthday cards, create slime (there are loads of recipes online which are safe and use cupboard staples) make and ice fairy cakes or biscuits and J spent hours sorting out my button box into colours and shapes. I know these are messy ideas but kids love them. Make life easier by putting newspaper down, use washable paints and invest in a washable craft apron for the kids.
With Baby S, once I joined a few local baby groups I met mums with babies the same age and we meet in a cafe or local park. Now it’s the summer holidays, those of us with older children message and email ideas and suggestions of where to meet that suit all ages.
Lastly don’t forget to make time for yourself. Swap contact details with other parents and arrange play dates that you can reciprocate. A couple of child free hours can set you up for the busy days ahead.
* Most outdoor gyms will specify a recommended age of over 12 years. They are unsupervised and I allow J on most the of the equipment but only when I’m around to show him and make sure he doesn’t injure himself or others.