Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A to Z of Children's Free-ish Weekend and Holiday Activities

There’s a reason it costs, on average, £230k to raise a child in the UK – weekends and school holidays. 

And I only have one child.

And an NHS. And free education until the age of 18. AND free school meals until Year 3.

Everyone rushes to shower you with gifts in baby’s early days – the outfits really are adorable – but the moment the lively child-ager needs to get out and about, that’s when my pocket is hit the most. A day just popping into town, never mind visiting an attraction, clears my purse of £20-£30, even with a visit to Poundland for the obligatory treat for being good, and not an actual toy shop.

Plus: 12 weeks’ school holidays per year, AND 52 weekends?!

But it’s okay - I’ve compiled a handy A-Z guide of free-ish (but certainly less than a small mortgage) activities for children of most ages.  As Maui would sing, You’re Welcome. (Sorry, not sorry).

A good few of these activities may come across as creative, and even if you think that you don’t have a creative bone in your body (I’m sure Scientists are working on a discovery any day now) ...creativity only means a willingness to try something.  If you can think, you can create.

Feel free to add your own activities in the comments below!

Abstract Art time – dig out your old wall paper rolls, or even tape newspapers and/or paper together for an arty afternoon.  If it’s a sunny day head outside to draw body outlines and paint outfits on, or just mix up your paints for a quick science lesson on primary and secondary colours.  If it’s dodgy weather (ie, August), make sure you put a blanket/additional newspaper, so that you don’t end up with an abstract carpet.
Cost: Under £3, depending on resources (papers/tape/paint)

Beach craft.  Whether actual sand, or play sand, driftwood, pebbles, shells, or even seaweed can all be used at the beach, in most weathers (I’d avoid storms).  Build the tallest tower out of pebbles, or longest line of shells, or instead of sand castles, create sand animals? Take photos of your creativity and  upload to an online scrapbook (or a real one!)
Cost: could be around £5-10 for travel, as most places in the UK are either minutes to a couple of hours from a beach. Packed lunches, flasks of tea reduce the costs.

Colours. Whether paint or crayons or chalks, or coloured pencils (felts are a bit naff for this activity) teach/remind your child about the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and ask them to guess/remember what three secondary colours can be made (purple, green, orange). 
Cost: whatever colours you have available. Poster paints can be bought for around £1 per bottle and last for ages. A packet of coloured pencils will cost around half a cup of Costa.

Den building.  Chairs, blankets, teddies for inside.  Washing lines, sheets, teddies for outside.  Add books/fairy lights as needed.
Cost: a morning, afternoon or evening.

Elephant noises. Or horse. Or duck. Or giraffe.  Next time you’re stuck on a bus/in traffic/inside because of the rain (why are we not in muddy puddles?!)/bored of the TV play Guess the Animal Noise.
Cost: big fat nowt. Maybe a little embarrassment if you’re on public transport, but I bet someone will join in.

Fly the flag.  Fish out your art materials and the Internet and have a go at creating flags from the countries of the world.  Could use paper, card or bedding, if you’re feeling adventurous. 
Cost: bit of online time.  Remember not to get too distracted by blogs!  

Go to a different park.  Assuming the weather is decent, and/or you have wellies, why not head out a little further and go to a different park to your local one?  Or playground, whatever you call the swings/slides/climbing frames place.  If you are at a park with trees, collect leaves for future art projects.  Stay away from stinging nettles and anything poisonous.
Cost: bit of research (of parks/playgrounds/poisonous leaves)

Hopscotch or hula hoop competition.  You could draw an outline in your garden (or just practice hopping).  If you don’t have the large hula hoop, you could always see how many Hula Hoops you can build onto your fingers.
Cost: minimal. Plus Hula Hoops money.

Inflatadays – each holiday our local community centre will host an Inflatadays event.  Lots of bouncy castles.  Take Mum and Child friends and you’ll easily lose a day.
Cost: around £4-£6 for six hours of bouncing, and or popcorn/cheesy chips. Perfect found-a-fiver-in-your-coat-pocket treat.

