Make your own orchestra
Little ones love making a noise, so let them loose with home-made instruments. Join in – it can be very therapeutic! Pots or pans and wooden spoons make great percussion instruments –ice cream tubs and tin cans. Make shakers out of plastic bottles filled with rice or pasta or dried beans (sticky-taped securely shut!). Put on a music CD and play along!
Guess the food
This might get a bit messy but it’s great fun. Add toddler-friendly food such as chopped fruit, jelly cubes, cereal and cheese-cubes into a mixing bowl. Cover their eyes and let them feel and taste the food and guess what it is. Now it’s your turn – they’ll love to tell you when you get it wrong.
Have a disco
Put some music on, dim the lights and have a bop around the living room. Babies and toddlers love music and dance – it’s a good way to develop their co-ordination. Try playing musical statues or musical bumps!
Before the holidays, start collecting empty cereal packets, egg boxes, yogurt pots, margarine cartons, old wooden spoons, loo roll middles, corks, string and so on. Add some PVA glue and let them get building.
Contact your local children’s centre (run by Sure Start), which may run craft events, organised playtimes, cooking workshops, visits from small animals and much more. They’re also good sources of information about what is going on in your area. Google children’s centres and your county name to find one near you.
If you can’t face the mess of painting – cotton on to water painting! Fill up a bucket of water and give your child a big paintbrush – they will happily paint the house, patio, shed – just keep the cat out of the way!
You’ve probably been to the swings a million times, so think about playing a game when you get there – maybe hide and seek, or Billy Goats Gruff across a rope bridge.
If you haven’t got time off in the holidays, investigate holiday clubs for nursery age children, which may off arts and crafts, sports and games. They can be a bit pricey, so it’s worth checking out council-run clubs that may be free or at least more affordable.
For some reason, food tastes much nicer when it’s packed up as a picnic. If they’re big enough, let the children help wrap the picnic food and put it in a bag or hamper. You don’t even have to go far – a picnic in the garden is just as exciting for toddlers. In the winter, lay a rug on the floor and have a picnic indoors.
Nothing amuses children more than having the company of other children. Set up a few playdates – you’ll get some adult company and your children will be happy to play with other children. If your children are usually at nursery full-time and you only say a quick hallo to mums at pick-up and drop-off time, there’s no harm in printing out a few notes with your contact details on and asking staff to give to mums or put on the noticeboard – they might be as glad as you to have some company!
If the weather’s good, take them out in the garden (or park) with some paints and some long paper (Ikea sells rolls of drawing paper – or you can buy lining paper at DIY stores). They can have all sorts of fun making footprints, handprints, and using leaves and plants to print with. A small paddling pool is handy for hosing them off when you’ve finished if it’s warm enough.
Make rubbings from nature
Go out in the garden or in the park with some papers and coloured crayons. Find something that will make a nice pattern with a textured surface – it could be tree bark, letters on grave stones, leaves, or even concrete paths, and get the kids to put their piece of paper over it and colour in with their pencil.
They never seem to grow out of this – make your own mixture with washing up liquid and glycerine. Little wands are great, or you can go large with a hula hoop in a paddling pool full of bubbles – get the camera out for this one!
Wrap up, put your wellies on and go and find the biggest puddles you can splash in. Come home to some warming hot chocolate.
“I used to take my train-mad toddler to the station, where we could sit and watch the trains going by for half an hour or so, helped by a snack and a drink (obviously works far better at a busy station). A trip on the train can be fun – you don’t even have to go that far – just a couple of stops will be exciting enough – and remember you don’t have to pay for them!”
John, dad of Amy and Chloe, Buckinghamshire