When my children were small, I recall absolutely dreading the school holidays. With a limited budget and a chronic fatigue health condition I felt a mix of guilt and despair over how I was going to entertain my small horde without breaking the bank or my spirit or turning to daytime drinking.
If you are facing the holidays with anything less than joy and are panicking how to cope while school is out, never fear because I am here with some top tips on what to do with a bored child, free things to do with children and how to meal plan affordable meals while school is out.
Firstly, let me tell you – it does get better. Older children become more adept at entertaining themselves and they don’t require quite the same level of supervision and attention that younger children do.
Now, let me tell you how I survived the holidays and what to do with kids during the school holidays.
Find a Friend
Having a friend to share the burden makes life a lot easier during the holidays. I didn’t have much family locally who would help so I came to rely on my friends. We would arrange meet-ups out and about or in our own homes, sharing the cooking, childcare and activities. It’s so much easier and more fun looking after children with a friend.
I teamed up with two friends – between us we had 14 children at the time, mostly primary school age. One friend had a bigger house and garden than myself and the other friend, plus a huge recreation field behind her house. We split the cost of providing lunch, mostly pizzas and hot dogs, and sometimes making homemade pizzas or cupcakes for dessert was the activity of the day. Sometimes we’d just let them hurtle about playing imagination games which had the advantage of not requiring too much of our attention and wore them out ready for an early night. Which brings me to my next tip.
Even during the festive break when the weather might be less than balmy it’s worth bundling up and heading outdoors.
Organise a scavenger hunt or see if anywhere locally has a spectacular light display for Christmas. My children loved to walk along the streets at dusk spotting lit Christmas trees, flashing reindeer, waving Santa’s and a myriad of lights.
One of my friends once put together a winter picnic. We walked in woodland (well wrapped up) and stopped for bacon butties with bacon she had precooked, wrapped in foil, and stored in a cool bag. Did you know cool (insulated) bags can keep food hot as well as cold? Some pre-cut bread rolls and a bottle of ketchup plus a flask of hot tea and it felt like we’d had a real treat.
Making meal after meal during school holidays can be terribly boring. My children are very fond of asking “What can we eat?” and sometimes I feel like I’m running a café with the world’s most ungrateful customers. Who don’t pay and certainly don’t tip. This brings me nicely to my next tip.
I’m not generally a fan of meal planning but during the holidays meal planning can be a life saver. If you are looking for meal planning ideas, especially healthy meal planning for a family there are lots of resources online. There are free menu planner apps and websites or you can just write down all the meals your family enjoy and make a weekly meal planning chart to avoid all those “what’s for dinner” whines.
Try and choose seasonal food to keep the costs down and consider bulk cooking so you can prepare two week’s worth of food in one week.
Get your children to help you prepare food and you can get the chore done and have occupied them for a while too. Plus, those home cooking lessons will pay dividends in the future. My children cook for us sometimes now and I have no worries about them surviving when they leave home.
Advice from cognitive therapy experts is that you have to look after yourself to be able to look after others. Don’t neglect your own needs to provide an all singing all dancing programme of entertainment which leaves you exhausted and cranky. There’s no harm in relaxing with your favourite tea while they play or watch TV. Canny parents will utilise specific teas for energy, relaxation and to enhance sleep which will give them a boost during those trying end of term times.