Posted tagged ‘half term’

3 ideas for coping with half term or days the kids aren’t at school

October 15, 2015

Here are some ideas about how to use a half term holiday not to get away but to get to know a place better.  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

You can walk or cycle to explore the Olympic Park.

You can walk or cycle to explore the Olympic Park.

In the UK we have quite a few bank holidays – there are two in May and one in August & then there are half terms. As a freelance working from home, bank holidays and half terms tend to catch me by surprise. And I guess that’s how most children busy at school surrounded by friends feel too. Loads of people seem to go away, but that’s not always possible (or affordable) so what can you do instead?

1)HOW ABOUT STAYING PUT?  We live in London which seems permanently restless – maybe this half term the kids will have time to explore the new parks created thanks to the Olympic Village, Stratford or the changes at King’s Cross. Neither trip will cost anything and is a great chance to develop map reading and app use skills. The visitor centre is easy to find at the Olympic Park is opposite the aquatics building. The visitor centre at Kings Cross is just beyond Granary Square, but that’s much harder to find so could be part of a challenge day out.

Cheap and entertaining: walk the boundaries. Here we are in York on the walls.

Cheap and entertaining: walk the boundaries. Here we are in York on the walls.

2) DO STUFF LOCALLY THAT’S FREE If you are planning a bank holiday outing you could check to see if the places you want to go are open, but I tend to check what’s free to enjoy first.

3) WALK YOUR BOUNDARIES: We’ve recently been holidaying in York and after a summer of fabulous activities and sightseeing definitely needed to keep an eye on our spending. Taking a walk around the lovely City Walls was a good way to avoid window shopping temptation (particularly boring for the dog) and to get to see this lovely city from a different perspective. Find out more about great things to do in York here

Walking the Islington boundary we ran into an Italian fiesta raising money for the local church near Exmouth market.

Walking the Islington boundary we ran into an Italian fiesta raising money for the local church near Exmouth market.

Few places have such an obvious path around their boundary as York. Where we live in London, with 220,000 others, the boundary isn’t clear at all but recently a fundraising group, Islington Giving, made a useful map of the half marathon-length boundary which we’ve been walking around in bits. Being a little unaware of what’s going on meant that we ended up walking into a lovely surprise…  a street fiesta with Italian food stalls and pretty things to look at, like the balloons (see pic).

Plan a pit stop or a sweet treat for all the walkers in your party (even the photographer).

Plan a pit stop or a sweet treat for all the walkers in your party (even the photographer).

Of course smaller kids need shorter walks – but the more they do them you’ll probably find the more they’ll want to do them, especially if the end is rewarded with something tasty and healthy you’ve picked on the way (like blackberries) or brought along. I know ice cream is evil(ish), but on days when the sun is shining (or you’d like it to be) nothing beats it…

Over to you
Where do you like walking with kids? Is it a place you know well? Is it a boundary? Whatever you’re up to this long weekend, have a good time.


What did you do this half term?

June 2, 2014

Do you dare stay put at half term? Are there things on the doorstep you could enjoy doing more of? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

I love to travel – but half term always seems too short (actually so do the two week holidays of Easter and Christmas) to take enough time to enjoy a place. For me the only holiday which has enough time to travel to a place and properly explore it seems to be the long summer holidays… which is the reason my family hardly ever go away at half term.

Of course I get a frisson of jealously hearing where my neighbours are going – or have been. But that shouldn’t stop the pleasure of doing things on the doorstep. This half term we hardly saw my 15 year old as she was studying for GCSEs, so the trips made with Nell (13) had to also be seemingly low key to ensure revision seemed like a better option.


Larking around despite a day of rain, pavements and then the graveyard on a meet the ancestors tour.

1 Find out more about your relations (a walk)
We spent five hours stomping around East London on an ancestors’ tour. Pete had done all the work and took us from put to workhouse to ironmongery (sites of). If you want to avoid this experience never let your significant other ever join AncestryUK.

