Days In and Out with the Kids

By Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein

With half term seemingly every five minutes and a long stretch of summer holiday looming ahead, it can be hard to know how to keep kids of all ages, but particularly under-10s, entertained. Here are a few suggestions for brightening up days indoors and fun trips out that won't break the bank or drive you crazy.

Note: This guide is rather UK-biased as that's where I am, but the home-based activities can be done anywhere!

Under 5s

Babies might not need to be out and about as much as older children, but they do benefit from a change of scene and toddlers can always do with burning off energy. You might be longing to get them stuck in to a sandpit or water table but not have a garden or the room in your house as well as not quite trusting all the facilities at your local park; for example ours has a sandpit, but also a lot of foxes. This makes me highly suspicious I'd be dumping my infant in a fox toilet. What's the alternative?

Well, down south, Watford's Parents Paradise is a huge indoor soft play area that has graduated entry prices without the need to have a longer membership - plus babies under 12 months are completely free. Our friends swear by it for their eleven month old who is a very confident crawler. You will probably need to spend some money on site as bringing in food and drink is strictly forbidden and there's an extra fee for go kart rides if you take an older child, but generally speaking it's a very cheap option for some peace and quiet while they burn off energy crawling and wobbling around.

If soft play appeals and you're elsewhere in the UK, you can find a directory of similar places in various locations at

Again in the south, it can be hard to find a little bit of nature on your doorstep. However, Belmont Children's Farm in Mill Hill is a lovely urban option, with low entry fees (free for children under 18 months) and a great collection of cuddly residents, from guinea pigs to alpacas. For a pound or two extra, you can grab a bag of feed and offer pellets off your hand to many of the animals, and the farm is plentifully supplied with sinks and hand gel dispensers so health and safety is carefully observed without ruining your fun. The cafe offers a good selection of food and randomly but deliciously specialises in waffles. I've actually been there with a nine month old who seemed to enjoy it, but I think it would be better value with an older child.

If you're not in the capital, there's a comprehensive list of children's farms and petting zoos by city on Childrens Leisure.

But what if going out isn't an option and you need to make the most of the time stuck indoors? Well you could...

Create a safe obstacle course - our ten month old daughter thinks it's hilarious to cruise in a big circle around the room. If you've got silly amounts of money to spend on this you can get sets of extra large foam blocks for building or for a much more affordable price huge foam floor puzzle shapes.

Get some minimal mess creativity going - even if you don't have a garden to take the brunt of the imagination explosion, there are options that don't mean too much clearing up. The Aquadoodle is a great favourite among toddlers and the worst that can happen is a puddle of water. And of course with older toddlers setting them a challenge in LEGO Duplo is a brilliant open-ended creative activity.

Use technology productively - no-one wants kids to go four-eyed, but learning to use a computer creatively and playing some simple games together or doing some drawing or writing with reception-age children will be beneficial to both of you. You don't have to get any more complicated than MS Paint, but if you want to go a bit more flashy Disney Junior has loads of games and activities, from playing music to choosing an image to print and colour and the Fisher Price website has infant, toddler and pre-school games.

Over 5s

Older children have a lot more freedom and are able to careen around on bikes and play outdoor games in the park. But they can still benefit from a change of pace, and there are some days that just don't lend themselves to getting fresh air.

Although even younger tots can really enjoy museums they are a good deal more interesting as they get older. The V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is entirely child-focussed, in both activities and collections, which span from the 1600s to the present day. Better yet they're running an exhibition of works by children's author and illustrator Judith Kerr (Mog, The Tiger Who Came to Tea) until September, so adults have plenty to take in too. The Kids Pages means you can have some build up and follow on activities to do around your museum visit.

Similarly interesting is Leeds' Abbey House Museum, which is a firm favourite of my five year old nephew; though entirely Victorian in focus the children's rooms upstairs are interesting to young and old(er). And the recreation of a street in 1800s Leeds is both slightly eerie and interesting. To top it all it's right opposite Kirkstall Abbey, which is beautiful, peaceful and surrounded in parkland for kids to run about in.

If you're not sure what's near you or need to know more about different options to plan a trip further afield, the Show Me site features fun stuff from museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK.

Then there's always the theatre for a special day out. While hunting around online for good options I became deeply jealous that I don't live in Scotland because the Biggar Puppet Theatre looks incredible, with performances around £7 and backstage tours just £3. But of course London is not short of child-friendly theatre, such as Wimbledon's Polka Theatre, which also has austism-friendly and signed performances listed. 

The Official London Theatre Guide has loads more options in and around the capital, including Kids Week which aims to offer free theatre experiences for kids from 12-26 August, but for further afield check out your local press or explore the latest from children's theatre touring groups such as Oily Cart, who focus on early years groups and children with complex disabilities or Multi Story, who have also performed in North and South America and Europe.

Thinking of ways to make a rainy day more fun? How about...

Creating a treasure hunt - either you for your kids or the older kids for the younger ones. The prize can be simple and cheap or even something like getting to pick the next day out and clues encourage problem solving. 

Having a movie day - why should adults get all the duvet days? If it's a miserable day outside, let them pick a few family favourites and snuggle down to watch. Okay, tomorrow might have to be an active day to burn off the extra energy, but everyone deserves a lazy day sometimes, including parents who have spent their time planning fun activities!

Messing up the kitchen - I've never met a child that didn't like stirring batter and licking the spoon. There's a real sense of achievement when producing something the whole family can enjoy, and there's an awful lot of skill in carefully decorating a cake or cookies. BBC's Good Food site has lots of child-friendly sweet and savoury recipes to get you started.

Finally, remember: a little boredom never hurt anyone. In fact, sometimes it leads to the best kind of imaginative play or discovering - perhaps writing! - amazing books. Some of my favourite holiday activities from a very young age included plenty of time to read. Your kids probably have oodles of books, toys and games they hardly ever look at during term time, so they can raid the cupboards and keep themselves occupied for a while, too!

Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein is a mum of one, digital marketer and online community manager who takes any opportunity to blog about parenthood, social media, cats, baking and Disney. Follow her on Twitter @mokuska

Fri, 03 Jun 2011 11:10 (GMT+01)
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