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Parent Zone’s Digital Summer Club

Children outside on tablets

School’s out for summer! But, unfortunately, many of the childcare options parents usually rely on are also off limits right now.

Last week, Labour leader Keir Starmer referred to the “impossible position” parents find themselves in – claiming that while the government is urging people to return to the workplace, they’ve offered “no support for structured activities, no summer catch-up schemes, and no support for a childcare sector on its knees.”

So how do working parents fill the summer with child-friendly activities – but without losing their minds, their tempers or their jobs?


The Digital Summer Club

Most summer clubs have a structured timetable of activities interspersed with free-play periods. With a little prep (and some help from Parent Zone) you can enrol your child in their own virtual version…

The timetable

Break the day into manageable chunks, depending on the age of your children. Avoid resistance and boredom by interspersing outdoor activities, art projects, online chats with friends, gaming and TV time.

Rather than imposing a regime on resistant children, how about involving them in the planning process? Encourage them to develop some independence and show some creativity in devising the timetable.

They could introduce a daily theme or colour scheme; work out reward systems or progress charts; produce reviews and feedback on the day’s activities. If you have more than one child, they could take turns in organising the outdoor activity, selecting the audiobook, TV programme or board game. Giving them responsibility for these decisions should also help avoid the inevitable arguments between siblings.


The activities

Be Internet Legends

There’s never a bad time to learn about internet safety – and Google’s Be Internet Legends program, developed in partnership with Parent Zone, will entertain your child at the same time as educating them.

It’s aimed at seven to 11-year-olds and includes the brilliant Interland game. Why not play it together – and see who can get the highest score?

Gaming time

Don’t overlook the power of computer games to keep everyone entertained – so why not leave your kids in the virtual world of Minecraft, Fortnite or Roblox?

Obviously, you’ll need to check age restrictions (Fortnite, for instance, is rated for age 12+) and parental controls. Read our Parent Guides to each of them.

If you can, playing together can be a great way to spend time with your child and discover what keeps them hooked. You may be surprised by your kids’ creativity and focus!

Coding club

There are loads of great coding websites and apps that will teach your children the basics.

Scratch is our favourite: you create programs by dragging and dropping colourful icons and following simple logic, with no need for pages of code. It's aimed at eight to 16-year-olds and is surprisingly powerful. There’s also a simpler version, ScratchJr, for five to seven-year-olds.

Film club

There’s nothing wrong with relying on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, BBC iPlayer or any other streaming service to keep the kids happy.

It doesn’t have to be a last resort on a wet afternoon. There’s a fantastic range of viewing options from classic movies to documentaries.

For instance, you could sit the kids down with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, the wonderful Horrible Histories, or Operation Ouch for a fun approach to human biology.

Remember to keep an eye on what they're watching – or better still, watch with them – because many of the filters are easy to circumvent if your child knows what they're doing. And they probably do.

Library corner

Get creative with book-themed fun with the British Library, from drawing the Gruffalo to making a tiny book.

Join the National Theatre’s Madame Kalamazoo for a storytelling adventure with daily stories featuring your children as the protagonists!

Science session

Be transported to outer space with learning resources created by scientists and astronomers from the Royal Observatory. Mix art, science, coding and more with Royal Museums Greenwich's Cabin Fever: Maritime Home Learning.

Arts and crafts

Budding wizards can have a go at set designing, costume making and even film-making from home with Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.

Experience the magic of Disney's West End shows with a range of fun crafts for kids, from mask-making for the Lion King to creating Mary Poppins storyboards.

Explore the art world with games, quizzes and practical activities with Tate Kids.

Virtual visits

You can avoid the long drive, traffic jams, backseat squabbles and expense of family outings by making a virtual visit to many museums, galleries and tourist attractions.

Field trip

With the easing of lockdown comes more options for family days out. Zoos, safari parks, country parks, theme parks, funfairs and playgrounds are all now open. But with restrictions on visitor numbers, most require pre-booking online. Plan your day carefully by checking the websites about available facilities and specific social distancing measures in place.

The National Trust has many of its houses, gardens and parklands open around the UK, where you can get lost in a maze, play in a treehouse or build a den. They also offer a wealth of ideas from identifying bugs in a wildflower meadow to setting up a snail race to try in your garden or any local green space.

You can explore more historic houses and castles with English Heritage and prepare for your visit through online quizzes, videos, crafts and stories. Learn about the lives of Saxons or Stuarts; make a clay dragon or cardboard sword; bake Victorian pancakes or create a Viking chess game.

Outdoor play

If you have a garden, add a sense of adventure to days at home by camping out in it, setting up a water slide, organising a scavenger hunt or building a den. If you don’t, you could give your child their own plot, pot or window box to plant; terracotta pots can be hand painted for an added, crafty angle.

Cooking

Let the kids loose in the kitchen with the help of BBC Good Food. They can make slushies, smoothies and mocktails; bake cookies, cupcakes or muffins. You’ll also find other craft ideas from homemade bubble mixture and papier-mâché to puppet theatres and pom-poms.

Board games

But there’s no need for every day to involve a house full of clutter and debris. Traditional board games such Scrabble, Cluedo and draughts, jigsaws and playing cards are all valuable tools in keeping children occupied and developing skills from language to logic.

Mindful moments

Relax at the end of the day with some meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. We recommend Headspace, Cole Chance Yoga and Breathpod.


Digital Summer Club tips

Those parents still working from home will need a plan to keep the kids at bay:

  • Take a flexible approach to working hours. By starting the working day a few hours earlier, or finishing a few hours later, you’ll be able to free up some time during the day to devote to your kids.
  • Establish basic ground rules. You need a working space that’s a no-go area for the rest of the family. And a timetable that’s agreed so you can work in peace. Make sure there’s a clear distinction between work and leisure time.
  • Keep to a routine. Children like structure – so make sure they know what to expect each day. If you build in plenty of breaks and things to look forward to, they are more likely to go along with the plan and leave you alone when you’re working.

Further advice for surviving the summer

Families find comfort in daily routines and rituals. And it helps to include time for each other. Punctuating the day with special one-to-one time for each child at a particular time every day can take the pressure off the rest of the day.

You should also try to build family time into every day – regularly sitting down together to eat and paying attention to the food on your plate encourages healthy eating and is a good way for families to connect.

Tensions can run high in a household of bored children and overwhelmed parents, so you need to find ways to avoid confrontations. Relationship experts recommend talking about feelings and not allowing things to fester. Walking away from any dispute and taking time out should be seen as a positive step for parents and children alike – allowing for a swift apology later and the chance to move on.

Daily exercise is another routine you can share as a family: Joe Wicks may no longer be leading the nation in daily lunges and squats, but it’s a healthy habit to maintain. Regular walks, runs or cycles will reduce stress, boost energy and improve the quality of your sleep. It doesn’t matter whether you are walking around the block or through a wood, any open space will help clear the mind and any physical activity will stimulate a sense of well-being.

Main image: wavebreak3/stock.adobe.com. Additional images: Sebra/Soleg/Anna Shepulova/Monkey Business (all stock.adobe.com)


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