Explore a park can turn into a name that fish (or tree or flower) challenge.

Explore a park and find something unexpected (toddler sized fish?).

2 Explore a park you don’t know well (get lost)
London has a huge number of vast parks. Nell and I spent a long afternoon in Holland Park, just off High Street Ken trying to orientate ourselves, or find an ice cream. We failed these tasks but were happily distracted by the massive koi carp at the Kyoto meditation garden. Unfortunately I still can’t tell you how to get there…


The man on the left of the foreground is the Pea Eating champion. The man sitting focusing at the table is trying to eat as many peas as possible using a toothpick. Behind him are the amazing dancers who kept passers-by at the Holloway Festival’s opening event in Hornsey Street happily entertained. Not quite sure who won the competition but it was fun to watch.

3 Enjoy a local festival or street party (see and be seen)
Even in central London it’s easy to find private gardens open to the public most weekends… Not only do you get the chance to buy locally-raised plants (ie, slug proof) you may also be able to buy cake and a cuppa, and then go on to a street festival. There are so many in London now it’s like being on a European feast day tour. Going might even inspire you to organise your own!

Over to you
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your neighbourhood?

Half-term: for relaxing or revising?

February 11, 2012

Trampoline party over, next excitement is half-term...

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is about what to do at half-term. Tune out or brain up? For more info about parenting see my book Homemade Kids, or for my website click here.

Half-term may mean less morning panic this week, but I’m still shocked by the amount of work my primary school aged daughter Nell, just 11, has come back home with. Teachers say she must revise for SATS (a test I’d wrongly assumed was a snapshot of progress). I reckon she will need to do an hour of study each day to get through her task list. But there are also 20 plus thank you letters to write from her birthday, and a bit of music practice (that’s another half an hour if she is willing to work on piano and cello). And time made for reading.

Imagine what the pressure must be for those students running into GCSEs, AS or A levels? Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many of the university Year 1 and Year 2 students I teach need stress counselling (and not because of me!). They’ve been in a pressure-cooker environment for too long to take.

Work harder?
Given Nell’s age this has to be about the last chance she’ll get to play with toys, but there’s no sympathy. It seems that school demons are pushing for her to be educationally hot housed. Worse for mums like me, it gives Nell little time to get competent at the sort of life-useful skills that also need to be learnt – opening things, sewing, dealing with animals, cooking well seasonal items (eg, brussel sprout tops, beetroot chocolate cake, acorn pate?), balancing or even running around outside in the frost and snow.

Over to you
What do you think: if you are in charge of a child should half term be for relaxing or revising? And it’s no good saying a bit of both because I’m not sure that the two function well together.

Half term fun: the sleepover

February 25, 2011

Ha ha, the sleepover – bet you didn’t think that would be a heavenly choice? For the families sending their children to another house it can be a great way to get a free night’s babysitting, or just a night off from the usual bedtime routine. But for the brave folk taking in the spare child it can be one night of hell…

This post is by Nicola Baird, adapted from ideas in her book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

I love having people to stay – they bring news of the outside world and a chance for the children to meet other adults, from all over the place. I suppose we have about 40 people staying one night (or a lot longer) each year.

It’s a date
But most kids don’t need to copy their elders, they just love the sleepover date with all the anticipated staying up late, sweet-eating and naughtyness. Hopefully none of this materialises – my pet hate is families organising sleepovers that let  primary school children stay up super late so that when you pick  child is so sleep-deprived they are horrible to be around. As for bad experiences: the little girl who was ill and wanted olive oil poured down her ear (!); the boy ashamed he still was wearing nappies (although this is usually easy enough to sort out with tact thanks to PJs); the homesick eight year old who wanted to go back to Yorkshire (just 300 miles away) etc, etc…

Sometimes you really can’t get a gaggle of kids to sleep. For example when there is a crowd for a birthday sleepoverMy tip would be to keep the numbers down, make sure everyone has enough warm bedding and be sure they’ve all had enough physical exercise during the day. A night walk, a swim, a big play in the garden perhaps?

