Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Keeping the children busy

I was in the supermarket checkout queue behind a group of young mothers this morning; they had just dropped their children off at school they were bemoaning the approach of the long school holidays. I was quite surprised to hear that they were all dreading having their children at home for 5 or 6 weeks and couldn't think how they were going to get through the long days.

I resisted the urge to tell them that their children would be grown and flown before long and they ought to enjoy this precious time with them. I avoided pointing out that we live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, surrounded by beaches and countryside (FREE); that the village has playing fields and a park (FREE)and that the library runs story time and craft sessions throughout the holidays (FREE). And, by the way, hadn't they realised when they had babies that they would grow into children? Not a word did I say on the subject but I've been turning it over in my head all day.

Perhaps I'm being unfair? This generation of parents grew up with television as their main source of entertainment and so perhaps they really don't know what to do with their children. I was fortunate when mine were small, we lived in Southsea, Hampshire, with the beach, the common, a fairground and the canoe lake all within a very short walking distance. We also had a large, rambling house with lots of space for the children and their friends to play in when the weather kept them indoors. We didn't have television and not a lot of money so all our entertainment was simple and homemade and, I must admit, I never minded a mess!

I'll be more constructive and offer a few suggestions for things to do at home, costing very little. Here are some of the books I used in my early days of teaching and had to come up with ideas for craft lessons or wet playtimes. I am sure there are lots of new ones around but these can probably be found in charity shops and second-hand book shops for a few pennies.

This Penguin book of Children's Parties by Helen Thomas is in three sections: What to do; What to eat; What to play. It is full of ideas for action parties and seasonal parties but the recipes and games can be adapted for small family activities. You don't have to have all the neighbourhood children in the garden but that can be fun!

From this book:
Matchbox filling - give each child a matchbox and send them out into the garden or around the beach or park for a set time and give a prize to the child who has the greatest number of objects in their box. (I collect matchboxes all year to play this game on the summer camp. It never fails to keep the children busy and the record is 83 !)

I like some of the recipes in this book: cookies for the children to make on a wet day, or for me to cook beforehand and the children to decorate outdoors on a fine day. Top favourite - make your own knickerbocker glory.

The Play Away Party Book by Brian Cant is full of old favourites like Sardines, Musical Islands and Up Jenkins. It has sections devoted to ice-breakers, up and about games, sitting about games, performing time, forfeits and many more.

Wet days call for lots of paper and paints or felt tip pens. Having no artistic talent, I relied on books like the Copycat series to help me produce visual aids for my lessons and then I discovered that those children who won't draw because they feel they can't, love to use these books to copy or trace.

I know from years of running summer camps, that most children would rather do things than sit around watching television. Busy children are happy children and the holidays will fly by. I have collected hundreds of ideas for games and activities and would be happy to share them.


  1. m.

    Although we did have a television, viewing was strictly limited to one weekday program with popcorn (we all voted for Star Trek) and couple over the weekend. No cartoons.

    Summer vacation were seldom a problem. We lived in a neighborhood filled with kids and a park with a pond across the street. Our town provided very inexpensive day camp programs, the local YMCA had a big indoor pool and there was a great beach on Long Island Sound kids could bicycle to when they were older.

    I always kept some new things on hand for the odd rainy day: paint and brushes, play doh, big construction paper, poster boards, etc. We made cookie and cakes that required lots of decorating, and of course, we made costumes and the kids dressed up.

    The boys had matchbox cars and trucks, GI Joe and jeeps and tanks up and down the hall. The girls put each other's hair up, braided in ribbons and hair clips and played with Barbie.

    Spring school vacations were the most problematic because the weather was still cold and often rainy, so we'd take a drive into the city for the planetarium, the museum of natural history or the zoo.

    Plenty to do and as you say, they're so soon up and out, you wonder if it was all a dream.

  2. e,
    It sounds like a fun-packed childhood. I bet your children have such a lot of happy memories and that's the best legacy we can hope to give.

  3. We loved going to the park- in all weathers, to play on the equipment and feed the ducks. My girls also loved the wendy house and pretend kitchen. The wendy house was in the garden in all weathers and my eldest (now 17) insisted on eating all her meals in there at one stage. When she wanted to be a cat, the plate had to be on the floor...
    Dressing up and writing stories were favourite rainy day activities. I loved it when they were small, and still look forward to the holidays when they'll be at home.
    I love your books. I have some similar ones that I used to use for Brownies activities.

  4. RattlingOn
    It was your post about the knitting book that sent me to search out some of my old favourites. I wonder if anyone produces this kind of book now?

    Thinking back over my angry reaction to those mums this morning, I realise I should really feel sorry for them. They will miss out on the best parts of parenthood if they don't get involved in playing and being creative with their children.

  5. After his daughter was born, my son-in-law and I were driving home from the hospital and got started talking about childhoods. His was a bit troubled, he said, but my daughter told him hers was idyllic. It's probably the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me.

    m. I feel sorry for the children, not the mums.

  6. e
    You are right on both counts - nothing could be nicer than for your son or daughter to say they had a great childhood. And yes, I do feel sorry for the children who miss out on all the imaginative play and adventure that our children enjoyed.

  7. There are far too many parents who don't want the kids around. When it is vacation time, the children are in organized 'recreation' programs or weeks-long summer camps. Our summer vacations in my part of the world are 1/2 of June, all of July and August. I know that much of the change is due to mothers working outside the house.

    I'll never forget when my daughter was very young, we visited a woman with a girl the same age. She worked outside. I did not. She asked me how I could stand it, and what we did all day.

  8. Nan
    Like you, I just loved having my children at home. I've never understood boredom, there just aren't enough hours in the day to fit everything in.

    I used to think I had been very lucky to be able to stay at home when the children were small but now I see it was a choice. We could have had luxury cars and holidays but we had fun instead.

  9. The "what shall we do with them" conversation is pretty common amongst my peers. However, I sometimes think people say it because it's what they think they "should" say. They don't want to come across as too devoted (ie.crazy mummy) or on the wrong side of the mummy wars.

    I look forward to the seven (yes, seven) weeks of bliss. There's loads to do around here too (sadly, no beach)and we don't have to get up in the morning to do the dratted school run. Hurrah! Oh, and I miss 'em when they're at school, I miss 'em very much.

  10. Dulce D, I suppose mothers get very mixed messages from the government and so-called experts about what they should do - they are terrible if they don't work and terrible if they don't look after the children! It must be a nightmare trying not to offend at least one person in a group. That said, these particular mothers had no jobs, they just didn't know how to keep the children occupied.

    My children had extra long holidays, too. I loved it and never looked forward to the start of a new term.

  11. What a great post! I loved having my children home in the summers. We would go to parks, explore our back yard, go to early morning movies, make forts, all sorts of things. It was the best time and it does fly away quickly.
    One day they will look back at their children's childhood years and wish they could have them back.

  12. You should obviously write a book on this subject, Monix. A lot depends on the children, of course, and whether they fight or not, and whether they have anything in common with each other apart from being brother and sister.
    I think I was lucky to have boys because they liked the same games.

  13. Susie, I'm sure your children got on well together because you kept them busy and interested in doing things together. I had a boy and a girl and they got on very well and still do now they are grown.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!