I think there is a lot of emphasis placed on always doing things with your kids nowadays. I’m not very good at sitting still for long periods of time, so keeping them occupied suits me well. But lately if we have a busy week, I like to have an ordinary day to wind down from it and let my kids have the room to be creative.
When I got up today, the first thing my kids asked me was “what are we doing today?” Sometimes I think if we have a lot of busy days, they come to expect it and become more entitled, so I like to offset it with uneventful days too.
Today, I let my kids watch TV, they played in the garden and made a pretend barbecue with flowers, stones, leaves etc. I like to see what games they come up with when I allow them the space to do it. I sat in the garden with them, my writing and a cup of tea. I think it’s good to let your children watch you doing something creative of your own. They need to know you have value beyond serving them snacks sometimes 🙂 They usually show curiosity about what I’m doing when I do write/read/make things in front of them. My daughter usually joins in with an idea of her own. Today they were drawing pictures of some lilies in our garden.
We had to go out for a little while to do errands and we stopped at the pound shop and one shop on our way out. Even if you are trying not to spend too much money, I think it’s good to treat yourself to one pound treats 🙂 I got the girls a couple of canvases to colour and decorate and I got some chocolate and Yankee candles that were on sale.
I think music and candles are important. They make you feel like you’re treating yourself when you don’t have the time to do it, and you can enjoy them whilst occupying your kids. Sometimes the best times I have are when my kids are happily playing (before they inform me of their next fall-out!), I’m listening to music, dreaming up ideas and enjoying the aroma of a new candle, coffee and cooking. My multicoloured hydrangeas make me happy too, with my new unicorn lights 🙂 Sometimes it’s important to just enjoy whatever your version of ordinary is.
Last weekend, we went to The Fine and Dandy Market. It is a monthly market in Belfast that sells handmade items and quirky things. I always know when I go it’s going to account for most of my unnecessary spending that month. Everything is so cool I’m like a deprived magpie in a jewellery box. I’d been looking for hanging plants for a while. I saw some at a local flower shop, but they were expensive, so I waited to see if I found a cheaper one elsewhere. I found one for £12 that hangs from a rope and a plant in a glass ball that hangs from a metal stand the stall holder had made. I got a bit carried away since they suit the 60’s decor in my living room.
My kids enjoyed the market too. They like going to the fancy bows stall and appealing to my mum to get them some. They got some unique ones. One was a little dream catcher hair clip – I think about pinching it when she’s not looking.
They have made the fair more kid-friendly now. There was a felting workshop upstairs where the girls learned how to make soap in a coat. You take a bar of soap and wrap it in wool, using water until it clings to the soap and looks decorative, as well as having a practical use. Making them involved lots of bubbles and mess, so my kids loved it and they were proud of their creations they got to bring home.
In the market, there is a lady who makes amazing earrings. I bought another pair. She was simultaneously holding a kids’ workshop where they could use gems, and patterned paper and tape to decorate rings and badges.
I think the key to a good day out with kids is breaking things up into small segments. I manage to go shopping with them sometimes as long as there are food and drink breaks and a chance for them to make something/ run around in an open space.
We shared a pizza outside the market and then decided things were getting a bit fraught, so we decided to go to the Belfast Mela.
I’d never been to it before and it was worth going to. It is an event that celebrates all different cultures and brings everyone together. Tickets were seven pounds for adults and kids go free. It was on for hours and it takes place in Botanic Gardens. There was so much to do – we sat in the sun and listened to the Dublin Gospel choir. The girls were happy to get some lemonade and dinky donuts. Then we found a tent for kids where they could dig in big basins filled with rice/cereal and utensils. That kept them occupied for ages. There was dancing with scarves for them in the tent too. We walked around the whole park to see what was on. There was lots of food being served from different cultures. Each section was labelled with a country. We watched African limbo fire dancing which my daughter said was her favourite. The girls loved sticking their heads through the animal photo boards. It is held once a year and we would definitely go back. I love days where you plan to go to one event and end up at another one, deciding what you do as you go and not over-planning; letting the day unfold how it wants to.
I always thought of card-making as an expensive hobby, since there is such a vast range of materials and if you choose to buy fifty unusual stampers for £1 each, it quickly mounts up to a hefty total. My mum used to be incredibly generous with her supplies, trusting us with her hot glue guns and showing us how to emboss, but we were probably well past the age of considering craft materials edible (which my younger child isn’t; she particularly enjoys the taste of play doh, crayons and paper.)
I really love seeing my kids doing something creative instead of staring at a screen, but without the creativity creating stress for me. This is one of those activities where you provide the materials but aren’t required to supervise their every move.
Here are a few tips to make card-making kid-friendly:
- Buy materials in the poundshop. They have an amazing range of craft materials and it doesn’t matter if your kids tear them to shreds. We bought cards, envelopes, decorative paper, lots of stickers, ribbons and glue dots for just over £5.
