Parent Zone’s Digital Summer Club
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…
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
- Visit the Queen’s London home from your own, as Buckingham Palace opens its doors virtually
- Explore Churchill’s wartime office in an underground bunker on a virtual tour of the Churchill War Rooms
- Take flight at the RAF Museum
- Walk down a Victorian street, complete with 19th-century cars, shops and characters at Beamish, the Living Museum of the North
- Step back in time at the Roman Baths
- Head below deck on Brunel’s brilliant SS Great Britain, the ship that is said to have changed to the world
- Watch wildlife from badgers and bats to ospreys and puffins with the Wildlife Trust
- Join the live streamed adventures at Knockhatch and meet their meerkats, owls and geckos
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)