Half-term is still upon some children, so if you're looking on keeping them entertained this week or already thinking about the Christmas break then we have the expert advice just for you.
Last week we launched the ‘Actimel Family Wellbeing’ online forum where we allowed you to post your family health and wellbeing questions and have them answered by the experts.
Leigh-Anne Stradeski, CEO of The National Children’s Museum and an expert in play and learning offers her advice and answers your questions.
Hi Leigh- Anne,
It is getting really cold outside and I would love some tips on what cheap activities I can do with my 6 year old daughter and 9 year old son in the half term week. They get really bored staying inside but cash is a bit tight at the moment, so some playing advice would be much appreciated :)
I’m sure there are countless numbers of parents who are going through exactly the same thing! Play doesn’t have to cost anything and with a bit of effort and imagination, can provide a rich variety of opportunities to excite even the most bored youngsters inside and out. Try den building with lengths of fabric and pegs; create elaborate structures with cardboard boxes, string, tape and scraps of fabric; wrap up warm and get out and about to collect items which would make a great nature collage or mobile; make some Halloween themed jelly using red or green jelly with scary themed items such as grape eye balls or spider jelly sweets or create frightening feely boxes with a selection of funny feeling objects such as dried apricots for tongues, cooked, cold spaghetti for worms and a wet sponge for a brain! Click on to our Play 20 website to see a range of other play activities which you can choose together www.play20.org.uk
Leigh Anne - is it more important for kids to play or should I be giving them educational work to do in their spare time? My kids are between 4 and 11 and they just want to sit on the play station. Can i strike a balance?
Play is so important and believe it or not, it involves a whole lot of learning. Play opens and nurtures children’s imaginations, develops their creative thinking and helps them learn to express themselves. It offers choice, control and freedom within reasonable boundaries, helping children develop emotionally, physically, intellectually and socially. There are also lots of play opportunities that have direct and significant educational benefits in terms of maths, science and literacy as you’ll see from my answer to Mary Jane below. With all this going for it I’d opt for play every time especially when children spend as much time as they do in the classroom and doing homework assignments as they get older. At a conference I attended recently which involved asking children’s views on play and well being, a common theme from the children was that they play less spontaneously these days due to school obligations and lack of free time and they turned it back to us grownups to sort this out because they really do want to play! As you say ideally you strike a balance between screen time and active playtime. To lure them away from the play station, I suggest playing together with them because children generally love to see their parents being silly and it is a fantastic way to get closer to each other and build a healthy relationship that will last a lifetime. For lots of ideas to play and learn with your children I suggest you visit our Play20 website at www.play20.org.uk.
Hi Leigh-Anne Half term is a nightmare for our family. I am taking the week off work to look after the kids but they get really bored unless we are doing something 'cool' everyday. Where can I take them to play when the weather is bad? Kids are 12 and 9. Also they are at slightly different age stages so like doing different things
It is really challenging trying to find activities to please everyone when your children are at those different age stages. You have one in middle childhood and a young teen so although they will still have a few things in common they will be miles apart on others. Nine year olds tend to be incredibly curious about the world around them and although it might not sound “cool” museums with lots of hands-on exhibits or science centres can be a good choice and most will have some type of workshop or special activities taking place during half term. Let each of your kids choose what kind of museum they’d like to visit according to their interests which will give them confidence and a sense of control over their activities and then you can choose one too! To get a bit more physical, swimming is a great option if you have an indoor pool facility nearby -- a bit of splashing around is fun for everyone. Or how about a little bowling-- it's good exercise and knocking all those pins down is great therapy!
Hello, My daughter, Anne is at a stage where she wants to be on Facebook and Twitter all the time. Recently she asked for her own mobile phone - and she's only just turned 11. I am happy for her to be exposed to social media and texting, but I am concerned that she might lose interest to books, conversation and personal contact. I really don't want to forbid her from using any of the above, but I don't know how to maintain a balance while explain to her the benefits of an "offline" life. Any thoughts? Thank you, Mary
In a world dominated by social media this is a common concern and every year it seems that children are getting involved in facebook and twitter at an earlier and earlier age. You’ve got the right idea though, it’s not about forbidding Anne to do anything but encouraging a balance and helping her see the benefits of other activities such as reading and playing outdoors. Focussing on her interests and exploring her ideas about things she’d like to learn about and experience is a good place to start. You can then play and learn alongside her and show her that there are other ways of gathering information, developing new skills and finding an interesting hobby that will offset her use of social media. Doing things together with our children is something that gets lost in the general busy lives we lead but it is so important to the development of healthy relationships and not surprisingly, is one of the best ways to get our kids more active. Bear in mind too though, that using social media is good preparation for future involvement in a technology-dependent world and there is evidence that it can help kids be more open-minded, creative and worldly wise so it’s not all bad!
Question for Leigh Anne: I don't really like playing with my young kids. It is tiring and I get bored. Some mums love to and it makes their day. Am I abnormal? What things can they do to play on their own?
