den buildingIt is a bit of a challenge if you are ‘buying nothing new’ but we had a great time during half-term and seeing that it falls on different weeks in the UK, I thought I would share some ideas if you needed inspiration.

  • Baking is always a good activity even with three mini chefs. Have a go at chocolate brownies – we use the Usbourne children’s book recipe with delicious results.
  • Make family pizza. Keep it simple by buying the bases, whack on some passata and then everyone can add their own pre-chopped ingredients – salami, ham, cheese, red pepper, pineapple, egg and mushrooms.
  • Wrap up warm and go outside to tramp in the countryside or a park as fresh air revives everyone. Build a den in which to eat your chocolate brownies.
  • Have holiday projects for your children, you can read more about this on this link. This holiday I introduced origami for my 9-year-old and we made a new model each day. My 6-year-old was desperate to learn to knit so I am teaching her although she is on the young side. If you teach your child to knit, I can  recommend thick children’s needles of 5mm or 6mm and multi coloured wool. If the wool is changing colour it inspires children to keep knitting. Visit the site Hulu to buy these items. My son was so interested in knitting that I ended up teaching him too and he is really doing well.
  • Bike rides and picnics can happen even if February.
  • Hire a few DVDs and cheat and watch television in the afternoon.
  • Best of all can I suggest ‘The great family sleep over’! The entire family drags their mattresses into one room and all sleep together on the floor. I probably shouldn’t add that Ella (age 4) wet the airbed that she was sharing with me or that when we woke up we felt exhausted, as if we had been camping but least we could sit in a comfy sofa and drink coffee. Why would a family with perfectly decent beds do this? Because it is fun and it was so exciting for the children, creating magical memories.

Feel like you moan and grump at your children all day? Then feel really guilty and mean? This holiday we made a ‘Well Done Chart’. Each family member including parents have a column and every evening we gave each other compliments. It has been fantastic to see a little face light up as you acknowledge their kindness / good behaviour / willingness to help. Another benefit that I hadn’t realised is that I spend my day looking out for things that my children do right. AND it is gratifying when they compliment me and start realising what mums and dads do for them. Ella (aged 3) thanked me daily for helping her ride a bike and James (aged 9) realised what an effort it was to get him replacement shin pads. This chart is a winner! So good in fact we used in on an extended family holiday which was hilarious as the adults had a mutual appreciation society complimenting each other long after the children had gone to bed.

It is easy to provide ‘Big Days Out’ – a glossy brochure about Legoland and arranging a second mortgage is all that is required. But the challenge is to give children adventures that are free and rich in memories and experiences. What are your special memories from childhood? Most likely they will involve time spent with parents and outside – building dens, creating mud pies or perfume from roses. This holiday we have had a few extravagant days out but many many special low-key days. Here are some ideas:

Small Days Out (and In)
Pick blackberries and make blackberry crumble
Make strawberry jam – it’s easier than you think! (Just need 750g strawberries, 750g preserving sugar and one lemon)
Erect a tent in the garden and if your children are old enough, let them sleep in it all night. My six-year old and nine-year loved this.
Create your own custom-made pizzas
Play in a local stream, build dams, castles, catch tadpoles and get wet
Have a chocolate fondue
Create a fairy garden (at night sprinkle glitter over it to delight your child in the morning)
Plant a sunflower
Make a den under a table
Open a ‘cafe’ – the children can make menus, be the staff and prepare your lunch
Go on a ‘Playpark Crawl’ – like a ‘Pub Crawl’ without the beer!
Have a toy’s birthday party – it takes ages if you have to make invitations and party hats first. The perfect cake is a mini babybel with a candle stuck into it.
Open a toy’s school
Cook bacon butties together
Chalk the patio
Picnic in the garden
Have a sleep-over in a sibling’s bedroom – all the excitement and none of the anxiety
Enter a local show with home-made produce / baked goods / crafts / art

Some ideas need parental help and involvement but others can be suggested to your children, get them started and let them entertain themselves.

Back in January,  Bee and I had a grumble about how children don’t learn by rote anymore. And then with a giggle and another cup of tea we decided to do something about it. We would encourage (bribe?) our respective children aged between 12 and 2 years to learn a poem each holiday. We are now learning our fourth poem and I am amazed at how quickly they can learn by rote especially when there is a pound reward at stake. It has been a great success and even my three-year old knows the first verse of ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ as she has heard it so often. My nine-year old’s attitude towards poetry is softening as he had a fit when I first mooted the idea and expressed himself by saying, “What is wrong with poetry? The are rubbish! I hate listening to poems. I hate reading poems. They are so rubbish. Everything is wrong with poetry!” Learning poetry has led to interesting conversations especially when we were learning the poem ‘Daddy Fell into the Pond’. Did he fall or was he pushed – and if so who did the dastardly deed?!