Journaling isn’t just mindfulness for adults. Either create an online diary of your rememberies – Google is great software for this – or use A4 paper, polypockets and a ringbinder for physical reminders of what you’ve been up to. 
Cost: whatever stationery you need.

Kite building.  I’ve never successfully flown a kite for more than a few minutes, but there’s great fun to be had from making your own kite.  Use whatever materials you have to hand – twigs or garden bamboo for the structure plus lightweight material - baking paper or tissue paper work.  You could even build tiny kites with straws and paper.
Cost: perhaps tissue paper or baking paper.

Library. If your local library hasn’t closed, this is a great escape – most libraries now open from 8.30-6pm and have a host of free activities for children, from story time, to Lego or Coding or film clubs.  You can also renew books online, to save fines.
Cost: free. Or perhaps bus fare/parking. Or fine money if you forgot to renew.

Make. Absolutely anything. With whatever materials you have at home.  Tip – check your recycling before you throw it away; cereal boxes, egg cartons, toilet roll tubes, bottle tops can all be used for art projects.
Cost: Free.  Bit of imagination or Pinterest searching for art projects. Remember you have a child waiting for you, too.

Nature.  Children are endlessly fascinated by nature, and there are great online resources to help you identify leaves/birds/insects/flowers.  Leaves can be used for leaf-rubbing activities, too. Flowers can be pressed or made into chains. I’d leave the birds and the insects behind.
Cost: fresh air.

Open a shop.  Dig out all that plastic that Santa and Grandparents gleefully buy and create your own shop. Depending on the child’s age, they could write the signs, and labels.
Cost: Nowt. Even if you don’t have a till, you can use buttons/beads/game counters for money, and sell anything, even if it’s pretend.

Penny rubbing. Find any coins – don’t even have to be British coins – and lay a sheet of paper over them.  Rub away with the side of a crayon to reveal a magic picture!  Same principle applies to leave rubbing. 
Cost: Nowt.

Queen (or King)-for-an-hour. First they’re the boss, then you are.  Keep switching roles as needed. 
Cost: they’ll likely prefer being the boss.  You could get the crafts out and make crowns/sceptres, too.

Rice-Crispie cakes. Or Cornflakes. Or any cereal you have in your cupboard.  Lots of recipes and variations online. Great for leftover Christmas or Easter chocolate, too.
Cost: Whatever cereal/chocolate/marshmallows/sprinkles you have in the cupboards.

Send a postcard, or a letter, or a card to a friend.  You could pop it through their letter box if they’re local, or incorporate a Post Office trip (if it isn’t Sunday) and buy a stamp.
Cost: have you seen the price of stamps lately?  There’s a reason we email and WhatsApp.  But, still, great for children to learn about the Post Office, and how important it is to save money.

Take photos of your adventures and head to your nearest Quick Print booth (many supermarkets have these). 
Cost: possibly around 50p a print. Costs less if you order online, but isn’t as spontaneous waiting a week for delivery.

Up and go to a cafe. My daughter loves choosing her own food and many cafes will have deals on during school holidays.  They’re not daft.  Take a magazine and colours/paper for your little one(s) to extend the stay, and enjoy that zone out latte.
Cost: you’ve done so well saving on the other activities that this will be £8 well spent.

Volcano.  Hit the YouTube for instructions and the kitchen cupboard for vinegar and bicarb, and have fun creating your own volcanoes.  Build with newspaper and glue (flour and water if you don’t have glue) and paint.  You could play the Floor is Lava Game whilst waiting for your creations to dry.
Cost: £1-2 if any materials are needed.  Perhaps a sheet to protect surfaces, too.  

Wheels up. Head out for a cycle/scooter/roller blade hour/afternoon.
Cost: whatever wheels you have in your shed.

Cross your feet and try to walk.  Cross your arms and try to eat.  Be silly, but be safe.
Cost: depends what you break. (Hopefully not limbs)

YouTube your day away, with your child. There are endless options, whether learning songs from your favourite Disney films, or watching (and then playing) Toy Reviews.
Cost: depends if you ‘play’ at reviewing toys your child already has, or if you have to head out to Smyths/The Entertainer.