And as the children turn into teenagers mums say put the girls to sleep in one room and the boys in another… and that way they police each other.

When my children were much younger I always tried to get the younger one tagging along if the big one was invited over. That way they didn’t get homesick and Pete and I got a rare night out. Now they are bigger it is sometimes a luxury to have just one child in the house – they both really like pretending to the singleton and enjoying their family’s undivided attention, or use it as a chance to invite a friend over for the spare bed.

So last night while Nell was with her friend 9yo Anna, Lola invited 14y0 Corinna to come around.

Five rounds rapid
Nell and Anna probably got the better deal, because here in Mayhem Towers Lola, Corinna and I were obliged to watch Pete’s tribute to the untimely death of a Dr Who actor (Nicholas Courtney who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) in The Daemons. At any rate I know all the girls were pleased to be doing something different at half term that is sheer unadulterated fun.

And I was pleased because Anna’s mum said Nell was nice to have around – and then Nell said thank you again. As is well known, manners maketh you another invite! And that’s good for us all. Good luck with your sleepovers…

Half term fun: rain at the seaside

February 20, 2011

Let your kids look for the boats with silly names.

I love Mumsnet – especially the weekly summary emailed over on Fridays. But this week was a bit perplexed to see the word half term fun scratched out so it wasn’t clear if we were waiting for a half term of hell/fun. Mumsnet is always intense, and writes for laugh out louds. This post is by Nicola Baird.

But it makes childcare a great deal easier if the children are around you a lot, used to being both entertained and not entertained (depending on their ages!). And if that’s the case half term need be neither fun or hell – it’s  just days spent together (or in childcare or with friends/family until you get back).

For my 12 and 10 year old that is going to mean loads of reading, some house tidying (it’s almost spring cleaning a task we’ve put off for how many years, but now has to be done as I need a lodger). There’s a bit more time to cook meals, we can have friends around – especially those on half term hell/fun trips to the London museums. And we can make that trip to the seaside in the rain.

Listen: rain at the beach is no bad thing if you’ve got the right kit. I loathe walking up steep slopes/steps/dunes when the mercury’s rising and everyone is hot, tired and anxious about missing the train home. So wrap up warm and enjoy the UK’s practically empty beaches without the endless ice cream stall tantrum temptations and with all those visiting winter birds.

This is the closest we've been to a real fishing boat.

Not far from me is the Essex coast – longer than Cornwall! – and at Leigh-on-Sea (easy to reach by train from London) there are four pubs, plus zillions of fish restaurants and a few tea and cake shops. You don’t even need to go inside (although in winter that’s worth paying for) as there are a couple of fish sheds selling cockles in a pot, and two chip shops too.

Leigh seafront when the tide goes out offers a kalediscope of waders, rippling mud and half-beached boats. It’s a very atmospheric estuary, especially in winter. Despite the grey mist and grey water merging into a sort of drizzly miserable February day we saw loads of Brent geese and the cute little Turnstones (like short oyster catchers).

Nell was ecstatic to find heaps of oysters – brought inland by rougher winter seas and the dog adored his first time on a beach (dogs are allowed off lead here from 1 Oct – 4 May). More on birding on beaches with the kids by the Thames Estuary here.

Highlights of this wet day: telling the story of when Pip met Magwitch on the marshes (Great Expectations), finding a pub serving local beer and fish and chips, admiring the boars, and laughing when a guy on a bike cycled past us on the road to Southend Pier whistling “We all live in a yellow submarine…”  You see the skies here are grey as is the sea, but February half term is still a fantastic time to explore the beach. It’s all ours – and there’s no worry about the kids sunburning (or drowning) as it’s hard to do anything but stay a landlubber wrapped in fleeces.

For more ideas about rainy day activities see my book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. Or enjoy your own time together at half term!

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