School holidays: Keeping kids busy

"Mom, I'm bored". These are the most terrifying words in the English language, apart from "Please be patient. Your call will be answered."

The school holidays are upon us. The thought of weeks of children hanging around the house looking for something to do, requires parents to be very resourceful in order to keep their children occupied and themselves sane.

Merely dropping off children at the nearest shopping centre is a copout, and frankly rather irresponsible. Unless there is a supervised programme or a particular movie the children want to see, hanging around a shopping centre aimlessly is not a healthy way to pass the time for children.

But there are alternatives that won't necessarily cost you an arm and a leg.

Some ideas for keeping kids busy:

  • Libraries, museums, aquariums and churches often have special programmes during the holiday seasons. The activities presented often include storytelling sessions, puppet shows, guided walks in nature parks, art classes, bookmaking, paper folding, face painting and supervised games.
  • Phone art centres, art galleries or local schools to find out if there are any special courses during the holiday. These are usually entertaining, presented by professionals and teach children useful skills while keeping them occupied.
  • Find out if there are summer camps for children in your area. This is useful especially if you are working and are unable to spend time with your children or take them on holiday.
  • Television, videos and computer games have their place, and function well as electronic babysitters, but these do not encourage much creativity or imagination and therefore have their limitations. Children should not spend more than two or three hours per day maximum staring at a screen.
  • Children are seldom bored if they have a friend with them. The presence of a friend turns even a mundane happening into an adventure.
  • Teach your older children how to bake a cake or prepare a meal. You never know when it might come in very handy that your 13-year-old son cooks good spaghetti bolognaise and your daughter knows all about cheese scones. Get them to clean up.
  • Board and card games travel well and can keep children occupied for hours. From Pictionary, to Monopoly to Trivial Pursuit - the list is endless.
  • Get children reading. Take them to a kilo book shop (give them a fixed amount to spend and let them choose their own books as they are much more likely to read them) or the library. Encourage them to get involved in a series of books, such as the Harry Potter books or Tolkien's hobbit epics.
  • Involve children in some ongoing project, such as redecorating their room, or making something to sell on a craft market.
  • Rent a house on a farm and go away for a week. Farmhouses (phone Tourist Information Bureaus for availability and rates) more than an hour from the city are usually ridiculously cheap and large and can often accommodate more than one family. The more children the better, as they entertain each other.
  • Get children involved in some ecological project, like cleaning penguins, doing a beach cleanup, helping to remove alien vegetation, helping out at a bird sanctuary. Feeling useful and needed is a great antidote to boredom.
  • Older children might enjoy going on organised hikes or adventure camps of some sort. It is also a way of meeting new people.

More info:

Winter holiday parent-savers

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated June 2010)

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