When I was a kid my favourite book was one called Where do butterflies go when it rains? It was a beautifully illustrated book that actually never answered the question.
Now I'm a parent I feel like there's another book someone could easily write with no answer - where do children play when it rains? I don't mean finding tasks to keep them occupied when it is soggy outside. I mean places to go when it is raining and they need to let off steam. And for which you don't have to pay an arm and a leg (plus membership fees) for the privilege.
I asked around all my friends, and threw in some of my own experience, and here's what I found out. Be warned though - for a country that is well known for the rain there's surprisingly few outlets for a child's energy! Please, please, please, add your own ideas in the comments at the end if I've missed them. The Autumn half term is coming and I can feel it is going to be a very wet one!
Well the first option that came to mind, with most people it seemed, was to just let the kids go outside. If the weather is warm enough, there's no need to even worry about rain coats. Getting wet on its own won't give a child a cold or chill (otherwise we'd not be able to go swimming or have a bath!). And there's nothing that feels quite as free as running about in hot rain.
Sadly, that's not a very common option in the UK. But even so, at this time of the year a good rain coat and wellies will do the trick. For the children. What keeps them out of the playgrounds when it is wet isn't really the kids. It is us, the parents.
We're the ones who are standing there miserable, cold, wet, and getting wetter by the second. If you're not wet though, at this time of the year the chances are you won't be that cold either. Invest in a pair of waterproof trousers (I've a pair and I'll be wearing them on the school run today if that weather outside is anything to go by).
In New Zealand, where I grew up, all Macdonald's have a play area. These are called Play Places - or so I found out when I researched this feature. This comes as a surprise to UK folk because they're few and far between here. I don't really know why anyone would want to go to a MacDonald's restaurant that didn't offer something for the parents - like a free play area. The one near us is sound proofed, making it far more relaxing for the grown ups. And it has an entire glass wall, so you can watch the little ones from the quiet side of the glass.
There's only five in London though, and I don't know what they're like in the rest of the UK. You can find them by using the site's store locator here, and ticking the Play Place box.
Next up are pubs and restaurants with indoor soft play areas. I have not as yet found a conclusive way to locate all of these in one area using one website. Word of mouth is best - ask around friends and neighbours. The Wacky Warehouse chain is located with pub/restaurants, handy for parents looking for a quiet lunch.
Museums, in particular the smaller, less well known museums, are increasingly offering a free play or soft play area. These are usually restricted to children under the age of 6 though, however there's often activities for the older children on offer.
On the whole though museums are a good place to take the kids where they can do a bit of leaping around without restrictions. Most have everything in glass cases well out of the way, and conveniently long and wide halls. Just as long as you're not annoying anyone else - I find going early in the morning helps with that.
One favourite place to go is the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. This has a vast, polished wood floor on the 'ballroom', at the rear behind the coffee shops, and kids just love sliding across the floor. As simple as it sounds, they seem quite happy to do this for an hour or more!
Free or cheap creches
The next option is to find somewhere that will look after the child/children for you! Ikea is one place handy for this, and I've used this before. The softplay is so much fun it is considered a treat by my son to go there (meantime I get to have a peaceful wander around the store and a cup of tea in the restaurant). It is free, but you may have to wait. At our nearest store, the wait can be up to 40 minutes, and you have to stay in line. It isn't like you can go for a wander and come back.
Our local council run leisure centre also runs a creche for children up to 9. This is really handy as you can pay a low one off annual membership fee for the gym, and then just pay per session you use it (rather than monthly). A much more flexible arrangement for me than feeling forced into going every week.
And ... that's it
That's all I could get from anyone I talked to. Please do share your own ideas here - you have no idea how grateful I'd be!