As half term starts houses up and down the land are filled with desperate parents wondering how to occupy their brood as the days get shorter and the weather colder. If you want to avoid hours of computer games and TV, here are a few suggestions for half term activities.
Even if the thought of glue and coloured paper brings you out in a rash this is a great opportunity to let the kids get messy with a craft session at home. And with Halloween round the corner you have the perfect theme for the kids. From witches’ hats to cut out bones, you can put together a home-made costume for the kids to wear on the 31st October when they are trick or treating. Or decorate your home with bat mobiles (you just need some black paper and old wire coat hangers or sticks for the frame), ghosts (white paper is fine for inside or bin bags offer a waterproof outdoor version) and scary spiders (paint egg box sections black and use black pipe cleaners for the legs).
Staying on the indoor but messy theme, what about getting the kids interested in baking? No matter what the age, as long as your patience holds out, children love baking cakes and sweet things. Even the smallest toddler can help with something as simple as chocolate krispie cakes and from there you can move on to fairy cakes, fruit loaves and sponges. But don’t get hooked on the idea that it’s only sweet things they’ll be interested in. Pizzas are brilliant for all ages – from the dough making to the toppings. Put out a selection of toppings (olives, salami, sweetcorn, peppers etc) and let them ‘build’
their own. It’s amazing how much more healthy stuff they put on when they are offered a selection like this. There are lots more great ideas here.
[Relevant: A delicious fish pie recipe for busy mums]
Galleries and museums
Depending on where in the country you live your access to good galleries and museums might vary. Anyone in the South East has the pick of the bunch in London and with the added bonus that many are still free entry. Or look at the Art Fund passes for reduced price entry at venues across the country. http://www.artfund.org
Many museums and galleries put on special children’s focused activities in the holidays so look locally for details. But even relatively ‘dry’ art galleries can come alive for kids with a bit of effort. Perhaps visit the gift shop first and buy some postcards of paintings then challenge your children to ‘find’ specific paintings.
Once you find them you can talk about what they can see. Or take some pens and paper and let them pick their favourite and then sit and draw it. Worry less about getting to see everything and instead just concentrate on a few rooms or paintings that most capture their imagination.
If you haven’t visited a youth hostel for years, this half term might be just the time to start. Forget the daily chores of old, these days youth hostels have family rooms, duvets and restaurants. From cities and towns to remote rural spots, youth hostels can provide a relatively cheap way of getting a night or two away. With communal kitchens, eating areas and invariably games rooms, there’s a high chance your children will soon find some friends to play with, making your stay remarkably stress free. http://www.yha.org.uk/
It’s the winter alternative to camping; get the whole family involved in cooking and washing up, take your board games and cards for evening family entertainment (although many also have TV room these days) and prepare to make friends and rediscover the joy of bunk beds!
Whether you live in the city or the country a walk can be spruced up with a specific nature focus. For young children giving them the task of finding the most perfect, or favourite, fallen leaves can keep them occupied. Hunt for acorns, conkers and specific trees. If you are particularly inventive you could create a ‘shopping list’ of items to look out for so they can tick them off as they go. If you want to attempt longer walks with reluctant children discreetly leaving a few treats for them to find can enliven things no end, especially if they are led to believe the fairies or goblins have left them out for them.
Combine walking with craft and do leaf prints when you get home.
It might be cold but don’t let that stop you from getting outdoors and joining in activities with your kids. Wrap up warm and get on your bikes together, or if your kids are too little for that why don’t you jog while they peddle — they’ll love racing you and it will get everyone’s heart rate up. Try setting up an obstacle course in the garden or down the park and time each other going round it with prizes for the winners. If you really can’t bear to be out in the cold head to your local swimming pool or water park for a family splash. And remember if you join in with your kids rather than sitting on the sidelines watching you’ll be less cold, get some exercise too and they’ll love you for it. Check out the Fit4Life website for more ideas on family fun activities..
With all the best intentions of avoiding too much TV the weather and dark nights may well mean you’re all huddled in front of the TV at some point. But why not break away from the usual Disney fare and use it as a chance to encourage your kids to watch something different.
The slapstick of Laurel and Hardy is popular with all ages, or what about Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid or one of the Marx Brothers films – most kids are enchanted by Harpo’s tomfoolery? Jacques Tati is one of the greatest directors in movie history and his classic Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is a charming tale of an innocent holidaying in France in the 50s which has echoes of a warmer, latter day Mr Bean.
If your children are old enough why not introduce them to some of the classic Westerns like The Magnificent Seven. Your local library should be able to get films like this to rent or check out the BFI website for more esoteric titles http://filmstore.bfi.org.uk/. Make home made popcorn and all sit down together for entertainment for the whole family.