Zone out milkshake. See who can blow the biggest bubbles.  Tip – only pour half the mixture in the glass, to make room for bubbles. 
Cost: you may need to nip out for milkshake mixture, or you may head out to a cafe. 

So, there you go, 26 or so activities to reach for next time your child yells, ‘I’m bored’. You could even ask them to say a number between 1-26 and the activities become random. Until they know which letter of the alphabet they’re dealing with. 

Let me know which of these work best for your family...or if you have your own Go To list of activities to occupy the weekends and the summer. 

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Half-term last-minute mini-break travel plans

I don't know about you, but I'm a bit of a last minute planner when it comes to travel.   
So it's only been a week since we booked our  UK half-term adventures, which coincided wonderfully with MiniDgtl's sixth birthday (seriously, the girl has so much stuff, we're doing experiences as gifts for the foreseeable future). 

Mr Dgtl is off to Bristol tomorrow for work, so we'll all bundle into the car at daft o'clock tomorrow morning, for a two hour drive and drop off to the Mall at Cribbs Causeway for a Mummy-Daughter day out.

  • Indoor shopping doesn't care about rain, sleet, snow or burning sun. 
  • Cinema and soft play to while away time with an energetic six year old.
  • Plenty of food and rest opportunities to suit both our tastes. AND half-term discounts at plenty of chains. 
  • Did I mention shops? And birthday money? 


We'll stay over night with friends, then drive to Windsor, to take part in the Legoland Junior Builder Week, which I'm so excited about.  

Yup, more indoor activities, as the park doesn't open until March. But MiniDgtl doesn't enjoy rides, and happily declared in Lapland that Disneyland Paris was her favourite holiday, because it had a Lego shop.  

Plus, we've queued forty minutes for a 1 minute ride, far too often (I'm thinking of you, Peppa Pig World, Blackpool Pleasure Beach), so I'm fine with spending more quality indoor time than batting away wasps and boredom. 

Mind, when she opened her present last week, she thought she was going to Lapland, not Legoland. 

Still, I'm sure she'll dive right on in to the Lego theme everywhere - watch this blog for a review.

It also meant we could enjoy the hotel experience for a decent cost (£140; I'd pay that for city centre Hilton stay) and includes lots of Lego-based activities and a free Lego box on arrival.  A similar stay, with park access later in the year, works out at double the price, plus a bit more.  

And, because it's the fifth anniversary of our first Butlin's break, and because I'd much rather be on holiday over half-term, than do housework, we're driving to Minehead for the weekend, having snapped up a three-night room-only break for just over £200.  

And, we're Butlin's alumni now, so know how to balance the tons of free entertainment with pay-as-you-go food, which will cost considerably less than the £120 suggested cost for adding buffet-style breakfast and dinner options for three of us for the weekend.  

How are your half-term plans looking? 

Would love to read your plans in the comments below... after all, Easter is just around the corner! (PS: Here's our travel round up from last Easter)

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Size15Stylist Insights: Top Ten Travel Books

'You have brains in your head. 
You have feet in your shoes. 
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose'.
Dr Seuss: Oh, the Places You’ll Go.

Have you ever lost your WiFi connection at an airport, railway station or ferry port? 

Frustrating, isn’t it? 

Or the battery goes before you’ve finished scrolling your social media (does anyone ever finish scrolling?)

Not to worry – here are my Top Ten Travel (paperback) Books that you can pop into your carry on (possibly even your pocket), in case of such emergencies.

This is the first travel writing book I read, of Josie’s cycles around the USA, and I remember how awed I was by her adventures. And, whilst I’m not a cyclist, I knew I wanted to travel across the States as much as I could (I’ve visited eight of the fifty states so far) and create my own stories.  Josie has since written several other books of her cycling and cooking tales around the world.  

