Keep your kids busy during the holidays – cheaply!

Children look forward to the holidays with great delight. Their parents, not so much. Keeping little ones occupied presents a challenge to parents – especially those who are working during the holiday period and are a little strapped for cash.

Here’s the good news: the holidays don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If you aren’t going away, and don’t have piles of money to throw at the problem, the 1Life team has some ideas and activities to help keep little hands busy and little minds occupied.

Plan, plan, plan
The key to a successful holiday is planning. In the weeks leading up to breakup day, find out which other parents are around and fit in as many playdates as you can. Try to schedule them at regular intervals, so that they break up the less-fun days at home alone.

Make sure you plan other treats or activities as well, so that you won’t be tempted to throw money at the problem last minute.

Divide up their day
Allow your children to do certain activities at certain times of the day – for example they can watch a half hour of TV after breakfast, have a half hour of iPad time after lunch, and swim after 3pm. This will give them a sense of routine, with enjoyable milestones to look forward to.

Try to have one, big adventure planned
If at all possible, try to set up one big holiday adventure with your children – to the zoo, aquarium or amusement park. It will give them something to look forward to and something to remember, and it helps to make up for all the other days at home.

Set up activities the night before
If you are still working for the first few weeks of the holidays, and your child will be staying home during the day with a carer, try to think of things that they enjoy doing and get them lined up while your children are sleeping. You can:

  • Make a simple biscuit dough for them to roll out, cut and bake.
  • Hire a DVD and make a big batch of popcorn for an at-home movie day.
  • Hide loads of tiny treasures, like speckled eggs or 20c pieces, around the house and garden, to keep them occupied in a day-long treasure hunt.
  • Buy a packet of seeds and clear a patch of garden so that they can dig and plant.

Check out your local facilities for free holiday activities
If you have a local library, park or community centre, find out if there are any scheduled holiday activities for children. These are often free or relatively inexpensive. Even if nothing in particular has been planned, you can always take your children to the local library, kid friendly restaurant for a milkshake, or park for a picnic without blowing your budget.

Plan a holiday-long activity to keep them occupied for days
Instead of making your children tidy up their games at the end of every day, declare that certain rules don’t apply during the holidays. Encourage them to build a house out of cardboard boxes, a city out of wooden blocks and plastic toys or a continuous car track all over their bedrooms or the lounge. Let them borrow items from around the house to complete their construction and have nightly discussions about their plans for the next day.

Get them into the garden
If you have a garden, or easy access to a communal space or park, think of activities that they might enjoy doing outdoors. For instance, you could make a corner of the garden a “mud patch” and let them have wonderful squelchy fun for days on end. Or you could encourage them to start a naturalist’s notebook and sketch any creatures they find lurking under leaves or rocks. Or let them build a fortress with garden furniture and cushions.

If you have something to do, take them along
Children relish spending time with their parents, even if the task at hand is not fun. Take them along for a haircut or to the shops or even to the office (if you are working over the holiday) to break up the monotony. Think of ways to make it fun for them and reward them for good behaviour.

All play and some work
If your children have holiday homework to do or a personal goal they would like to achieve – like learning to ride a bike or tie their shoelaces – offer them a reward for getting the job done by the end of the holidays.

You can do it!
Every parent would love to give their children a fantastic holiday full of fun and adventure. Unfortunately, economic realities and time constraints seldom allow for this. But with a bit of planning and creativity, you can make sure your children still have fun – and learn a little – during the holidays.