In our busy lives, we all feel tired now and again and would appreciate some relatively low energy play activities to share with our children and you certainly aren’t abnormal! The important thing is that we create opportunities to connect with them during the day by spending valuable time with them – through play or otherwise. Play doesn’t necessarily have to be part of a structured session either – you could build it in to daily activities such as partnering up e.g. if you’re doing the hoovering, ask your child to do the dusting or see who can find as many pairs of matching socks as possible in 1 minute when sorting the washing. Turn climbing the stairs to the bedroom into a fun game by pretending it’s a tall mountain to climb and race a car or teddy up to the top. During hair-washing, create some funky hair-dos with the shampoo suds or test whether different objects will sink or float such as a Lego brick, a small plastic toy, a beaker, a lolly stick, corks etc. For relaxing play, pop a gentle tune on and exercise slowly to the music; take turns drawing letters with your fingers on each other’s backs to guess or for younger children, ask them to take their doll or teddy on an adventure around the room and to come back to tell you where they’ve been. Pretend that items of furniture are mountains (sofa), forests (chairs), lakes (rugs) and so on. It is very important for children’s development that they do have time to play alone. You could ask your children to play with their toys near you – the important thing is that you’re with them, talking, laughing, sharing and taking an interest in them. Children really do value any opportunity to connect with you!
What games are fun and also educational? I don’t want my kids being lazy when we are trying to compete to get them into good schools. It so tough out there and I know lots of mums are trying to keep teaching their kids around the clock
Hi Mary Jane
There is certainly more pressure on parents nowadays when it comes to choosing schools, but we must also be careful not to pass any of our anxieties on to our children so they feel the pressure too. Finding the right balance between free, open ended play where children have choice alongside more focused play is really important if we want to ensure that children have as broad a range of play opportunities (including games) as possible. Play supports children to become more independent, creative and confident learners which can scaffold and support what happens at school. For the young mathematician, you could involve them in games which increase their maths skills, such as creating a role-play shop using real items from around the house and real money, or when you visit the supermarket take a calculator, a pen and a notebook and challenge your child to keep track of how much your shopping will come to. For the young scientist test the density of liquid layers with a transparent beaker, some golden syrup, some cooking oil and some water. Investigate which items in your kitchen cupboards dissolve in hot and cold water such as salt, pepper, sugar, spices, flour, rice and honey. For young explorers, hide treasure around the house or garden and draw a map to help the children find their loot. A handkerchief on your head and using some beads can help you look and feel more piratey! See if the children can do a treasure hunt for you as well.
Hi Leigh-Anne. I feel that my kids spend too much time watching TV and playing video games but I struggle to get them interested in anything else. Nothing else seems to capture their attention for as long. How can I get them as excited about playing games or activities that don't involve a screen?
In this day and age I think all parents struggle with how to strike the right balance between screen time and time spent doing more active play and outdoor activities. Generally, it’s agreed that two hours a day on screens should be the maximum but most of us don’t actually monitor it that closely so we only have a vague idea of how much time we spend. So a great starting point is to make a game of tracking not only your children’s usage but your own as well because you need to set a good example. You could have a prize or special treat for the family member who logs the least amount of screen time over a week’s period and then the next week you have to break that record. You can also make screen time active time, for example challenge the family to see who can do the most push-ups, jumping jacks, or leg lifts during TV commercial breaks. Also, watching TV can become a habit, making it easy to forget what else is out there so give your kids ideas and/or alternatives, such as playing outside, getting a new hobby, or learning a sport. By slowly introducing alternatives and explaining to children why it’s important to play and be active you can gradually reduce the amount of time they spend watching TV and playing video games.
Leigh Anne... you are my lady. Can you give me a daily plan for half term. I have a 10 years old and twins who are 7.They don’t like being outdoors too much but are open to fun activities
Great to hear from you. Here are a few ideas which link to a range of playful opportunities:
Day one: Play imaginatively by making an indoor den with fabric, pegs and chairs; use the back of a piece of wallpaper and draw a tall tower with lots of windows, then ask the children to use their imagination and draw what will be going on in each window?
Day two: Play actively by turning a waste-paper basket into a monster’s mouth with some paper and crayons – roll up socks to act as pies and throw them to feed the monster! How far can you throw them?; gather pieces of material together, the lighter the better (scarves, hankies, cut offs) and try juggling together – how many can you juggle? Can you juggle to each other?
Day three: Play as chefs by creating frozen grape kebabs – place grapes onto wooden kebab skewers and then in the freezer for a few hours; create a pizza face using small margarita pizzas and then asking the children to decorate them with extra items to create a face e.g. mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers.
Day four: Play musically by DJ mixing a range of household noises e.g. shaking a box of cereal, banging a tin can with a spoon, turning on a battery operated toothbrush or rustling some greaseproof paper or play guess the song, using household items (cereal box shaker, pans etc) as instruments and playing a well know song that either yourself or the children have to guess. See if you can gargle a song!
Day five: Play on a rainy day inside by creating a rainy day mobile using a coat hanger and craft materials – you could use cotton wool for the clouds and strips of tin foil for the rain or outside by wrapping up, grabbing your brolly for protection and using a camera to capture the magic of the rain, including water droplets, cloud shapes and colours, reflections in puddles and rainbows. Make a rainy day photo album.
Day six: Play messily by making some coloured water using food colouring. Pour it into an ice cube tray and then place a toothpick into each section. Freeze the mixture and use these small paint blocks to create wonderful pictures on paper. Watch what happens when the water slowly melts; Mix some icing sugar and create some tasty pictures together. Use coloured paper to make the icing sugar stand out. Make swirly patterns with fingers and watch what happens when the icing sugar dries. If you have an icing bag, you can also pour the mixture in and pipe some artistic creations.
Day seven: Get out and about at the local park and see if you can spot different types of trees. Collect a leaf from each one e.g. Oak, Ash or Sycamore and create a tree book at home. Add interesting facts. Create an explorers box, by decorating an old shoe box and then collect interesting things at the park. You can always take a camera as well and put pictures you have taken in the box.
Femalefirst Taryn Davies