So, you’re booking a family holiday, 2 weeks sounds good, sunshine yep, short flights yep, private villa nice! Oh, hang on, how am I going to entertain my children for two solid weeks!?
For many parents, this crops up as one of the many worries when travelling with the family. Entertaining small children can be exhausting after a few hours, let alone weeks. As a teacher I manage to deal with a class of 5 and 6-year-old children and parents often say “I don’t know how you do it”.
My response is always “easy compared to my own children!”. There are obviously exceptions and the classroom can have its challenges but, overall the children listen well and respect the boundaries – which I can assure you is a different story when it comes to my own three.
So, I’m totally in the same boat with this very real family holiday worry. To help take the stress out of inventing entertainment ‘on-the-fly’, I’ve put together 9 of the best educational activities you can have fun with this year on holiday:
The doodle charade game
Fill a drawstring bag with activity booklets, paper, colouring sheets, colouring pencils/pens, mini watercolour painting sets, sticky notes and stickers. This is a brilliant opportunity for your little ones to practice observational drawing or drawing what they see.
When out for dinner use a sticky note to set the first player a task to draw something they can see around them in 1 minute. In that same minute, the rest of the table must guess the object being drawn. Whoever guesses first then becomes the artist.
Interactive sand creations
Sand sculptures and castles are not only great for children’s motor skills, they are also great for problem solving and imaginative play. You could search the beach for natural materials to incorporate into your creations such as feathers, sticks, shells and seaweed.
Sand sculptures are a great opportunity for storytelling. Write or tell a story about a person or creature that lives in the castle/sculpture and allow the children to add to the story.
Or if their imagination is a little more literal you could craft a sand vehicle for hours of fun and imagination. A boat is the natural go-to and the easiest vehicle creation but I’ve seen a cars and motorbikes in the past!
‘Learn the lingo’ memory game
Have some fun learning the local language if you’re venturing abroad. The best way to get your children learning is of course by making things fun, there are some brilliant apps that are perfect for learning and listening to the correct pronunciation with interactive games.
Incorporate your new learnings after you’ve used the electronics and have a competition over dinner each day to see who can remember the most words.
Top 3 language apps I use:
Someone starts by saying: ‘I went to (your destination e.g Spain) and learnt…(say one word in that language e.g. hola). The next player continues by saying ‘I went to Spain and learned…(say the previous word, hola, and another word in that language e.g. adios).
Continue until you have thought of as many words as you can. Younger children could just think of one word for each of their turns instead of trying to remember the previous words too.
Keep a holiday docu-diary
This is a great activity for all the family to take part in and it teaches children to write more which is great in a time of online communication. Each diary entry doesn’t need to be long and can just be a small selection of words and doodle/picture that capture moments throughout the day which you could put on an individual sticky note size bit of paper.
Store these diary entries with a ‘memory-bag‘ (or whatever you might call a sparkly drawstring bag). You can pick these up cheaply from a craft store in a variety of sizes and use them to keep your holiday notes and memories safe each day so you can reflect on them later.
Document all the fun things you did throughout the day on a note and add it to the memory-bag. You can also collect items and talk about them. It could be a:
- Interesting shell
- Leaflet about a tourist attraction etc
This is great for younger children that are not yet writing. The activity is also brilliant for modelling speaking and is good for expanding vocabulary. Ask the children to use one word to describe each item to challenge their vocabulary.
‘1,2,3, What can you see?’
When visiting a new place, embracing your surroundings and taking time to really look at things can keep the kiddie winkies occupied.
Start by saying ‘1,2,3, What can you see?’. The first player has to carefully look around them and name:
- Something they can see 1 of (e.g I can see one car)
- Something they can see 2 of (e.g I can see two birds)
- And something they can see 3 of (e.g I can see three trees)
That player then asks the question to the next player and they have to think of 3 different things they can see. You’ll be surprised at the details that children notice around them that they may otherwise have missed. You could go higher than 3 things to make it trickier for older children.
The ‘food explorer’ challenge
Whatever your board basis, explore what is on offer locally and even if you aren’t eating, go to new restaurants for a drink and take the opportunity to browse the menu.
It is good for children to realise that not everything is the same as at home and if abroad, this is a good opportunity to add some new words to your ever-growing local vocabulary too.
How many new foods can you try? A player chooses if he or she wants their eyes open or closed. Using their senses, players must describe a selection of new foods/snacks ordered from the menu one by one.
Players must describe smells, looks, feels and finally what the food tastes like. Some children are very risk-averse to trying new foods so, for every new food they try and describe reward them with a sticker from the activity pack you’ve put together for number 5 (the doodle charade game).
The ‘hotshot’ photographer
Grab a camera that you don’t mind the children using (preferably something like a polaroid/instant print camera) and allow the children to capture photos from their holiday.
It’s really interesting to look back at the photos and view the world from your child’s perspective. This also links in well with the ‘docu-diary’ activity as you could add photos to your ‘memory-bag’. Asking for a description of each photograph is also brilliant for vocabulary.
Set the children challenges to link with maths, phonics and colours. For example:
‘Today your challenge is to take a photo of something green’
Or ‘today your challenge is to take a photo of something with 4 legs’
Or ‘today your challenge is to take a photo of something that is the same shape as a circle’.
The opportunities and possibilities are vast and could link to many different subjects whilst creating a fun activity which will entertain for hours if your children are determined!
The local supermarkets and shops are always a fun part of our family holidays and great for exploring. You will no doubt find different items on offer compared to our shops in the UK and the children sized trolleys in parts of France and ride-in car trolleys in parts of Spain are always a winner.
Grab some sticky notes and a pencil from the activity pack you made for the ‘doodle charade’ game. Every time something is added to the trolley a player must draw a small circle on the paper every time an item is added. At the checkout, players must count and guess how many circles they total before all items have scanned through. If a player guesses within + or – 5 of the correct amount, they’re awarded bragging rights for the rest of the day.
On the way home, use the activity to ask brain teasers like:
- Is your number more or less than 30?
- If mum bought 7 more boxes of biscuits how many circles would you have?
- If mum put back the biscuits, the bananas and the apples, how many circles would you have?
In this situation it is also good for children to realise that the money and produce is different to the money & produce that they may have seen at home. Both activities link brilliantly to the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum which encourages children to ‘recognise similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among families, communities and traditions’.
Dedicate time to read
Taking some time each day to read and encourage reading for the whole family even if only for a short time is really worthwhile.
This is something that I aim to do more with my own family as I am ashamed to say that I can’t remember the last book I read for pleasure. At parents’ evenings I always say to parents, if nothing else outside of school, reading is the priority. Even if only for 5 minutes and just discussing the pictures, it’s more impactful than you realise.
‘Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background’
If you’ve got magazines and leaflets lying around, ask the children to get their sticky notes and write captions for pictures as you look through the magazine. Exposing the children to words and letters frequently helps them understand and remember the relationships and shapes of letters.
Don’t forget it’s your holiday too!
Don’t be afraid to leave some days with nothing planned and be spontaneous or, give the children a selection of ideas from things they have already experienced and let them decide, if they are old enough. From my own experience, children love having the opportunity to choose and this in turn gives them ownership of the day’s activities and will really deepen their engagement and interest!
From my experience, keeping a bank of activities up your sleeve will benefit your family holiday enormously and of course give you some peaceful time to enjoy your holiday too!