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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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Keep holidays boredom at bay for Cumbria's kids

For most children in Cumbria it’s that exciting first week of the school holidays. The chance to enjoy time together as a family and make the most of these long, light and sometimes sunny days.

Very often it’s not long before the novelty of free time gives way to cries of “I’m bored!”. Parents can feel pressured to go to expensive visitor attractions or buy brand new toys to keep little ones amused.

Yet the holidays don’t have to mean spending a vast fortune.

Terry Harvey-Chadwick knows plenty about keeping kids entertained without any fancy equipment. The former teacher now runs his own business, scienceandvikings.co.uk, providing science parties and shows for children.

As his alter-ego Professor Boffin he teaches kids how to do kitchen sink science experiments using basic ingredients and will be demonstrating some at Seascale sports hall today and tomorrow, for kids aged six to 12.

And as a father of five he knows only too well the importance of keeping costs down over the summer.

“There is pressure to spend money and go to expensive places, but we resist it. We make use of the local facilities and stay in the west lakes away from the tourists.

“We go on the Ratty [railway], there are lovely walks around there and good, child friendly pubs around Boot. We go to the beach and camping, not at official sites but in fields. There aren’t so many facilities but we have more freedom and it’s cheaper.

“At the beach we build sandcastles, go swimming, play football and look at rock pools, and eat Mawsons ice cream – that’s not free but it is very tasty!”

Joy Woodruff, who runs ABCD nursery in Carlisle, believes that it’s easy to keep younger children entertained for next to nothing – because there is no limit to their imagination.

“Young children love playing with water or sand and you don’t have to use expensive equipment, just household containers and empty bottles. Play dough is easy to make, it’s just flour, water and some food colouring. An empty cardboard box is perft too. Use towels or sheets and they can make a den. You only need these basic things – the children won’t notice, they’ll retreat into their own little world and can turn it into anything. ”

Of course many families will be heading away from home for holidays outside Cumbria. Just how do you keep the kids happy during long car journeys, and prevent the often inevitable “are we nearly there yet?” cries?

Child psychologist Tanya Byron believes it doesn’t have to be a trial, so long as you are prepared.

“With families finding it increasingly difficult to spend quality time together due to our hectic modern lives, capitalising on any opportunity for parents and children to enjoy each other’s company is something that everyone should be aspiring to, no matter whether they’re in a car or around the dinner table.

“The problem with car journeys is that being cooped up in a small space for a long time, combined with the added irritation of traffic jams and hot temperatures, means that tempers are more likely to flare.

“In order to ensure a happy holiday, it’s important to make sure the journey there can be part of the fun too. Being prepared is the single most important thing people can do to improve the family journeys.”

She says a car journey family tool kit should feature activities that include distraction, communication, relaxation and having fun, and she suggests trying to vary the activities in terms of the senses engaged, for example follow a memory game with a sing-song, which then leads into some creative play.

Successfully completed activities can be rewarded with healthy treats and stickers on individual charts, which can be exchanged for treats such as a comic, pack of football cards and so on, during breaks in the journey.

Kathryn McKie, from Belle Vue, Carlisle, is mum to Ellen, 10, and four-year-old twins Lauren and Melanie. The family have just returned from a holiday in Brittany and the drive took nine hours.

Kathryn says she had various ways of keeping the girls entertained.

“I got a couple of cheap DVD recorders you can attach to the head rest and let them choose a DVD selection to bring. I bought some I-spy books where you spot things, such as on a road trip or around town, and tick them off as you see them. They are really cheap and the twins and my eldest daughter can all play.

“Most of the journey was fine, we made sure we had lots of stops to break it up and let them get out and run. Most service stations now have picnic areas and grassy areas where they can let off steam.”

Now back in Carlisle, Kathryn recommends simple play and games outside.

“We put up a pop-up tent in the garden and have ‘camping picnics’ and play games on the lawn. Big sis Ellen organises obstacle courses with hula hoops and skipping ropes.”

She says another top choice is the local park.

“Bitts Park is good for siblings of different ages, the eldest plays tennis with friends whilst the younger ones play in the park and the splash zone.

“Cara’s Park is near us and really popular. We take a picnic if the weather’s nice and, of course, it’s a cheap day out. The kids love having a picnic outside and running around. They often make friends there too because you often meet the same families there.”

Cathie Jones, lecturer in childhood studies at Newton Rigg, agrees that kids are happy just to play outside, and no gimmicks are needed. “Get the children to decide what they want to do, use the internet to get ideas for activities.

“Just go outside and get them in amongst nature. Go out whatever the weather. Get them involved in photography or star-gazing. Take a rounders bat and ball with you to the park and see how many kids you get around you within five minutes.

“Often they just want to play out, rather than go anywhere special.”

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