(Written by Andrea van Eugen) A recent report by UNICEF gave a shocking snapshot of the UK today: Children are consistently found to rank below the vast majority of children in the developed world in terms of well-being.
It basically said that parents struggle to spend enough time with the children and resort to ‘buying’ them off with expensive gadgets because society put this pressure on them.
In my experience children don’t want expensive gadgets, no matter how much they beg for them. They want you; your time. And it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to give it. So here are my family’s cheap and cheerful ways of having a laugh and, well, just being together.
- Get grubby
Is there anything cuter than seeing children in the garden in their wellies, smeared in mud and brandishing a trowel?
Your back garden is a haven for adventure; Mud pies, wheelbarrow rides, bug hunts. My kids even get excited when daddy asks for volunteers to stand in the ‘green’ wheelie bin and stamp down on the contents to make room for more.
Buy or create a compost heap and tell them it needs lots and lots and lots of worms to help it rot down. Or create their very own little veggie patch (you can also get really cheap veggie ‘bags’ to grow seeds in if space is a premium in your garden) and let them plant and tend their own seeds.
- Cook up a storm
There are many, many lessons to be learned in the kitchen. All that weighing, measuring, the different ingredients and instructions and timing.
Your kitchen can be an extension of the school classroom without them even knowing it! And on top of all that you are teaching them valuable life lessons for when they finally fly the nest; and how popular is your child going to be when they say they can easily whip up a cottage pie/flapjacks in a jiffy?
Find an easy biscuit recipe that requires them to be decorated and then go wild with the icing/sprinkles/Dolly Mixtures. Or create your own dinner party. Get the children to make their own place settings, create and menu and then cook it.
- Build stuff
If there is one thing ALL parents should have in their ‘how to entertain the children’ arsenal it’s a large cardboard box. My two have kept themselves entertained for whole days with one plain box that the wine (ahem) came in.
Create a rocket/a pirate ship/a dog bed (my daughter is obsessed with animals!), throw in a whole bunch of crayons and felt tips and let them get creative.
Then when their masterpiece is built, throw in some blankets, pillows, a torch. Just make sure you hide your make up in case they do as mine did and tried to use it as camouflage paint!
- Art attack
I confess I DREAD it when my kids say they want to get the Play Doh or the paints out. They play with them for 5 minutes and then walk off to do something else. And I’m left clearing up all the mess, which absolutely DOESN’T take 5 minutes!
So, we have art ‘days’ instead. We set up art stations – junk modeling, card making, painting, drawing, copying – and treat the house like a craft centre they can move around from area to area.
Junk modeling is fabulous because you just need to save up all those loo roll holders, bottle lids, foil containers, milk bottle tops, cereal boxes and set them off creating. And those blank stretched canvases you can pick up quite cheaply are great for creating a ‘work of art’ to hang in their bedroom.
- Go to the movies
But your own personal movies . . . recreate the cinema in your own home.
Have a DVD day but make it an ’event’. Choose the film together, choose the snack of choice (err hello? It’s the movies, you HAVE to have popcorn surely?), then close the blinds/curtains so it’s dark like the cinema, cuddle up under a blanket (not so much like the cinema) and . . . press play.
- Get outside
Just go out together – enjoy days out with the kids. Go walking, discover fields, forests, hills, build dens and just walk. Jump in puddles, discover interesting leaves, listen out for animals, race up hills, play hide and seek . .
We did a lot of walking during the school summer holidays and the children started scrapbooks of their jaunts; writing down what they saw, their favourite bits, how long it took as well as sticking interesting leaves etc in there. Again, just like your kitchen, the outdoors can be a fabulous extension of the classroom.