12 Ways to keep children busy on a budget
Wallet-friendly ways to beat boredom during the last days of the holidays
Have a yard sale
Just before school starts is the perfect time to get your household in order and declutter. A good way to do that is by having a yard sale, with the added bonus that it will also teach children a thing or two about money. The prep part can be just as much fun as sale day itself, from selecting items they're willing to part with, pricing the goods and labelling them, planning how to arrange them on the 'stall' and making and putting posters up around the neighbourhood to advertise the sale. Get them to invite their friends, family and neighbours and make sure you have enough small change on the day.
Create a memory book
Your children have probably had some wonderful experiences already this summer, whether that's summer camps, holidays, days at the beach or school tours. Help them preserve those memories with a summer scrapbook. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate and all you need are some magic markers, glue, decorative sheets and, of course, a scrapbook. Get them to put in anything that evokes happy summer recollections, from photos to postcards, luggage tags, dried flowers and stamps. It's a great activity for rainy days.
Giving your little ones green fingers will help to instil a love of nature in them, as well as providing a sense of accomplishment when they see the fruits of their labour showing results. Small children love little jobs like picking weeds and sweeping leaves. Older kids can learn a valuable lesson in where food comes from by taking on projects like making a herb terrarium in a large glass bowl. At this time of year they can plant spring cabbage, winter spinach, Chinese vegetables and autumn salad mix, to reap the rewards at a later stage.
Organise a movie day
Ideally in summer you'll want children to be out in the fresh air as much as possible but given Irish weather, this is not always realistic. TV is the default option for many parents when the weather is rubbish but you can make their screen-watching more exciting if you have a movie day. A trip to the cinema, as most parents know, is not an inexpensive thing once you add in the snacks and drinks, but creating a cinema in your own home is cheap as chips. Play some of their favourite films and serve up delicious theatre snacks such as different flavoured popcorns in paper bags, and scatter big soft cushions around the room. Martha Stewart's website (www.marthastewart.com) has some good movie day nibbles recipes to try.
Open a pop-up restaurant
Pop-ups are all the rage so why not let your children get in on the act, but for one night only. Get them to pick a name for this new venture (it's very important) and then help them devise an easy menu (perhaps one that requires only assembly as opposed to actual cooking) which they can write out and decorate. You can all go shopping together for the food and then help them prepare the meal. The guests on the evening can be mum and dad and the children can take orders and serve food. A small tip for your wait staff will be greatly appreciated.
Start a scavenger hunt
Children are natural born explorers and a scavenger hunt satiates this desire. It requires a little planning on parents' part but they're easy to create and can be tailored to any number of children and any age. Unlike a treasure hunt, which poses riddles, a scavenger hunt is comprised of a list of things to find or do and the winner is the person who ticks everything off the list first. It can be outdoors or indoors, or a mixture of both. Ideas for an outdoor scavenger hunt might include an unusual shaped pebble, a wild flower or a coloured leaf, while an indoor one has endless possibilities - it could be colour themed for example - but just prepare for the house to be turned upside down in their quest to complete the list.
Proper camping with children requires superb organisational skills. Do it in your own backyard however and you have all the elements of an outdoor adventure but one that comes with proximity to a flushing toilet and their favourite snacks. Pitch a tent, load up on the throws and soft cushions and arrange some outdoor lights around the garden to create atmosphere as dusk falls. A barbecue will really add to proceedings, as does a singsong and games. Note: they don't really have to spend all night there if the lure of their bed beckons when they've tired of the camping lark.
Love your library
Ireland compares very favourably to other countries when it comes to free museum entry and a trip to any one of the four branches of the National Museum constitutes a great day out. However, libraries are another mainly free resource that can also keep you and your children happily occupied. There are 359 branches around the country, and as well as books, there are audio books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, internet access and free wifi to avail of.
Channel their inner Spielberg
You might be harbouring the next cinematic genius in your household and just not realise it. If you've got a smartphone with a video camera built in, you have all you need to realise that creative potential. This is a project that could take up the best part of a few days if you get them to come up with a storyline, find suitable props and act out and record their own screening. If you're sufficiently teched up - or they are - there are also several apps for both Android and iPhone that allows them to edit their masterpiece.
Compile a last-days-of- summer bucket list
The countdown to school might be under way but have they done everything they've wanted to make 2015's summer a memorable one? Get them to come up with a list of things that are feasible to do over the next ten days. Possible activities: a picnic, collecting shells at the beach, a bike ride, spending a day at a local park, kite-flying, a nature walk, making homemade lemonade, play Frisbee, making a bird feeder and learning a new board game.
Go Old School
The best fun doesn't come from a shop, nor is it delivered via a computer screen. Simpler things can bring much pleasure, which why the humble cardboard box has its rightful place in America's National Toy Hall of Fame. If you think back to games that you enjoyed as a child, the very same pastimes will also appeal to your children, no matter how proficient they are with a tablet. Think charades, musical chairs, pass the parcel, follow the leader, playing dress-up and memory games like 'I went to the shop'.
Let them be bored!
Declarations of 'I'm bored' tend to send parents rushing for the remote control or desperately trying to rustle up a play date. But educational experts say that unstructured time for children helps them develop their imagination and stokes their creativity. If they're feeling a bit under-stimulated and mum or dad doesn't rush to provide a solution, they may come up with interesting ways of entertaining themselves, as necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe they'll just read, or they'll daydream, although there is also the potential that they'll channel this energy into mischief-making. But either way, children need some downtime too.