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Staying sane as a stay-at-home parent

Being a stay-at-home parent is a daunting proposition for many of us. While some people take to the role with admirable aplomb, many find it challenging to keep youngsters entertained all day long. The good news is that you don't need serious cash to ensure every day is different and interesting.

There are countless free activities, indoors and out, and lots of great ways to ensure your home can be a fun and exciting place from dawn till dusk.

SURPRISE It's important to have something different to do every day. Sometimes it will be a fun outing such as visiting friends, other days it may just be a long walk with the buggy.

Kids respond best when they know there's something fun on the cards, so ensure chores are followed by playtime -- if you've to go to the bank, let the kids feed the ducks on the way home. Think reward rather than bribe!

WORD UP Make friends with your local library. It's free to join and the services go far beyond loaning out books. Many libraries host weekly story times where staff read favourite books to groups of children. Many libraries also host junior book clubs. It's a fun way for youngsters to discover new authors while socialising with peers and learning to listen and express themselves. Many libraries also run occasional art projects and these are a good choice over the mid-term. Learn more at www.library.ie.

PLAY TIME Join a local parent and baby playgroup to get an essential fix of adult conversation. Many community halls and churches operate these for a small weekly contribution, and you can let your kids play freely for an hour or two. You're likely to make new friends with people whose kids are at the same stage as yours. Invite them over for a cuppa and play date and you'll soon have a collection of local, stay at home buddies to hang out with.

DAY TRIPPER Most of us know our local parks and playground inside out, but why not take the kids further afield. Whizz around Dublin Bay on the DART to go seal spotting at Howth harbour, or pebble gathering at Killiney Beach. Take them to the Phoenix Park looking for deer before visiting the great playground, or head up the mountains with buggy and wellies to go troll hunting in the forest. Aside from transport, these activities are all free.

CRAFTY FOX Stock up on affordable craft supplies, including glue, sticky tape, safety scissors and coloured card and let the kids go wild. Stickers, glitter and wobbly eyes are great fun extras, and everything from toilet roll inserts to egg boxes are invaluable supplies. Have a project ready for a rainy day when it will pass a few messy but happy hours. Sites such as www.kaboose.com and www.activityvillage.co.uk have great projects for all ages.

GET CULTURAL Museums are more family-friendly than you may imagine. The My Museum programme runs hands-on events every few weeks that allow children to explore the museum's diverse collections through art, drama or storytelling workshops, demonstrations and special guided tours. The Baby on Board series for under-sixes means all ages can enjoy this free national amenity. See www.museum.ie for all events.