Think your child is priceless? Think again! A recent survey conducted by the insurance company LV= found that the average parent spends over £190,000 on raising a child up to the age of 21, equivalent to a hefty £25 per day. It’s a fact: children aren't cheap.
If those figures alone aren't enough to put you off, I can vouch for the fact that keeping energetic toddlers entertained can be a costly business too. But money can't buy a kid's happiness, of course, and the good news is there are endless possibilities for amusing your child without splashing the cash. Let’s face it, if families really cost that much we could probably all do with saving a few quid here and there. So here are 6 playtime ideas that don’t cost a penny, just to get you started...
1. Play Hide And Seek
Ok, so if you’ve already tried this at home, chances are it’s wearing a bit thin by now because once a toddler has grasped the principles of hide and seek they can literally keep it going for hours. Days, even. Never mind that they probably hide in the same place over and over again, this is brilliant for encouraging your child’s counting and problem-solving skills and having some fun together too. Encourage them to think creatively about where to hide, and be sure to praise their powers of discovery. And don’t forget to pause for refreshments at regular intervals!
2. Have A Carpet Picnic
Bring the outside inside, especially on a rainy day. Pack a proper picnic; let the children make their sandwiches if you dare, and make a pact with yourself that you won’t wander off to check your emails or do the washing up. This is about getting down to your child’s level and enjoying some good old-fashioned imaginative play. Why not turn it into a doll’s tea party or a teddy-bear’s picnic if your child is so inclined - the more the merrier!
3. Check Out The Local Library
I’m always surprised to find my local library practically empty, because it’s a pure goldmine of interesting and entertaining things for children to do. We can easily lose an hour in there just flicking through books together, and we routinely come home with piles of new bedtime stories and maybe even a CD or DVD at a fraction of the retail or rental prices. I’ve especially loved rediscovering classics from my childhood with my own children, and as a result books like Charlotte’s Web and Peter Pan have become firm family favourites all over again.
4. Make Your Own Playdough
In a saucepan over a low heat mix together 3 cups of flour, a cup and a half of salt, 6 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 3 tablespoons of oil and 3 cups of water. It’s ready when the mixture comes away easily from the sides of the pan. Add food colouring of your choice and a teaspoon of vanilla essence for a yummy smell but remind everyone not to eat it! Better than the shop-bought stuff, fun to make together, and best of all you can use the leftover cream of tartar to make scones some other time.
5. Get Wet, Wet, Wet
If the sun ever comes out to play, why not follow suit and have some good, clean fun washing the car together? Alternatively you could play at being window-cleaners or even just pile all your plastic bowls and plates in a basin and the let the kids get to work on the washing up. A word of warning; expect to get water everywhere so time this close to bath-time and make sure you’ve got the capacity to cope with potential chaos – above all remember it’s about having fun, not staying clean or dry!
6. Go Walkabout
Feed the ducks, take tricycles or scooters for a ride or just go and play on the swings in the nearest park. If you’re feeling adventurous, plan a nature trail for the route, stopping to collect leaves, look for bugs or just soak up the wonders of world around you. Pack juice and snacks, including a flask of tea or coffee for Mum, and if you’ve lots of time on your hands why not bake a delicious treat before you go, and serve it as a reward for tired little legs when your walk is over.
I’ll end this with a guilty secret. All too often my efforts to entertain my little darlings are about occupying their attention so that I can get something else done uninterrupted, whether it’s making a phone call or just having 5 minutes’ peace. That’s not something I’m proud of but I know I’m not the only one. But even 20 minutes of ‘floor time’ a day – quality time in which you literally get down on the floor with your kids and ignore all other distractions - can reap real benefits in building your relationship with your child. Children love nothing more than having your full attention so why not make time to do something fun and free together every single day. It’s practically guaranteed to result in happy kids, which usually makes for a happy Mum, and a happy household is something priceless that even money cannot buy.