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What are your children doing this summer?

(Published by The Malay Mail on 29 July 2014)

Schools out for SUMMER! At least here in Europe. No homework, those weekly schedules have been ripped off the kitchen wall: it’s time to let little minds wander and soak up new scenes, exciting experiences and, most importantly, have FUN. Kids deserve a break; they’ve worked hard all year.


Summer surf-chimps... kids just wanna have FUN!

Only mean-minded parents have children doing school work during the holidays… But, there’s a few that do exactly that. Tutors are booked, Kumon trips made or a small fortune spent on holiday-work books. I’m guilty of adopting some of this nonsense, driven by the lengthy summer holidays spanning anywhere between six to a bonkers 12 weeks (like my kids’ last US school and my eldest’s current French secondary). A quarter-of-a-year is too long for young developing minds not to have their cogs spinning. I don’t want my children pitching up all rusty and blank come September.

This summer, however, I’ve promised not to be a meanie-mum. My four had such a hard time adjusting to France’s intense academic system — not to mention learning French at the same time — that any attempt at ‘school-work’ would be met by a wall of steely defiance. Anarchy even.

Instead, I’ve dug down and devised alternative ways of keeping those motor neurons firing. Ways that that mischievous writer of children’s books, Roald Dahl, would have approved of. A “sparky” parents’ treasure chest of “secret plans and clever tricks” : secret in that kids don’t realize they are improving their writing/maths/reading/logic/creative skills when getting on with a fun activity that you have cleverly led them to. And we all know that the best learning happens when kids are enjoying themselves. Incidental learning and all that.

I’m sure you’re familiar with some of these ideas, but here we go:

The Great Summer Bake Off: we kicked off the summer with a cake bake off competition following the successful TV series that has gripped the UK for the past few years. Let your children: select their cake from their favourite cookbook; write shopping lists of ingredients needed; handle money/take responsibility at the supermarket; weigh ingredients; mix; time the baking of the cake. All use maths, writing and reading. Children love this activity, especially as it always ends in licking bowls, spoons and whisk!

Read one of the timeless children’s classics with your child: take the time to read to your children at night, just twenty minutes or so, but skip the Harry Potters and David Walliams and try a children’s classic. They are well-written and require little minds to think more. The ones I have read to mine have really left made their mark. There’s many to choose from, but a list of my favourites will follow in next week’s column.

Holiday diaries: ease your child into a little writing by keeping a holiday diary. It’s their idea of course! They choose a writing pad and decorate it? Suggest they keep any entrance tickets to zoos/museums/amusement parks, add them to the diary and write a sentence or two about them. Little and often is best. They can write about anything: a new flower, stone or bug found in the garden. Look up some quirky facts online to encourage them to write about their discovery. My sons thought it was funny that some cultures consider fried spiders (tarantulas) an edible delicacy. While others would boil them up as a drink to cure a cough. Weird and wonderful facts.

Swap wifi for wildlife: try a relatively hassle free new pet. My youngest came home with half of the class pets to look after for the summer. Hmmm. Fortunately, they were low maintenance stick insects, but they had to research how to take care of them, the leaves they eat, cleaning their box etc..

Kitchen craziness: making messy baking soda and vinegar volcanoes (a winner), cleaning coins with lemon juice, making invisible ink and dozens of entertaining and inexpensive experiments.

Gardening: growing basil, tomatoes, watercress, carrots is a science itself. What do plants need to grow, what is chlorophyll? Do fruit grow in your garden? Try making jam — pick up a jam thermometer for this.


“I grew these carrots,” says Jake.

Treasure hunts: the beauty of this game is that it can be done anywhere: at home or on holiday. Make about 5 to 10 treasure packs using foil: inside wrap a maths/geography/history/spell this word question, plus clue to next treasure pack, plus a sweet/chocolate and hide it away. Pop some loot in the last one to spur them on.

Make a den and camp out in it: let your child’s imagination run wild. Using blankets, tarpaulins, tree branches, upside down tables, leaves or ferns your child can make a lean-to, tepee, debris hut or a treehouse to sleep in; if they’re brave enough. Last summer, my nine-year-old made a four-story treehouse (yes, it was pretty scary when he climbed to the top…) using tarpaulins, chipboard, planks and nails he bought with his pocket money, and raiding our shed for other paraphernalia like an old door knocker and paint. Some instruction on the safe use of a hammer and saw was needed!

Making a dress or toy: now don’t get too clever, they can even take an old sock, fill it with cotton wool, and sew on buttons for eyes and pieces of felt for legs, ears and mouth. Great for fine-motor skills. Does granny or granddad sew? Do you have a friendly neighbour with time and a sewing machine? My eldest has just made herself a top and skirt with granny.

Any other activity that would meet the Roald Dahl test: “When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: A stodgy parent is not fun at all! What a child wants – and DESERVES – is a parent who is SPARKY!”

So, think “sparky” not “stodgy” and wishing you FUN times with your children these holidays!


The UNBORED —The essential field guide to SERIOUS FUN

Happy Times Together by Jo England

The Great British Bake Off by Linda Collister, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood


Here’s an activity that would meet the Roald Dahl test — coasteering in the Gower, Wales.

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