School holiday special: Summer days in

For those long summer days close to base, David Randall suggests 20 ways to banish the B-word. None of them cost more than a few pounds (and some could even make you money!)
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The Independent Travel

Here are 20 more ideas for in and around home, especially suitable for 4- to 14-year-olds. In the interests of public safety and the neighbours, some of them should be supervised at all times.

1 A family history project. This can be the start of weeks of interviewing grannies, uncles and stray second cousins. More informative than a mere family tree, and less dry to compile, it can be extended to building a scrapbook or family archive. For those with a shortage of older rellies, make it a local history project instead.

2 A drinks stand. A small table, plastic cups, cordials, lemonade, their own concoctions, plus biscuits and cakes of their own manufacture - all sold at knock-down prices. Guaranteed to provide weeks of slightly profitable fun. Many years ago, my brother and I turned our garden shed into a "pub", and local kids even donated pies made by their mothers, which they then happily bought back at a penny a slice.

3 Hold a family (or street) Turner Prize competition. They can paint their entry, chalk it on the pavement or patio, make an installation (no unmade beds allowed), or sculpt it. Set a closing date, hold a back garden exhibition (in the Emin-style shed, if wet), and hand out prizes (making sure you obey the first and only rule of family contests - that everyone gets a prize).

4 Help them build a contraption. For older ones, this can be a downhill racer go-kart; for younger children it can be a little pull-along cart to transport their pets or toys round the garden. But it's either built from scratch, or a customised version of something going cheap at a boot sale (which are a great source of old pram wheels and accessories).

5 Some children like forming their own clubs, designing a name, logo and rules. This is partly to create a sense of belonging, but mainly, one suspects, for the pleasure of excluding children they don't like. A source of much fun, and no little psychological traumas.

6 Fix a milo-meter to their bikes. Or, if they have one already, set it to zero at the start of the holidays. They then track just how much ground they are covering, which, with any luck, will induce them to log even more miles to beat their friends. Keep a league table, offer prizes. Organise a Tour de Area. Anything to keep them pedalling.

7 Paper puppets. A great "if wet" option for younger children is to get them to draw a character (from a book, film, their family or, perhaps, a much-mimicked grown-up), colour it in, cut it out, and stick it on to a straw or chopstick. They then hide behind the sofa, and put on a puppet show.

8 Buy a couple of squirrel-proof bird feeders for the garden. Get the children to keep them filled and start a log of species that visit. You can add nesting boxes or bee boxes. A bowl of cat food on the lawn at night will attract hedgehogs - providing a nocturnal nature show.

9 Let them plan, cook and serve the evening meal. Dangerous, I know, but in the unlikely event of a success, could become a regular event. In the more likely event of an inedible pizza being served, say: "You know, this is so good I'm going to take the rest of it to work tomorrow to let them try it." Thus saving their face and your stomach.

10 Sleepovers. We all know these as a source of hours of planning, much nocturnal giggling, and heaps of morning-after mess. But, they are a great inducement for children to carry out any set chore, and, if you're canny, you'll contact the parents of as many of their friends as possible and arrange a sleepover rota, thus ensuring you a few child-free summertime nights.

11 Back garden camping. This can be under canvas, with the house used only for ablutions and as a source of fresh water. Even better, they can try building a makeshift shelter of wood or branches. The canvas option makes a good dry run to see if your cosseted darlings can take a camping holiday.

12 Have a "boredom box". Similar to a swear box, except the children have to put money in it, not for every oath, but for every time they utter the "b" word.

13 Back garden "dig". A small trench-shaped area is agreed, and off the little archaeologists go. Shovels down to about a foot or so, trowels and brushes thereafter. The odd coin, old toy or bit of crockery is virtually guaranteed. The resulting cavity can be used for that water feature you've always promised yourself. Note: sites where old family pets have been buried are best avoided.

14 Infect them with a hobby. Example: get your children a disposable camera each. Tell them to take pics not just of their chums, but also of their area and bits of the landscape they find interesting. Get them to start albums (or portfolios, as the more ambitious little photographers will call them).

15 Moth safari. On a small table in the garden, place a lamp, plus a bit of wood which you have coated in sugar water. Then, as the light fades, sit back and watch the local moths zoom in. For the more serious student, visit www.atropos.info to see how to make a proper moth trap, plus news of unusual sightings.

16 Visit www.allkids.co.uk/kids_pages/Boredom_busters.shtml, which has a wealth of links to games, rainy day ideas, and instructions on making things. Suggestions to suit all ages, and a great place to go for "if wet" ideas.

17 Reading group. Your children and their friends each buy a couple of books at the beginning of the holidays. They then read and swap them - and maybe even discuss them. Can also be done with computer games, but lacks the parental feel-good factor.

18 Treasure hunt. An old stand-by, but, if well planned, can keep younger children amused for hours. For older ones, take a trip round your area, work out some questions and riddles, sort them out so one leads to another, and let the kids loose on their bikes.

19 An eBay contest. Once registered on the site (which will take most of a day), everyone can sort out things to sell online. You put them up, and see who gets the most (and more lucrative) bids. Junior profits to be retained by the seller, adult ones donated to the family Special Day Out Fund.

20 Volunteering. An idea for older, worthier children, is to find out about any local digs, or conservation projects at which they can volunteer. Your local library will have details. Just imagine - your child laying down the foundations of a life as a useful, concerned citizen. Hard to believe as they flick through the TV channels one more time, but it could happen. Just believe.

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