Play days: there's no place like home

You don't have to go further than the back garden to have fun this holiday. We round up some inspiring ideas

Here are 20 ideas for in and around home, especially suitable for 4- to 14- year-olds. Some are clearly designed for the younger end of that range; others for older children. It goes without saying that some of these activities should, in the interests of public safety and the neighbours, be supervised. Readers' ideas welcome for next week's issue (email us at:

1. Book a stall at a car boot sale. Then get the children to weed out unwanted toys, videos CDs etc to sell on it - and you do the same. You all can then play shops for real one Sunday. All profits distributed equally.

2. You and the children make chocolate brownies. They are easy, you get fast results (they take only 20 minutes to cook, at most) and they taste delicious. This, according to our office sweet-tooth, is especially the case if Nigella Lawson's decadent recipe is followed. It uses real chocolate and not cocoa powder.

3. Put the word around friends and neighbours to meet in the local park one lunchtime for a picnic, with silly races and ball games to follow. The day before can even be spent making cakes etc for it.

4. Play Pop Idol at home. All you need is a CD player, pop or Karaoke discs, and children (it appeals to girls, mainly), who get to strut their stuff.

5. Get together with several neighbours and rent a bouncy castle for a month. Each garden has a go and the electric pump in turn, and it will cost a lot less than a family trip to the local theme park.

6. Never underestimate the capacity to amuse of the humble paper aeroplane. At there are tons of designs, step-by-step plans, and tips on how to improve your plane's flying time. We found the sabretooth design particularly aerodynamic.

7. Send older ones out odd-jobbing in the area for cash to boost their holiday fund - car-cleaning, garden clearance, grass-cutting, lugging recycling to the bins.

8. Stockpile newspapers, magazines and comics. Then give the children a scrapbook and some glue, and suggest that they choose a topic and collect all the articles and pictures they can find on it. Might be Live8; might be EastEnders; might be cartoons. Don't despair if it's advertisements for consumer goodies.

9. Pitch a tent up in the back garden and let the children organise their own festival - preferably more Glastonbury than Woodstock. Next-door's children can dress up as police officers and raid it.

10. Make silly space stations. This needs some forethought because you'll need to squirrel away every bit of packaging - boxes, yoghurt pots, egg cartons, plastic bottles. Then, with the help of a giant roll of parcel tape, you will have the materials to make a weird and wonky galactic habitat. Just add Slithereens.

11. Take indoor toys outside. The Brio train set or Duplo are ideal. Add toy farm buildings and animals, and set it all up on the grass, flower beds and rockery. Use plants as substitute hills and forests.

12. Let them be a little Vivienne Westwood or Paul Smith. Take them to a market, buy a few cheap, plain T-shirts, plus the means (fabric paint, stickers, glitter etc) to jazz them up.

13. Grow some fast food. The cheetahs of the vegetable patch are radishes. The seeds will germinate in three to four days and be ready for harvest in two to four weeks. Rocket also lives up to its name. Weeds, too, can be speedy, and, to a child can be just as much fun to grow. Or get them to take soft cuttings, put them in a bottle of water and see the rootlets sprout.

14. Bit of a sneaky one, this - help them give their bedroom a makeover. First launch a clear-out, then re-arrange or rationalise the furniture, add some new posters, and possibly even a lick of paint. We call it spring cleaning and a chore, but re-christened as a makeover, it will seem to the children like fun.

15. Go blackberrying. Three tips: pick only above waist height, fix collecting pots to a belt for hands-free action, and wear a gardening glove on one hand and wellies on both feet, to fend off nettles and brambles

16. If it's wet, they're young and you've run out of ideas, go to, a huge online store of ideas from Britain's galleries, museums and heritage centres. There are pictures to download and colour in, things to make, online games, puzzles, recipes, quizzes. Fantastic.

17. Build a garden assault course. Better still, get them to do it. Even a trail of planks and bricks across the grass, which they're not allowed to touch, will do. Time them. Add embellishments like having to collect certain objects on their way round. Endless permutations.

18. One for the littlies - you make some different-coloured marzipan, and they cut or model it into animals and shapes. Junk shops are a useful source of old and odd cookie cutters. Check that there aren't any nut-allergy sufferers around, though.

19. Get together with other families and stage "I'm a Mum... Get Me Out of Here". Mothers have to camp in a garden and do trials set by Dad and kids to earn food and gins and tonics. Works also with kids, but not with Dads, who are liable to cheat.

20. Get them to organise a Swap-Shop day. All their friends bring CDs, DVDs, books, toys, they are tired of, and swap them with each other. Safer under adult supervision ("Darling, has anyone seen my boxed set of Beethoven quartets?"), and safer still if swaps are not permanent and binding.

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