If in doubt, throw it out (of the window)

We’ve passed the halfway point in my children’s summer holidays, and it’s not going too badly. Sometimes I decide in about May that we’re going to have a really relaxed holiday, mainly pottering about at home, and I picture myself doing a bit of sewing while the children play board games, read books, or invent projects to entertain themselves. Or I overestimate my own ability to be spontaneous, and on the basis that “there are loads of fun places to go”, I don’t book any organised activities and imagine that we will visit parks and museums and so on. Those years, we end up not doing much, and the children get a bit bored and tetchy – don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for getting a bit bored, but they need to get out of the house a lot more than I’m really inclined to go out with them, left to my own devices, and they aren’t really old enough to do much without adult accompaniment.

When we have a summer like that, the following year I start searching for summer holiday activities by Easter, and am poised over the keyboard for the day when booking opens. By the time we get to July, we’ve got something booked for every day of the holiday. I then remember that they also need a few days at the very beginning to do nothing, and some free days for buying school shoes and running other errands and also just a bit of hanging around at home doing not much.

This year I think we’ve got closer to the right balance. I did book a lot of activities and day trips with friends and family visits, but I managed to leave two weeks (not consecutive) entirely empty, as well as a few days at the start and end. Organised children’s holiday activities are tricky because the older children (aged 11 and 9) have far more options than the younger ones (5 and 3), and it’s very rare that they can all do the same thing at the same time. Thanks to Essex Outdoors, the older ones have done some amazing things like canoeing and caving; thanks to Chelmsford City Council they’ve all done some sports that they hadn’t tried before. And we’ve had some playdates and family trips, and a week away with grandparents.

And there’s been a bit of time spare for hanging around at home, and even what you might call pottering. Two children have been working on quilts that they have nearly finished (well, they’ve nearly finished the patchwork tops, and have a fair bit of hand quilting ahead of them). One has started sewing clothes for her siblings’ cuddly toys, and has also reorganised her bedroom. One is “researching the history of sport”; this seems to mean “reading some books”, which is fine with me. And today, after several days of discussing it in the car on the way to and from other activities, we rigged up a parachute out of a cot sheet, safety pins and string, and took turns throwing cuddly toys out of the top floor window. We did this when the oldest was very small and she has been talking about it ever since. I helped them get set up then kept half an eye on them, just to make sure nobody was following through on their questions about what would happen if they used the parachute themselves, while getting on with making dinner. Maybe a different parent would have encouraged them to, I don’t know, time how long each different toy took to fall, try different fabrics and rate which one worked best, whatever, but they had a good time despite (or because of) my negligence.

Other good leave-them-to-it activities have been a big storage box in the garden with sand and shells and spades; a pile of cardboard boxes and scissors and sellotape; a couple of wonderful board and card games that miraculously suit all four of them, age-wise; and some old favourites like face lego and play dough. Now, they’ve been amusing themselves while I typed this so I need to go and help them wash off the full-body facepainting that happened while I wasn’t looking…

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