School holidays in the Winter always tend to be a little tricky. What to do with the children? How to keep peace? How to entertain them?
In consultations, parents often talk about this time of the year being difficult as the children tend to do too much ‘device time’. Parents also explain this time of the year as expensive and stressful, needing to be busy to entertain the children to avoid conflicts. Families who are migrating and arrive in a new house with not much may also relate to the need to find activities with not much and at a low cost. In this frame of mind, here are described a number of simple and low cost activities to help families think about activities during the Winter school holidays (In Australia, this does not include Christmas, a novelty to me!). Winter holidays tend to be more difficult because of the weather, but with a little bit of imagination, it can be done…you just to wrap up warm! and for the rainy days, think a little more creatively!
- A walk in the woods: Imagine characters (imaginary ones as well as animals) living in the woods, talk about animal life, describe what you see, touch and smell. Imagine stories about characters how they must live and what they do such as fairies, Smurfs, etc. Play a game of scout hide out. This game is great! Walking along a path, start counting at 10 closing your eyes, children hide, at 0, you open your eyes (not allowed to move) and name people you see by name. If you can’t recognise them, they are safe. People not named are safe and all come back to the path. You then all walk along again and start counting at 9 without letting anyone know. Surprised, children must hide. And then the game goes on until everyone is out, or until 1 player is left, and a winner established. Collect leaves and seasonal flowers to make a special vegetation scrapbook, research plants, or make special art work with finds.
- Walk on the beach: Collect pebbles and seashells for a special project for the house or as a gift. This could be an art project, decorations for the bathroom, filling plant pots (make sure you wash the sea objects first as the salt may kill the plants). Some ideas here: seashells tied on a cord as a light switch (with little drilled holes), bracelets with seashells, candles wrapped around with a ribbon with seashells or pebbles glued on the ribbon. There are some amazing ideas on Pinterest for these special projects. Talk about the sea life, the lighthouses, the geography (where you are, what you can see). Take photographs and collect these in a special holiday book.
- Play board games: Board games can be purchased at a very low cost from a second hand/’Opp’ shops. Board games are great to support turn taking, respecting rules, accepting not doing so well, and creating a strategy to win. Children absolutely love this special time. Initially, it may be tricky as everyone is not at the same stage in being able to play the game but with time and patience, children tend to accept rules and engage with the game. It may be best to start playing games with simpler games such as cards. If children find some games too long, or depending on the developmental age, then some games that are much more interactive are a good start such as ‘Hungry Hippos’, ‘Operation’, or ‘Guess Who’. Over time, introduce more complex games. If you have a fire in the house, board games in front of the fire is a treat for everyone.
- Story Telling: Encourage children (and adults!) to switch off all devices. Sit together and initiate a story telling time. This can be that everyone tells a story at one’s turn. It could also be through games. Someone starts the beginning of a story and then the next person must carry it on, and so on. You may want to have some rules such as everyone must speak for 30 seconds, or must speak about two ideas. This helps moving the story on. You could also draw out of a hat some words or ideas that each player must introduce in their story line. Alternatively, encourage children to write a story about something they experience during the holidays or a story they invent. To stimulate story writing, you can encourage children to choose visuals/props such as characters, little people, newspaper article/debates, superhero characters, story cubes, or themes they pick out of a hat. You can ask children to draw special idea cards or write key words/simple sentences for the hat too.
- Talent Show: Create an event in the house saying that there will be a Talent Show on the last weekend of the holidays. Ask the children to take the time to plan and prepare a show of their choice. This could be anything to showcase any of their talents: humour, magic, singing, writing, dancing, etc. You can do some research or find some books in the ‘Opp Shop’. Ensure that they have time to think, prepare and practise during the holidays. Hopefully they will be very busy organising their show during their days off. Allow time for problem-solving and discussion.
- Building dens: Encourage the children to build dens with blankets, cushions, pegs, cardboard boxes, etc. Encourage them to problem-solve with little support. Support tends to work better of the children are supported lots initially and then support is withdrawn gradually. Children can then be encouraged to play in their dens with ‘little people’, playing and imagining stories.
- Special picnics: Create an event where the family choose a special place to have a picnic. Yes, this can be dependent of the weather, but a special picnic can be anywhere…in the living room, on the decking, in a tent, in the garden, in a park, in the woods, on the beach. Children can help you choose food and prepare it with you. On colder days, a soup in a flask can be great to try.
- Special Art Projects: Art projects can include choosing photographs for the house, making an art piece for children’s bedroom, or scrapbooking about a specific topic: a special holiday, family album, ‘my special strengths’ and aspirations’ book’. A vision and aspirations board, scrapbooking, slime, inventing a video game through drawing or writing a cartoon story are other ideas. Dollar/Pound shops have lots of creative special objects you can buy at a very low cost. For around $15, you can have a great assemble of lots of arty objects. Shopping and time spent doing the projects can last you a couple of days!
- Cooking: Cooking is an amazing self-help skill to learn. Encourage children to assist you with cooking. This will help their self-confidence in the kitchen. You can spend time think about recipes. It will also help them to choose ingredients, taste food and eventually want to make it themselves. On a rainy and cold day, cooking their favourites is a great motivator. Making your own pizza or pasta such as choosing your own toppings, or making cake/biscuits can help promote self-help skills and togetherness. Ensure rules are put in place such as ‘a cooking, washing up’ rule. Making and writing a recipe book is also a great way to get the children involved in learning about their family recipes.
- Obstacles course: Set an obstacle course in the garden, in the woods, on the beach, in a park, or even in the house, balls, with plastic cones, ropes, or whatever is there already. Just set a course, ask the children to follow as a trial and then get trials running. Ensure your obstacle course include all physical development skills such as throwing, jumping, hoping, running, climbing and other challenges. Have a competition or encourage best personal scores. Encourage the children to reflect on their skills: how can they improve their scores, what works well, how they feel when going around the course. Ensure you prepare bottles of water and a snack as it helps them stay there longer and sustain their energy levels. You can also include a couple of thinking challenges in the mix to break up physical activities and promote those skills too.
Yes, there may be time with devices and special movies. Yes, some special activities that cost more money such as a cinema trip, a bounce in a soft play area, a museum visit or a special outing, may be planned, but with all of the above, hopefully this will not be a regular occasion. Holidays are also there to enable children to catch up with their sleep, play and be able to develop their own interests and self-identity. Ensure children have plenty of time to develop skills for unstructured play. This will support imagination, creativity and self-help skills, all very important life skills.