Bee bought me a book which I can recommend if you too want to introduce poetry to children, it is called ‘I Like This Poem’. and is an anthology of poems chosen by children for children.

Holiday projects can be anything – a subject that your child is interested in or a skill that should be learnt. My mum used to give us ‘learning projects’ and ‘doing projects’. Learning projects were harder and ‘doing projects’ were the fun stuff. I haven’t complicated it that much but I do throw in maths and reading especially in the summer when it can all be forgotten so quickly. I also incorporate structured activities such as football or swimming lessons as the holiday project. Here are some ideas that I have used:

Children aged 7 – 9
Baking + cooking with mum – a simple recipe each day
A photographic theme – take photos following the theme
Keeping a scrapbook on a theme – ants, holiday activities, growing beans…
Swimming lessons
Drumming lessons
Christmas crafts
Easter crafts
Sewing on a sewing machine
Learning to knit

Children aged 4 – 6
Simple sewing projects
Making a pom-pom
Christmas crafts
Easter crafts
Learning to tie shoelaces
Learning to ride a bike
Counting different objects (make a counting box of little objects – buttons, shells, matches…)
Swimming lessons
Tracing over letters
Practice letter forms
Working through activity book
Reading together

Top tips:
– Give each child only one or two holiday projects a day – you can change them each week during long holidays.
– Don’t spend hours on the projects each day, we only do them on week days and not when we are away on holiday.
– Not only do children learn a new skill and have a sense of achievement, but it gives the day a ‘start’ and after doing one activity they happily get on with their own play.
– Have a sticker chart and there is always an award at the end of the holidays. (I normally give them a book.)
– Keep it manageable, realistic and achievable for you and your child!

We ‘map out’ our holiday with a calendar so we can see the shape of it and anticipate the treats. I printed out a calendar using a chart from a website ( which has templates for just about every eventuality. Incidently this website makes me laugh with its hundreds of sample letters from how to say ‘goodbye forever’ to writing ‘hardship letters’. The children drew pictures for the activities we will be doing and we add to it as we decide what to do each day. The counter moves along the days. Each child also has their own chart to stick a daily sticker on once holiday projects are completed and a space to fill in ‘My best thing today was…’

So far I’m loving the summer holidays and I can’t believe we are already two weeks in. How are the holiday projects going for my children? Very well actually. Sometimes they moan about them but I have made it nonnegotiable – it is what we do and it is what I expect from them. Once they are settled into their activity, they enjoy the sense of achievement. Sophie and I decided that sewing mice would be the perfect project and she is so excited about her creation. I found a delightful pattern and one mouse takes a six year-old five days to make – perfect. If you are looking for a mouse pattern, try this link on Martha Stewart’s website. For the first mouse it has been a case of me pushing the needle in, and Sophie pulling it out but she is getting the hang of it. Ella who is three will be using a balance bike but is currently sewing cards. So easy – grab some old greetings cards, hole punch around the edges and then set her off with a blunt tapestry needle and embroidery thread.

We don’t spend hours on the projects each day, we do them only on week days and not when we are away on holiday, this keeps it manageable, realistic and achievable. I am also appreciating an unexpected benefit of holiday projects – each day I give each child focussed, personalised time and it builds our relationship and fills their ’emotional tank’.

The holidays are looming – the ‘big one’ – and I will have three children at home for seven weeks. It is lovely to have my children on holiday but to make it work well, this is what I do:

  • Make a list of activities before the holidays. Then when you are bored or not sure what to do with the day, you can refer to it. It also means that at the end of the break you have achieved your goals. My list includes: visit my mum for her birthday, visit a local museum, visit the Jam Factory (an art gallery), have one friend each over to play, make ‘soggy squares’, follow our local stream wearing wellies. Don’t feel constrained by your list or feel you have to achieve it all but treat it as a starting point.
  • Give each child a holiday project or two. Not only do they learn a new skill and have a sense of achievement, but it gives the day a ‘start’ and after doing one activity they happily get on with their own play. James is doing mental maths (only 10 minutes a day) and learning the time on an analogue clock, Sophie is learning to tie shoe laces and sounding out words, Ella may just learn to ride a bike. The younger ones don’t need projects, but don’t like to be left out either. Of course there are stickers for projects completed and a small reward. As it is such a long holiday, I may change the daily projects as the weeks progress.
  • Have a space on their holiday chart for them to fill in what they enjoyed best on each day.
  • After the first few lazy days, get up at a normal time, get dressed and tidy rooms and have some semblance of a routine. Otherwise it can all go pear-shaped and everyone is grumpy and out of sorts.
  • If you can, carve out some ‘mummy time’. Even if it is a peaceful cup of tea with a magazine. I am also setting myself a photographic ‘holiday project’ as I need to still fulfil my creative needs.
  • Let siblings strengthen their friendships with each other. There is no need to lay on the entertainment every minute of the day. And have fun!