Half term on a budget (of zero) wherever you are in Britain

Half term is literally around the corner. If your kid’s school has an inset day or two, that corner could be turned tomorrow.

Which end of the half term spectrum are you at though? Teachers love them and it’s much deserved downtime for them, albeit brief. But it’s often a week that stirs mixed feelings for parents (it definitely does for the team here). Yippee to quality time with the kids, but what about annual leave allowances, holiday club availability, grandparent day care, not to mention the cost of keeping kids entertained for five extra days, especially if it’s soggy outside – weep.

Fear not, whatever your predicament we have some solutions. We ask just one thing of you: be prepared. Come armed with a smile, a bundle of ‘go get ‘um’ positivity, some snacks and your wellies.

Obviously, depending on the age of your children, the entertainment factor may vary on some of our suggestions. And let’s not forget, the younger your kids, the earlier you’ll likely be entertaining from. But hopefully we’ve got a little bit of something for everyone. Let’s go!

House bound

Just for a day, forego any house-precious tendencies. Let them make mess.

In the kitchen

Whether your pantry is packed with baking essentials or you’ve added a box of premixed cupcake mixture to this week’s shopping list, in the words of Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc: “BAKE!”

For little hands, cupcakes are easiest and more fun. Often the premix boxes come with cartoon character edible rice paper decorations too. Good luck, getting them to reserve those until the cakes are cool…

For the lazy baker, there’s no better cake recipe than Native’s yoghurt cake http://www.natives.co.uk/in-resort/how-to-make-a-yoghurt-cake/4274. Five ingredients, one measuring vessel (the yoghurt pot). Simples. And you’ll have the lightest, moist sponge cake that even Mary Berry would delight in tasting. Just make sure they wash their hands first, so you’re more inclined to enjoy it.

Let them make dinner

Go on, dare you. Let them choose what everyone’s going to eat and then let (help) them make it. It might only be pizza (delicious pizza bases from Crosta & Mollica could be added to your shopping list). It could be chucking their favourite ingredients into the slow cooker or whizzing up a stirfry in the wok. Document the moment (so you can laugh at it later when the kitchen is clean again). Clean up later.

In the lounge

Indoor camping or den making

Go on, get your biggest flat sheets out of the airing cupboard. Drape them over sofas, stools, washing airers. You might need a peg or two to keep them ship-shape. Chuck in some cushions and off they go. Add in a picnic lunch and games or a movie on the iPad, and you might even have time to drink a hot cup of tea.

Traditional games, no audio visual stimulus required

We picked our favourites for adults and older children here last week. But if you’ve got littl’uns in your midst this could be jigsaws, matching pairs, or snakes and ladders. Although Jenga always goes down a treat. For a mixed age group, try Twister – a game that encompasses colour recognition, balance, strategy and out-witting the opposition, it also often results in a rather ruck-like giggle fest and will have most kids engrossed for a while with some Key Stage development tick boxes covered off too.

Got a pack of cards somewhere? Expand on snap to pontoon or rummy. Play with counters or coppers, as you choose, but think of it as a bit of subtle maths homework. And if enthusiasm wanes get them to build card towers instead.

Out and about

Garden games

Take den making outside. If you’ve got a washing line and a fence or shed roof, hang your sheet from those (maybe leave the cushions inside).

Take the quiet time to plant some spring bulbs or rake up leaves. You never know, they might even offer to help.

It’s a great time of year to top up bird feeders (assumes you already have feeders and feed if we’re to stick to the zero budget theme, obviously). Or if you’ve got bits and pieces lying around in the shed, challenge them to make a bird box or feeder.

Bug hunts are great for little ones at this time of year. See what they can find under stones or garden ornaments, or can they spot worm mounds in the lawn (somebody’s got to derive some pleasure from them). Leave some paper and pencils in their den and they can document their findings too if so inclined.

It’s autumn, how can we have got this far into a blog post and not mentioned leaves! Collect them for their differing species, colour, or dryness. Make collages, trace them, draw around them, get some paint and make prints from them. Add in some bark rubbing to spice it up a bit. No this isn’t rocket science, but it will keep them occupied for a while.

Let them camp out for the night (in a proper tent if you’ve got one clearly, not their makeshift den). It’s real adventurous stuff and so what if they come in freezing in the middle of the night because they only wore their pyjamas? Every day’s a school day, so they say.

Into the woods

Ok, so you might not live anywhere near a wood, but a park will do. Any horse chestnut trees around? Go on a conker hunt and take them home to fix up with string and have your own mini conker championships. Naturally, if you go to a park we expect you to hang there for a while too to pass the time.

In the woods, they can test their construction skills using an array of branches, ferns and leaves to create wild dens. Not forgetting good old tree climbing.

Down by the river (or sea)

The ducks still need feeding on soggy days (but take some of that bird seed rather than your loaf crusts if you can).

If you’re near a stream or a bridge, grab some twigs for an impromptu Pooh Stick challenge – whose sticks reach the other side of the bridge first? They get the first cupcake when you get home.

October half term by the sea? Let’s get skimming. We agree, it’s a fairly refined art. In fact, we’ve concluded you’ve either got it or you haven’t, but don’t let that stop them. While you’re watching the varying degrees of sploshing, why not dig yourself a sand seat. If you’re lucky, they’ll probably come and bury you in it when they get bored. All in the name of entertainment, remember.

Put the fun back into museums

When we were kids these were the places that school trips dragged us to and left us uninspired. Nowadays museums are kid focused. They run holiday time tours and provide trails, audioguides and adventure packs. Yes, you can make day trips to bigger cities where they have natural history museums, science museums and the like. Or take a look on your doorstep. If you’re in an area of notable history maybe your town has its own museum. In Oxfordshire, there’s the Wallingford Museum, not to mention the remains of a castle and plenty of meadows to run around in (not what you’d expect from a small market town). And Long Hanborough near Woodstock has a bus museum – every preschool boy’s dream! With the smaller sites, it’s just worth checking when they’re open as not all are open all day everyday.

When all avenues have been exhausted

Let them earn their keep

Ok, so this strays a little from the zero budget ethos, but at least your hard earned loose change is going to their pockets, in the first instance anyway.

Depending on their enthusiasm and your range of rewards, the longevity of the success of this tactic will vary. We’re thinking pocket money for room tidying, washing up, tidying up toys, helping with laundry, walking the dog. And the temptation of a chocolate coin here and there for spontaneous help and random moments of tidiness. Star chart it if you want to keep the momentum going all week for a grander or cumulative prize.

So hopefully your wallet is still intact. We’ve avoided all mention of cafes and coffees, and imagined blustery days with your cool bag and Thermos. How retro. But maybe the kids will think of it as some sort of adventure in itself.

Whatever you’re up in October half term – have a great holiday!