The easy indoor guide to summer fun
Sunshine is every parent's summer holiday saviour, enticing children of all ages outside to play and exercise. But you needn't dread a typically Irish patch of bad weather - our reporter's guide to indoor fun will keep kids active and entertained on those inevitable rainy days
Maybe it'll be a long, hot summer full of paddling pools, water fights and forts in the park. Or maybe our Irish weather will strike, and summer days will suddenly become a lot more stressful. But don't worry - with our arsenal of indoor antics, there's no way your kids will think their summer holiday has turned into a washout. Who says you need the sun to have fun?
Being cooped up indoors can mean there's no opportunity to burn off pent-up energy. Physical activity grinds to a halt, cabin fever sets in and sleeping schedules go out the window. But staying inside doesn't have to mean staying still.
If you can't bear the chaos of assault courses and crazy races, then toddler yoga is a handy option to up the exercise ante without unleashing mayhem. Check out sites like sheknows.com and nerdymamma.com for easy instructions for 6-9 simple poses (like downward- facing dog and happy baby) that tots love and even the most novice yogi can master.
Why? Yoga boosts flexibility and encourages blood flow. It has also been shown to improve calm and focus (hurrah!).
Key question: how do I create engaging participation games that won't result in a smashed TV? The answer: balloon Olympics. 'Zone' off different areas for categories like 'balancing' (how long can you balance a balloon on your hand? How long on your foot? Left or right?) String balloons from above to see how many times competitors can jump up to tap them in 30 seconds and then see who can stay under their balloon, blowing it from one end of the room to another. Have you enough teams for balloon volleyball? Wall tennis? Race each other with a balloon between your knees or sandwiched between two players (no hands allowed). The list of options is as long as your supply of balloons and if you run out of ideas, Pinterest has plenty.
Why? This is a good workout for core muscles (without endangering electricals). There's also the option of craft-making to create Olympic medals, signs and so on.
Equally important to (and linked with) maintaining physical well-being is developing good mental health habits. "Summer is a good time to lay the groundwork for reducing stress and improving focus during the school year ahead," says mindfulness trainer and consultant Orlaith O'Sullivan (orlaithosullivan.com). "Mindfulness can be a huge resource for teens, taking them off autopilot, reducing stress, soothing anxiety and loosening the grip of technology." Orlaith runs dedicated workshops but her website, under 'Resources', has great downloads (including guided meditations), ideal for home practice.
Why? Mindfulness can help strengthen resilience, reduce stress and help teens recognise the physical symptoms of stress.
The kitchen is the go-to hub for rainy-day fun, but forget boring cupcakes…
No sun shouldn’t equal no summer treats, but avoid sugar-filled snacks that’ll have them bouncing off the walls. Instead, try homemade brown bread ice-cream cones with banana and pineapple ‘nice cream’. “This is really just banana on toast but done in a really amazing way that will wow any child,” says Aileen Cox Blundell, blogger at babyledfeeding.com, whose video for the recipe has had 500,000 views online.
You’ll need: 1 empty cereal box, Tin foil, 4 slices of brown bread, 2 tbsp melted coconut oil, 1 tbsp maple syrup, 2 bananas, sliced and frozen, Qtr. pineapple, sliced and frozen, 125ml coconut milk
How? Use a dinner plate to draw a large circle on an old cereal box. Cut out and divide in four, to make cones from each quarter, then cover the cardboard completely in foil.
Take the bread, roll flat, brush with a little of the melted coconut oil and syrup, cut into a circle and wrap around the cone to shape. Seal the sides tight and bake at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for 15 minutes and leave to cool.
Blend the frozen bananas, pineapple and coconut milk until it’s like soft-serve ice-cream. Fill the cooled cones and enjoy!
Why? “Children need to be introduced to cooking in a fun and engaging way,” says Aileen. “They learn valuable skills and build their palate.”
Step it up by adding a side serving of science to your treats and learning about the observable properties of acids, bases and salt solutions when you whisk up a batch of honeycomb or learning about boiling point ratios by making marshmallows (see sciencebuddies.org for recipes). Then enjoy the silence as you scoff the lot.
“Pizza dough is a great thing to make: it involves a simple recipe, method and activity as there’s plenty of work involved in kneading the dough,” says Lisa Halpenny, director of classes at kidscook.ie. “It’s a recipe they can take all the way to college for a cheap, cheerful and gorgeous meal.” She adds: “Children take great pride in what they can make and this can often lead to them trying new foods (like maybe having one piece of pepper on their pizza!) because they have put the effort into making it themselves.”
Quick and easy for you…time-consuming for them
5 ideas to keep kids occupied when you're too busy to play
1 Boredom jar
You'll need: Coloured pens, Lollipop sticks, An old jar
Kids of all ages can work on this one to drum up their own solutions to calls of "I'm bored!". Task them with coming up with 20 or so ideas of activities (read a book, draw a picture, learn a new word…) and write them on lollipop sticks that can then be pulled out of the jar the second anyone dares utter the 'b' word.
Why it's a good idea: You're getting them to be creative and take charge of their own entertainment. Older children can help the younger ones come up with ideas, while the younger ones can be occupied colouring the back of the sticks.
2 Selfie Scavenger hunt
You'll need: Mobile phone/tablet
Okay, this will take a little bit of effort on your part, but not much! Using your own, or your child's device, simply take photos of things around the house that the children then have to find. Stagger the difficulty rating for different ages by varying how close up the shot is (more cryptic close-ups for older kids, clear shots for younger ages).