Insights into: USA

Perhaps not an obvious travel book about Italy, I was so drawn into the monuments and the trails of the Illuminati’s Path of Illumination across Rome that I checked flights on Expedia.  I was living in China at the time, which made visiting tricky, but one day I’ll visit the Italian capital.  I will probably head straight to Antico Caffe Greco, a centuries old coffee house and writer’s hangout.  

Insights into: Rome, Vatican City

The film and subsequent merchandise have seeped into our psyche so much, however this short story popular in the sixties, has to be the ultimate New York fantasy for a lot of first time visitors. I was no different when I visited Manhattan – Fifth Avenue and a bagel – for the first time in 1997.  I remember reading Capote’s novella as part of my American Studies degree, and collecting black dresses on my travels ever since.

Insights into: New York City

No surprise that a second book around the USA has made my list; a fascinating and infuriating country, and many writers have penned their North American stories.  Not many have done them with a (large French?) poodle called Charley, and with a few classic stories already written.   

Insights into: USA

I read these books about Chinese characters, before my own travels around China, and I imagine they planted the seeds of what it meant to be a woman in one of the largest countries in the world.  And how to deal with a Chinese Aunty (you let them deal with you).  Tan’s tale of second generation Chinese women in San Francisco is a direct contrast to Hui’s characters living in 21st century Shanghai, but both are engaging, and have travelled with me to my bookshelves in 2018.  I think it’s high time for a re-read of these great stories, almost fifteen years since I returned from living in China’s  Guangdong province.

Insights into: China.

Follow Harold, a retiree, as he unintentionally walks from the Devonshire South Hams to Northumberland’s Berwick-upon-Tweed.  It’s the reflective and unintended actions of Harold that swept Joyce’s debut novel to award-winning position.  And, of course, it starts in the Spring – a perfect time for a stroll across the country.

Insights into: UK

From the opening airline desk passenger-name confusion, in a Norwegian town I’d never heard of (Hammerfest), I was hooked on Bryson’s comedy, history and geographical knowledge.  I’ve since spent time in the utterly gorgeous (and still pricey) Oslo and in the Arctic Circle (Tromso) in search of the elusive Northern Lights (spotted them once) and would happily encourage buying this book for any travel enthusiasts.  Armchair or otherwise.   
Insights into: Europe, from a US perspective

I’m a little bit in love with Irish prose, especially of the humorous wanderings, and although I haven’t quite finished reading this book, it’s straight in the top three on the first couple of chapters alone; ‘I immediately implement Plan B, which in this instance is to drive at random until something happens. It’s important to have a Plan B, especially when there’s no Plan A.’ We’ve all been there, McCarthy.  I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in the northwest of Ireland – Sligo and Mayo – one summer, and I will happily return.   

Insights into: Western Ireland.

It’s no surprise Bryson has made the list again, such are his wry cultural observations, informed by his sterling resourcefulness – namely utilising underwear for headwear, to fend off a foggy March arrival to the UK in 1973.  Recognising the need to balance honesty with a magnetic pun opportunity, ‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to’,  I suspect he has made Iowa very proud, in the way of an elderly relative ruffling-your-hair and digging you just a little bit too hard in the ribs, muttering about what a scamp you are.  I’ve gladly shared more than one copy of this book with travel companions.

Insights into: UK, from a US perspective

Books have the power to transport you back in time, and Lee’s autobiographical prose has me longing to set off for a walk across the UK to Spain each time I re-read it.  No airline seat is too uncomfortable when I have this book in my hand. From the opening scenes of waving goodbye to his mother, ‘silently watching me go, one gnarled red hand raised in farewell and blessing,’ I’m ready for travel delays.      

Insights into: 1930s UK

I'd love to hear which travel books inspire your adventures. Drop a message in the comments box, or catch up with me on Twitter.  

Disclaimer - As I'm an Amazon Affiliate (show me a Blogger who isn't), if you buy any books from these links then there's a good chance I'll receive a few pennies for your sale. All opinions and reviews are genuinely my own. 

A to Z of Children's Free-ish Weekend and Holiday Activities

There’s a reason it costs, on average, £230k to raise a child in the UK – weekends and school holidays.   And I only have one child. ...