Spending some quality time with your child or children is invaluable when they are young, although it is not always easy to come up with fresh ideas on activities to keep both you and them occupied. We have tried to provide some ideas below on activities to do inside and outside the home. These are aimed at children under the age of 5, although the list is by no means exhaustive:
Art and Craft
While this is not suitable for very young children, as your child gets older and their concentration grows, they will love to experiment creatively. Such activities can range from simple drawing and colouring, to modelling with clay or plastercine, and there are a great variety of modelling kits available which come with all sorts of cutters and moulding implements. Painting is another option which is great for teaching your child about mixing colours and is versatile in its uses (e.g. finger painting, printing with hands, feet, leaves etc., blowing paint onto paper through straws, decorating pots, boxes etc.). In addition, your child will love gluing and sticking, whether making a picture (e.g. with glitter, sweet wrappers, old XMas/birthday cards) or building your own creations out of recycling waste (e.g. cardboard, cartons, newspaper, toilet rolls etc). Click here for some ideas on things to make. The great thing is that these are all relatively inexpensive activities, although some, if not all will be messy so it is important to prepare your surroundings and use appropriate aprons or tabards to protect your child’s clothing.
Children love to cook, whether it be just helping or watching you, or getting more involved depending on how brave you are feeling! There is no need to make anything longwinded or complicated as your child’s attention span will still be fairly short. Biscuits or cakes are a good starter and there are no end of cookery books and online recipes to show you how to make them. Alternatively, most supermarkets sell a range of ready-made packet mixes which are very easy and quick to prepare. The chances are that they may not look the most attractive or edible of creations once your child has given a helping hand, but you’ll still have fun eating them!
Simple board, card or dice games can be great fun for you and your child to play, and although your child may not fully understand the aims or instructions, they can pick up some useful basic skills such as counting, hand-eye coordination, analysing options and taking turns. There are plenty of reasonably priced games to choose from nowadays, but it is best to go for ones which are short in duration and have sturdy components that will last. Most suitable for this age group are games which test memory, matching and sorting skills, reaction skills and mental/physical skills. Also don’t forget simple jigsaw puzzles.
There is no simpler ‘quiet-time’ activity that you can do indoors than read to or with your child. Reading is so important for your child’s development and can never start from too early an age. If your child is very young they will love simply flicking through pages and pictures, and a number of board books are available which are easy for babies and young children to manage. For older children there are simply hundreds of story books and educational books to cater for every age, taste and interest, and while your child may be too young to be able to read the books themselves, they will pick up valuable understanding about words and sounds from listening to you read. If you cannot afford a large range of books, visiting your local library is a great alternative.
Most areas will have some form of public exhibition of live aquatic plants and animals (e.g. Blue Reef Aquariums or Sea Life Centres etc). These can be very restful places for a young child, and the multiple colours, shapes and movements of creatures in the tanks will be very captivating for them, not to mention educational. Dependent on the location, there is normally an entrance fee for those above a certain age (usually 3 years), although some places offer an annual membership which allows unlimited entrance and is usually very cost-effective compared to pay-as-you-go admission rates. Please click here for a list of aquariums and sealife centres.
Although not suitable for very small children, these are definitely worthwhile experiences for your child as soon as they become more communicative and interactive. There are plenty of films to see at the cinema although it is important to ensure that the film is suitable for your child’s age group, as anything even remotely frightening or violent will have much more of an impact on the big screen. Most films normally last for about 1.5 to 2 hours which may outrun your child’s attention span, so be prepared to miss the ending! Look out for offers at certain cinema chains for cheap admission rates for children at weekends.
With regard to theatres, there are a good number of shows which are aimed specifically at children, including sing-along performances, comedy acts and pantomimes, and also stage productions of their favourite television shows. The great thing is that you can usually book well in advance of the show, and early reservation will allow you a better choice of seat. However, theatre bookings are normally quite pricey and the shows can be long, although they do usually break for an interval. In addition, dependent on the position of your seats the performance may be difficult to see or hear, and particularly if you find yourselves surrounded by other children.
If your child is not old enough to cycle on their own then they can be carried along in a suitable child seat or trailer (for added comfort) on the back of your bike. Once they get their first bike and stabilisers then taking them to a nearby park is a fun way of teaching them to cycle. When they become more confident on their bike then may like to go out cycling with you. It is worth taking the time to look for cycle tracks and cycle paths that are safe and free from traffic, and it is important to ensure that both of you are wearing a properly fitting cycle helmet, along with some form of reflective gear if visibility or light is poor.