Why it's a good idea: This gets them to use memory, powers of deduction and adopt a new perspective.
3 Stone painting
You'll need: Round, flattish stones, Paints, Paintbrushes/sponges, PVA glue
Throw down a plastic mat, a pile of stones and some paints and let them get creative. Tots will enjoy simply splodging on colours (or encourage them to use fingerprinting to make cute keepsakes as pressies for relatives), while older children can get more creative. If you haven't been beachcombing for pebbles, then you can usually pick up a bag of decorative white stones at a home-and-garden depot for a good price.
4 Ice excavation
You'll need: A selection of small toys (Lego pieces, etc) l A basin l A freezer l Hot and cold water l 'Tools' (spatulas, tongs, plastic Play-Doh knives and so on) l Also handy: old squeezy sauce bottles
Place the toys in a basin of water and freeze them the night before. Allow it to thaw slightly, then task the tots with 'rescuing' their toys from the Ice Age. Putting warm water in squeezy bottles will help when chiselling gets too much. If you're worried about water play getting too messy, keep the basin in the bathroom (or bath).
Why it's a good idea: It's a massively absorbing sensory activity for younger children but also teaches them about temperatures, melting points and is potentially a discussion point for the Ice Age.
5 Flying School
You'll need: A large sheet of paper l A pair of scissors l Various-sized round receptacles - a saucer, a biscuit tin, a plate, etc l Sellotape l Cardboard (for badges)
Cut several sizes of holes in a large sheet of paper (varying from saucer size to biscuit-tin diameters), then tape it to a door frame for the kids to 'fly' their paper aeroplanes through the holes. Older kids should stand further back, younger children closer. Assign points to each of the different 'windows' (eg 1 for large, 5 for medium, 10 for small) and create a wall chart for scores. You can even hold a winners' ceremony complete with homemade wing badges.
More than making do
Ah, arts and crafts - the backbone of wet-weather entertainment. But what to do if you've exhausted the colouring books?
What? Salt dough fossils
You'll need: Salt dough (500g plain flour, 500g table salt, 250ml warm water; method here: rainydaymum.co.uk/classic-salt-dough-recipe/); rolling pin, dinosaur toys, paints, PVA glue.
How? Make the dough, divide into eight balls and roll to 2cm thick. Then press in the dinosaurs until they leave an indent in the dough. Bake in the oven at 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 for around 1 hour and leave to cool before painting and coating in PVA to create your own fossils.
Why? "This is quick and easy, plus it teaches children a little of one of the ways that fossils are made," says Rainy Day Mum blogger Cerys Parker. "It's one of our favourite ideas that keeps the kids busy as well as giving them something to learn." For more ideas, see rainydaymum.co.uk
How and why? Most houses have a bucket of Lego - but are you putting it to full use? Joanne Hartnett, who runs Bricks 4 Kidz Lego camps for boys and girls aged 5-12 in Fingal and Santry, Dublin, has these tips to help you get the most from your bricks.
● Ask your child(ren) to solve a problem or solution to something using Lego (eg who can build the biggest tower, longest bridge, fastest car?).
● Ask them to build their model without instructions from memory and see how it differs from the original - does it work better? If something's missing, how can they solve the problem?
● Improve teamwork and social skills by giving groups of children a 'theme' for building.
● Buy for ability, not age.
Why? "There are many benefits of Lego building for children of all ages, from pre-school up," says Joanne. "For young children it improves fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination and concentration levels. It fosters imagination and encourages creative skills, problem-solving and critical thinking."
Without sounding cynical, older kids might be more motivated by the promise of cash rather than the mere sense of achievement in making something - but encouraging them to devise an Etsy-worthy product might hit both targets. DIY peg lamps, dotted pen mugs (diyprojectsforteens.com, diyjoy.com) storybook paper roses (100layercake.com) and colourful duct-tape wallets (frugalfun4boys.com) are all fun, achievable, ideas with impressive results.
Bored with the old board games? These classics have been updated, making them cool enough for the kids but still familiar enough that mum and dad can join in the fun
1 Game of Life Junior (€15.99, Smyths)
A simplified version of an old favourite with cooler rides and focus on one fun day rather than an entire lifetime.
2 Frozen Jenga (€22.59, ie.kidits.net, pictured)
Remove ice blocks to build Elsa's palace.
3 Twister Moves Hip Hop Spots (€45.90, online retailers)
Follow the lights and hop on the coloured spots for an electronic-dance take on the classic.
4 Cluedo: Sherlock Edition (€34.99, Eason)
Same format but with all your fave characters and landmarks from the TV series.
5 Scrabble Junior (€29.99, littlewoodsireland.ie)
Choose from two levels and use pictures to encourage younger players to spell out words. Or try Scrabble Junior as Gaeilge (€29.95, artbythelee.ie) for a new twist.
6 Monopoly: Ultimate Banking Edition (€40, Debenhams)
Contactless bank cards track your wealth, and property values rise and fall in this post-crash version.
7 Junior 30 Seconds (€24.99, Smyths)
The Irish-made, fast-talking classic sees players proceed along the board by guessing the words described by their teammates.
Why: Well, aside from being a great bonding activity, young children (even if they're not playing) can learn about rules, focus, taking turns and deferred gratification. Players learn decision making, logic, strategy, memory and paying attention. They'll also find out just how competitive their parents are...