A frequently listed drawback for parents and teachers when discussing home animation is the length of time it takes to get significant results. Use an app such as Stop Motion Studio (available from iTunes or Google Play store) to make animated movies. Even with just a few frames per day kids can have a decent length movie by the end of the summer and can storyboard for hours to get creative results.
Spin the wheel
Construct your own random idea generator to make decisions. We’re using the spinner from the Game of Life, but you can also let a dice decide. Assign each number on the wheel or dice an activity and that is what the kids have to do next. Land on a one, for example, and you all go and get ice cream; two is tidy bedrooms; three is watch a movie, and so on.
Bribery and competition
Tried and tested parenting techniques like the reward chart can be your friend. The lengths a child will go to in order to earn a gold star on an arbitrary goal chart are staggering. Use it to your advantage by having tidy bedroom competitions, basic housework incentives and points for good behaviour.
You can be more flexible than the school week but the basic structure provided by Soft Play Sundays, Mall Mondays, Try Something New Tuesdays, Waterplay Wednesdays and Thinking Time Thursdays removes the burden of coming up with something new each morning.
Making up a batch of simple cookies or cupcakes easily takes a full afternoon or morning. As well as being hands on, fun and a tactile, teachable moment, it combines most kids’ loves of getting messy and eating their fill of sweet stuff.
We accept that this sounds insane, but have witnessed first-hand that asking children to simply make a list of all their possessions does a lot more than keep them busy for an hour or two. Somewhere around 117 books, 42 teddy bears, 26 toy cars, nine video games and three toy chests they start to appreciate how lucky they are and will often relent and make up a donation box for charity.
Treasure hunts and quizzes
You don’t need transport or school books to keep brains active over the holidays. Organise a mental quest around your own home or set a customised general knowledge quiz to keep minds sharp and kids engaged.
It takes a special sort of patience to complete a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Just as clever is the person who invented it and ensured days of silent concentration from children. When effort starts to slip, incentivise the completion to earn yourself more time WhatsApping friends.
Double the number of toys at your disposal by arranging one-week sharing systems with close friends. They take your fire engine for a week and you get their mini-tool kit and you swap back a week later. There might be a lesson about sharing in there but the main thing is the kids get to play with more toys for free. Plus, you don’t have to listen to that blasted fire truck for a whole week.
Stories, postcards and diaries
Whatever you do, don’t let the kid find out this is educational or you will instantly lose their interest. However, an excuse for just ten minutes of writing every day will keep skills warm for the next school term.
Time Out Kids has a theory that early cave paintings show not only primitive man’s basic hunting techniques but also a first example of parents keeping kids quiet, distracted and engaged in something productive for a bit.
Any activity is better if you do it in a den. Surely you remember that from your own childhood? Watch a film, read by torchlight, play with toys, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing under a pile of cushions and a duvet, they will be happy doing it.
They make the rules, they choose the foods, they decide on the activities. On the plus-side they have to clean up and they have to prepare the food.
Keeping kids busy and starting family arguments for generations. Old-school fun.
If anybody needs help with poise, concentration and meditative breathing techniques it is a kid with cabin fever and a belly full of holiday pick ’n’ mix.
Technology is your friend and allowing a child 30 minutes’ face time with a friend on the other side of town, or some time to talk with cousins or grandparent back home, will be appreciated by everybody.
Make the news
Some pens, paper, scissors, glue and imagination are all a kid needs to start making their own magazine or scrapbook. Fill it with stories about the holiday, life in Dubai or even a favourite cartoon and it is a crafty project that can develop for weeks.
Read a book
No, really. Switch off video games, apps, TV and tech of all types and let them discover adventures with Jules Verne, wizardry with J.K. Rowling, friendship with Jacqueline Wilson or just the funny side of farting with Roald Dahl.
You know how little kids tend to play with the box more than they toy that comes inside it? Let that be the guiding principal behind asking children to use their imagination and the recycling to make their own toys. Margarine tub boats, cereal box doll houses and egg carton lairs are just a few crayons and a sprinkle of imagination away at all times.
Be a YouTuber
Vloggers are more engaging to children than any film star these days. Instead of pushing them into expensive drama classes, let kids create their own brand and share their own stories. Some internet safety and supervision is required, but the tales of expat life as told through the eyes of an articulate and web-savvy kid sounds like a winner to us.
Start a business
You’re not asking them to prop up the economy or pay rent just yet, but the kid who wants to top up their pocket money with some hard-earned income might spark an interest that leads to a future career. Trading Pokemon cards online, a simple jumble sale or a marketed and controlled pop-up lemonade stand or bake sale are time fillers with a tangible return.
Be inspired by bloggers
Normally we would happily stand by and allow our kids to merrily slap the cute fedora straight off a smug mummy blogger’s kid’s head. When the long, uninterrupted days of summer come round, however, we’re willing to try anything. Trawl Instagram and Pinterest for ideas of what perfect parents out there are doing. Homemade play dough, customised T-shirts, food art, edible necklaces, crochet dinosaurs, origami zoos. It will probably end up a disaster, but surely it is worth a go?
Corridor bowling, dustbin basketball, rolling pin golf and bedroom assault course are all legitimate sports waiting for a champion to be crowned. Ask kids to create performance and score charts and create winner’s certificates to stretch the activity out further.
If you have an outdoor space (villas with covered gardens or rooftop pool areas with non-slip flooring are ideal) there is literally no better way to pass time without spending too much money. A couple of waterpistols, a bag of pre-filled balloons and some towels on standby and hours will slide by.
An iPad is better than I-Spy, hangman, noughts and crosses, cards and bingo. We’re not going to dispute that. But an afternoon of retro games with crayons and a notepad is a welcome change of pace for everyone.
It doesn’t matter what, let your kid decide. Playing an instrument, building Lego toys, skateboarding, fidget spinner tricks, Minecraft, drawing, football. Whatever they want to get better at give them some time, space and encouragement to work on it.
Finding a workable patch of garden might be a tough ask for many Dubai families. Maintaining a small tub or windowbox, however, is simple. Get creative by growing grass on colourful sponges or making egg-carton seed boxes on a bedroom windowsill. Customising it with decorated pebbles and painted lollipop sticks just adds to the effect. Monty Don would be proud.
You know as well as we do that you gave up any chance of winning a parent of the year award when you were spotted using your baby’s head as a handkerchief at the park that one time. Just pop in a Toy Story DVD and let Woody and Buzz look after the kids for a few hours.
Let them be bored
No, seriously. It is not your job as a parent to provide dawn ’til dusk entertainment for your children. Let them think up some activities of their own and they will be better equipped for adult life.