Teaching your child to be green-figured can be great fun. Starting out, your child will most likely be happy with simply a bucket of soil and a trowel, although as they get older and more adventurous vegetable seeds are a great option and are very easy to get growing. Not only do children get the satisfaction of nurturing their own plants, they (hopefully!) will get to eat any produce they make. Also if they manage to grow their own flowers, they make a great present for Mum. When doing gardening look out for bugs which will almost certainly keep your child entertained. Regular bug hunts with a magnifying glass and bug catcher (margarine or yoghurt pot!) are a definite hit with our own children.
This is a great activity for a windy day, but needs to be done in a wide open area. Kites range in price from a few pounds to a few hundred pounds, or if you are feeling adventurous you may like to make your own – click here for a great site detailing designs. Also, look out for kite exhibitions where enthusiasts show off their kite creations – anything from well known characters to huge fish and dragons, which will certainly capture your child’s interest and imagination.
Trips to the local library can be done any day of the week and they often run book clubs and other activities for children of all ages for free. Not only that but they are a great source of reading material for children’s thirst for new stories and you are normally able to take ~20 books per child, which will provide great bedtime reading fodder. You will of course need to join your child to a local library, but this generally only requires filling in a quick form and providing proof of identity.
These may not immediately appear as the best place to take a child, however museums are becoming much more interactive in an attempt to appeal more to both children and adults. You will often find an array of buttons, lights and more hands-on experiences to keep children occupied….and you never know, your child may learn something in the process!
Taking your child to the local park is great for letting them have a runaround, and not only is it free, but there is plenty of open space to avoid crowds. This makes them ideal places for having a kick around with a football or playing bat and ball, which is very useful if you do not have a big garden. Most parks also have their own children’s facilities such as swings, slides and roundabouts. Alternatively, you may like simply to take your child exploring for wildlife in nearby woods – children love collecting leaves, pine cones or similar that they can show their friends at nursery. If it’s a particularly rainy day your child may simply love nothing better than puddle jumping, but not before dressing up in waterproofs and wellies!
If you are lucky enough to live near the sea or go to the seaside on holiday, there are several activities beyond just paddling and sand castle building to keep yourself and your child amused. Rock pooling requires only a bucket (or a net if you want to catch fish) and some appropriate footwear. It is however important that everything is returned to where it came from, including rocks and stones. Another idea is crab fishing, which is a great activity once the weather gets warm enough to sit out, and of course if you have somewhere nearby to go crabbing. All you need is a cheap bucket, a crab line, and some bait – bacon scraps usually work fairly well or alternatively any odd bits of fish. Not only are both these activities great fun, but your child will also benefit educationally by being able to study creatures close up and learn about their natural habitats. Persuading your child to release their catch back into the water is the hard part, as they will no doubt want to keep them as pets! When visiting a beach it is important to follow safety guidelines and respect the natural surroundings, we would also recommend visiting Blue Flag listed beaches as they are regarded as being the safest and cleanest, and generally have good facilities for families.
Soft Play Areas
Indoor play areas come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually found either as part of a hotel/pub/leisure centre or as a separate entity. The great thing about these places is that they usually have designated areas to cater for very young children as well as toddlers and older children, and the fact that the whole area is soft and padded means there is little risk of any serious injuries through play. It is ideal for allowing your child to work off a bit of excess energy without having to be outside, which is a bonus when all it does is rain! There are also usually eating, drinking, and baby facilities available, and regular toddler or baby mornings are often held which may include reduced admission rates or a free drink etc. During holiday times or busy periods, play may be restricted to an hour or so only.
Even if your child is not an accomplished swimmer they will almost certainly love the opportunity to splash around in a local pool – it is a good way of introducing your child to water, but it will require total supervision and support from you at all times. Arm bands and floats are an essential purchase for children that can’t swim and will boost their confidence in learning to swim properly. A child’s liking for water and ability to swim will open up a whole range of water sport activities as they get older. There are a range of pools available – open air, indoor, lido, and activity pools to suit all tastes. Please click here to find your nearest swimming pool.
Children of any age are fascinated by animals, and so trips to local wildlife parks or farms will not be wasted. Most of these places can be travelled around on foot, although safari parks normally need to driven round, and while these are great chances to get up close to some of your child’s favourite wild animals, there is always the chance that you may go home missing a vital part of your car! There are normally good facilities for babies and children, and many zoos and wildlife centres have pet areas and designated times when children can help feed or handle some of the animals. Some of the farms also sell food pellets so that your child can feed the animals as they wander round. Click here to find your nearest wildlife centre or activity farm.