Summertime and the living is easy - just as long as you can keep the kids busy

Entertaining your children during the long summer holidays can be as simple as defrosting a fridge, says Sue Palmer
You've been to all the museums within dragging distance; you've seen this year's Disney release; you don't fancy the crowds at the zoo or the theme park - and anyway, you'd rather not watch the family finances leak away on admission charges and junk food. Six weeks stretch ahead of you and your holidaying offspring, and for parents with work and family to juggle, it can feel like six months.

There are, however, lots of ways of having a good time with children. The trouble with the daily grind of earning a living and keeping the domestic show on the road is that we often forget why we're doing it in the first place. Most children are surprisingly easy to entertain, given a little time and inspiration. Most adults do find - once they've got going - that entertaining children is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The knack is to recognise that you don't need to go out and buy fun; you can find it lying around anywhere.

All parents have experienced happy moments of this kind, often by accident. The children's author Michaela Morgan, for instance, found one of her most successful holiday activities was defrosting the fridge. "We started off with a snowball fight," she remembers happily, "and then, later on, there was lots of paddling."

This list below offers many more starting points for home-grown enjoyment. Though most refer to a singular "child", all are also suitable for sharing between siblings. And all bar one require adult involvement to a greater or lesser extent: after all, the whole point of the summer holidays is to give parents and children some time together.

Food

l Choose a letter of the alphabet. Shop for, prepare and eat a meal, in which every item (food and drink) begins with that letter.

l Throw a dinner party for two or three of your child's friends. Your child can make invitations and menu, lay the table (flowers, candles, napkins, etc), help make the food, then dress up and act as host. Chefs and waiters to be played by other members of the family.

l Go for a picnic. Let your child plan where (check local maps), when, how - then choose, prepare and pack the food. If it's rainy, still go ahead - indoors, with a table-cloth on the floor.

Managing money

l Start a "market jar" for collecting 10p or 20p pieces, and name a date towards the end of the holidays for visiting a local market and spending the proceeds. Your child is responsible for persuading people to feed the jar, and for keeping count of the contents.

l Visit a toy superstore with an imaginary budget: how could your child spend pounds 500? Ensure s/he knows it's just a pipe-dream and NO money will be spent. (But you might take secret notes of any ideas for Christmas.)

l Spend pounds 3 at a jumble sale buying brightly coloured clothes. Cut up along the seams; wash and iron; then use fabric to make dolls' clothes, fabric collage, etc.

l Hold a garage sale to supplement pocket money. Your child can sort out the toys, etc. s/he no longer wants, then advertise the sale to friends and neighbours.

Home and garden

l Plan and share some "summer cleaning": clearing out kitchen cupboards, cleaning carpets, sorting wardrobes. (Don't let the work ethic take over - enjoy it.)

l On hot days let children slosh water about while washing the car, the windows, the garden furniture, the dog, or their toys (teddies can be doused and hung out to dry).

l Discuss the life skills your child would like to acquire (knitting, making a cup of tea, sewing on buttons, playing Scrabble, changing a plug, etc) and provide tuition.

l Organise a treasure hunt: give a list of things to find in the house and/or garden (a feather, a dandelion, a paperclip, etc) and a couple of cryptic clues to solve. Supply a rucksack for holding the booty, a sandwich for sustenance, and a reasonable prize when the hunt is complete.

Scrapbooks and diaries

l Help your child organise spare family photographs into interesting collections: animal album, alphabetical album (one picture for each letter of the alphabet), See-How-I-Grew album tracing his/her own development, etc.

l Make a family scrapbook for one week - commission written accounts of activities and illustrations from all family members. Collect ephemera from outings, photographs, etc for your child to stick in and caption.

l Help your child use a cassette recorder to make a taped diary - the diarist's own thoughts, interviews with others. (Older children could try a video diary using a camcorder.)

Pretending

l Provide or even upgrade a dressing-up box - from a wardrobe clearout, jumble sale buys, old clothes and hats begged from neighbours, grandparents, etc.

l Let children organise a fashion show with funky music on a cassette recorder, a catwalk, and plenty of changes of outfit.

l Help set up a shop: make merchandise (eg fruit and veg, bread and cakes, fish and chips) from salt dough, harden by cooking overnight in a slow oven, and paint for verisimilitude. (Salt dough recipe: 300g each of flour and salt, 1 tablespoon cooking oil, 200ml water.)

l Show your child (preferably with friends) how to use a cassette recorder to make a radio show (lots of sound effects) or a camcorder to make a short television presentation (an advert is about the right length).

The great outdoors

l Find a neglected place which you can explore for wildlife. It doesn't have to be large, but the more overgrown the better. Get books from the library to identify flora and fauna. Make regular visits and build up a record - sketches, notes, animal droppings, pressings of flowers and leaves, plastercasts of footprints, etc.

l Try some pavement art with coloured chalks (a patio or backyard can substitute for a pavement).

l Collect creepy-crawlies for a Mini-Beast Zoo, with labels and information on the inmates. Get library books to ensure your child looks after the creatures properly.

Finally

l Make sure your child has some time these holidays to him or herself, with nothing organised at all. Every child needs time to daydream.

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