Sustainable, affordable ideas to try with children this summer holiday
The summer holidays are here in the UK. While the weather might not be dry and sunny at present, the days are long and budgets are tight. So here are some ideas for what to do with children outside this summer, without it costing the earth.
Many of us do not have children ourselves; but we might have nieces, nephews, friends round for a BBQ with young ones, grand children or others. So fear not, this doesn't assume you are the parent, more it assumes you are the owner of the space in which the children are occupying,
Tiny ones - toddlers and pre-schoolers
Small children are endlessly fascinated by bugs. It seems to be the smaller the better. A lot of time can be spent staring intently by an ant or a ladybird. For this age range, it's all about exploratory play; if you have very precious plants it's probably best to avoid letting a child learning how to walk to have free reign and / or stagger by your prize blooms.
Good ideas for this age include:
Mud kitchens - all you need is some old pots, pans, mud, water and some space to mix it all up. Keep an eye out for fistfuls of mud going in the mouth! Hose or watering cans are useful to remove the worst of the mud. Muddy hands for adults are optional.
Watering - pouring water from one container to another space develops fine motor skills and balance. Put a large bucket of water in the garden, get used margarine tubs or other plastic containers or bottles and get them to fill up their container and pour it on plants in turn.
Teddy bears picnic - take Ted al fresco and enjoy lunch outside. This can also be done with dinosuars, cars, animal farms, dolls and bathtoys!. If they are waterproof, they could also have a "bath" outside.
Primary school children
While I'd like to say that children tend to grow out of mud kitchens, that's a slow process! But in addition to the ideas above, you can try:
Make a fairy or dinosaur garden -You can award points for incorporating leaves or wildflowers
Dinosaur excavation - fill an old ice cream tub with water, drop some dinosaur "relics" and add in some food colouring. Freeze, then turn out on to a tray outside - provide some safe archeological "tools" for your young dino hunters to excavate the treasures
Chalk drawings - these never fail to provide entertainment. You can make a train track, a hop scotch path, doodle your name, or anything else.
Help pick fruit or veg - small hands are good at getting down low to pick the bottom of fruit bushes, even if there is a natural tax applied
Lawn fun! Have you left your lawn grow long? Long grass should be cut down in August or September. You can steal a march on this with some blunt safety scissors - invite children to chop their own way through the long grass and be true explorers.
If you have a shorter lawn, children can enjoy helping with tasks such as emptying the lawn mower basket, help to use the edging shears and plonking trimmings on compost heaps.
Host a perfume stall - harvest some lavender and distill it to make your very own eau de vacances scolaires. There's a guide on how to prune lavender here.
Flower pressing - there are flower presses available to buy, but pressing flowers between heavy books works just as well. Use flowers which don't have a high water content and which press flat- things like penstemons and geraniums are ideal. Use some paper towels and newspapers to absorb the water. Leave in a dry place for 7 days and then use them to make cards or other art works.
Big Butterfly Count is on until 6th August
Secondary school children
While we can think this age group is less enamoured of being inside and can have strong attractions to screens of all sizes, there's a lot for teens to get out of being outside.
Artistic? Botanical art is on the up, and closely observing a plant in flower and sketching or painting it is an absorbing activity for children as well as adults. Mobile phones are actually great for taking close up pictures to use as source material.
Mechanically minded? Many garden tools can be used, depending on the age and maturity of the person, by teenagers. They respond well to empowerment and being in charge!
Short of cash? Car washing, hedging and edging are good starter tasks to help earn pocket money.
Green fingered? It's a perfect time of year to sow biennials such as foxgloves, honesty, sweet williams for next year. Sow in July and by the autumn they will be ready to prick out or plant in their final location.
Many of these can be used across age groups - especially useful if you have a large group of children to entertain. Have fun and let me know how you get on!