Now that we're past the busy period between when school holidays start and we have Christmas and New Years events to fill in the days, many families are struggling with keeping the younger members of the family busy. The ongoing chorus of "I'm bored" is being sung loudly across the land. So, what can we do to fill in the last three weeks before school holidays end without breaking the bank?
School holidays are a double edged sword. On one hand, the opportunity to spend some quality time as a family is welcomed but it's also a long time to keep kids busy. In most states, the summer break runs for about six weeks. That's a lot of time to fill in. What are some of the things you can do to keep the kids busy and entertained?
Local Parks And Beaches
We're pretty blessed in Australia to have lots of open spaces. I'm in Melbourne and have discovered lots of interesting parks with great tracks and trails. Finding a local trail - along a beach or inland - can be a great way to engage your kids in nature. You can try to identify local flora and fauna - there are lots of apps for that - and the kids will burn plenty of energy and gain an appreciation for the world. Many kids are acutely aware of the environmental impact of human activity but a trip to a park where they can engage with nature will help them move that understanding away from something they've read about into something they experience.
Local beaches are a lot of fun as well. Even on a cooler day or in the evening, the beach can be a lot of fun. Walking along the shore, looking at the shells, sea-weed and other aquatic life will help them in the same way as a bush walk.
On warmer days, you can do the usual things like games, sand castles and swimming.
Best of all, if you pack a picnic lunch, the coast of a few days of beach and parks costs very little.
Summer is cricket season. My family are big fans of the Big Bash League (BBL). The games are pretty short, action packed much of the time and the pre-game entertainment is pretty good. While food at the stadiums is quite dear, you can bring your own food and drinks - just check the stadium rules. For example, when we went on New Years Day to the MCG we could bring plastic bottles in but no cans of drink.
A family ticket to the BBL, for two adults and up to two kids was just $42 for us. And, as there was a women's match on as well, we watched two games as well as the pre-game entertainment that day which consisted of the cast from School of Rock doing a couple of songs and a human cannonball act. It was a great day and evening for our family.
There are other local sporting events as well. Check out your local Facebook page or paper. For example, many local tennis centres run coaching clinics for kids as do some basketball clubs. These cost but if your child is into the sports it's a great way to help them develop their skills and stay active.
Home "Drive In" or Outdoor Cinema Nights
If you have some yard space and the weather is good, move your TV and DVD/Blu-ray player outside and set up an outdoor movie night. Getting the kids to set up outdoor chairs, banana lounges and other out door furniture, preparing snacks like popcorn and sweets, and playing the parts of ushers is great fun. Get them to invite some friends (make sure you choose an appropriate movie) and turn it into an event.
It's lots of fun and will keep them busy for plenty of time as they do the preparation.
Cooking And Baking
The popularity of cooking shows on TV has spawned a generation of kids genuinely interested in food preparation. The best thing about cooking is that even if you're not an expert, being able to read, follow instructions and check the odd YouTube video for specific techniques is all you need to be able to do to create tasty dishes.
I've found that baking cakes, cookies and muffins is a great place to start with younger kids as the key skills are generally pretty simple; measuring, melting the odd bit of butter and mixing. As they get comfortable doing that, you can move into preparing cooked branches for the family (bacon and eggs did you say? And hash browns are pretty easy to to make as well). After a little over 21 years of parenting, the one thing I've discovered is that far more kids are into cooking now than ever before. Some need to be encouraged a little but most enjoy it and it gives them an appreciation of what it takes to get dinner on the table.
If they really like it, it can become a regular part of the family schedule with kids responsible for dinner once a week or month.
Chances are you've got a pile of board games sitting on a shelf or in a cupboard that have been played a handful of times and then ignored. Fish them out and set two or three up. Instead of committing to just playing one, have several on the go so you can dip in and out of them over a couple of days. I've had family games run for a week by just taking a turn or two each day. That way the intensity is manageable - many families have come to blows over fierce games of Monopoly - and there's something for everyone to enjoy so no-one's favourite dominates the playing.
All you need is some space.
Lots of kids are into gaming but it can become a very private/personal activity for kids. Instead, get them to pick a game that engages other members of the family. For example, we sometimes take turns playing one game as a single player. While we're not all as competent as each other, by learning how to play from the experts, usually the kids in my case, you get some insight into what they like about their games and they get to put one over the parents with their superior skills.