- Get lots of stickers. I don’t know why, but with my kids stickers become the central focus of any craft activity.
- Make coffee, because with their hands happily occupied yours will finally be free to enjoy a cup.
- Let it be an activity for them to experiment instead of having a fixed outcome in mind. I find that my kids hate directed crafting; they just want to do their own thing without someone bossing or over-instructing.
- Use glue dots or a glue stick instead of liquid glue if you want a quick clean-up afterwards. Wipeable tablecloths are a good idea too.
- Give them people to make cards for (this makes the activity last longer.) For example, my kids made thank you cards and birthday cards for friends. They enjoyed adding personalised pictures that they associate with each person. You could also do a fictional version of this activity using their favourite characters.
- If they go off on a tangent and end up not doing anything remotely related to card-making, let them. The point is to let them come up with their own ideas, not drive yourself crazy.
My kids and I went away for a few days to a remote seaside village. I’d never been there before, so although all it contained was one shop and a chip van, there was still an element of adventure to our trip. I asked one of its inhabitants if there was anything to do there and their answer was “use your imagination.” That was precisely why I chose the village for a holiday: I wanted to go somewhere where my kids were forced to use their imaginations and where I was forced to limit my internet usage due to the lack of wifi. Sometimes you have to remove the easy entertainment to come up with your own ideas. Here are a few ways to make a simple holiday interesting for kids:
- Pick a town you’ve never been to before; even if it is local you will still get to explore it and uncover what’s there. My kids were surprised to find a playground a few feet from where we were staying, which caused a great deal of excitement. Most kids would rather find a playground with a new lay-out than visit a famous tourist attraction. At that age, it just feels like being trailed around boring places for adults and they won’t remember it anyway.
- Instead of eating out in expensive restaurants, get cheap takeaways, make picnics, have barbeques and buy things that your kids don’t usually get for breakfast. My kids only get the miniature boxes of cereal as a treat, but that makes it something worth getting excited about. Reserve certain items as treats so that receiving them seems like a noteworthy occasion. While we were on holiday, we had chips every day, which we never do. They are the perfect cheap holiday food because you can eat them in paper by the sea or indoors in a kid-friendly environment and each experience feels entirely different, without costing a lot.
- Allow more ice-cream than usual, even if it means walking to the shop to get a one pound tub instead of sitting in somewhere with a expensive sundae.
- Bring notebooks for your kids to keep a holiday journal. If they are older, they can write about the places they have been to and what they have done. If they are younger, they can draw pictures. My kids were drawing in their “sketchbooks” on a wall at the beach, which they enjoyed and it meant I got to sit in one place for a while, which is always appreciated.
- Get them a “treasure box” (an empty tin or box) and they can collect items on nature walks or at the beach. My kids really loved beachcombing. They could spend hours doing it: collecting shells and driftwood, washing them in rock pools and bringing them home to look at.
- Go to simple places where you can let your kids just be kids. They don’t have to be expensive or impressive. We went to an abbey, which sounds like it wouldn’t interest kids, but they loved it because they could climb on walls, run across the green expanse and spot colourful flowers.
- Look for unusual shops that your kids would enjoy looking in. My kids are always happy to look in a second-hand shop or a book shop. They like looking at the toys or looking for used books. We found a vintage shop and I was surprised how much my kids loved looking around and finding unusual things. If you can stop your kids grabbing everything within reach they really enjoy looking in antique shops and “helping” you find things. My kids were happy to find some vintage dolls for £2.50 each.
- Go for cream tea together. This is another activity that doesn’t need to be expensive. Instead of getting afternoon tea, you can pick a café, get some tea for yourself and milk for your kids and share a scone while they colour in or read a book at the table.
- Go on a form of transport your kids don’t usually get to use. We drove to another seaside town and went on a ferry. It cost £2 for a return ticket on foot and it was one of the activities from the trip that made the greatest impression on them.
- Bring a craft activity, magazine or new book for when you are indoors. My kids got a kids’ art magazine each, which kept them entertained for hours and distracted them from their toys’ absence in our accommodation.
- Don’t let the weather dictate what you do. We spent most of our time on beaches, and with the aid of a pair of wellies, my kids enjoyed jumping in rock pools as much as they like building sandcastles in the summer. They pretended that rocks were trains, drew in the sand and “stirred cookies” in the water. You can still go for rainy day walks: eat a picnic under a tree and let your kids pretend its a playhouse. You could also seek out accommodation with an open fire and return there for warm drinks afterwards.
- Pick a less popular holiday location in the general area you would like to visit and use it as a point from which you travel to surrounding towns. Pick a time of the year when there is less demand for bookings (or plan well in advance to get cheaper prices.)
Holidays for kids don’t have to be a financial worry or so complex that they require months of pre-planning. Simple things mean more to kids and you’ll still return home feeling as rested as if you’d done something more extravagant (or as rested as its possible to feel with kids in tow.)