Water works: How to get the kids outside this summer

From water sprinklers and paddling pools to "mud kitchens" and nasturtiums, Emma Townshend reveals surefire ways to get children playing in the garden

It can't have escaped the notice of the good people of Great Britain that our big institutions want us out and about in the summer holidays, not sitting on our bums playing about on an iPad. One supermarket is offering a wallchart with tick boxes for seaside crabbing, creating treasure hunts and making a nature table. The National Trust, meanwhile, has its list of "50 Things to do Before You're 11 and ¾", a "Wild-Time Challenge" that rewards kids with points for participating in various outdoorsy activities, from bird-watching to cooking on a campfire.

Amazingly, children seem for once to be in agreement that this seems like a fun thing to do, as revealed by a 2012 survey that asked them to rank their top summer-time stuff to do. The nippers created a top 10 that would bring succour to the heart of any depressive wondering what's happened to the youth of today, featuring as it did, mucking about in the garden, climbing trees and feeding ducks, with "playing on the computer" nowhere in sight (perhaps that's because modern children would rather play on something with a more sophisticated games card, but there we go).

But encouraging kids outside still does take some doing. Most grown-ups require little more persuasion than a bottle of cold rosé or a nice chocolate cake and pot of tea to be placed somewhere outside in their direct eyeline; children can be trickier.

So how to get their interest? A good place to start is, simply, water, a great uniter of the under-18s; even some grown-ups still love running under a sprinkler. For proper rainbows of water, you'll need an oscillating bar sprinkler such as Kingfisher's (£4.35, primrose.co.uk). But I like the varying-pattern ones that don't move: Hozelock makes a good one that offers many different kinds of spray, and it turns out that once you have one of these, you will have little reason to stand there and water your garden ever again. Two of my neighbours have commented over the fence on how green my grass is at the moment: "It's because every child in the street wants a go of the Hozelock," I reply, modestly, but in truth. (The impressively named Vortex 8 is £9.99 from Amazon.)

Other watery treats include slides, paddling pools and water pistols. The latter, however, can annoy liberals who are trying to keep their homes gun-free, and they make more sensitive souls cry if pumped up with too high a pressure, so I prefer household cleaning sprays washed out very carefully and filled back up with water. These cannot soak anyone and offer instead a soft cooling mist suitable even for babies. And plants. Ahh.

Mud pies also rank highly with kids: my cousin, who runs a yurt-based school, has put together an entire "mud kitchen" equipped with old saucepans, sieves and other utensils to give the culinary-minded a full range of possibilities. Again, the hose pipe can be used by the children to muddy up a flowerbed, buying you at least half-an-hour's sunbathing. (Although, possibly, also quite a lot of extra laundry.)

But what about getting the children involved with growing? Nasturtiums are a good late-summer bet, flowering with bold oranges and yellows when you are feeling rather more blue. They take about 50 days from sowing to flowering (plus, if you are in charge of the braver variety of children, they may even like eating them in salad). Or go for an edible leaf: Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz offer plenty of suggestions in their Speedy Vegetable Garden (£14.99, Timber), including a quick rocket pesto that can be made and eaten before the end of August. A real points scorer all around.

Child's play: Four outdoor incentives

The hammock

There seems literally no end to hammock antics; your main problem is likely to be sorting out the rota of turns for lolling in it. Dyning hammock, £25, Ikea

'World's best bug viewer'

An amazing box for looking at earwigs, ladybirds, even moths. There are two magnifications and both work well even for very small children. £3.49, wildforms.co.uk

The tent

Most children camping "for the night" in the garden will be in after a few hours. So go for the cheap, super-easy 2 Seconds Pop Up Tent. £27.99, decathlon.co.uk

The campfire

If you want to go beyond a potato and sweetcorn wrapped in silver foil, check out the Pioneer, which hammers into the ground. £50, campfirecookinggrill.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
footballBut the Newcastle United midfielder's news has 'left his mistress furious'
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style