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School's out for summer! But how can you make sure keeping the children entertained doesn't leave you in dire need of a holiday?

Denise Watson (42) is a freelance presenter and sports reporter. She lives in Lisburn with her husband David Scott and their children Sam (9) and Beth (5). She says:

"We try to keep the girls in a routine as much as possible so there's something for them every day. They're both members of the Lisburn Raquets Club and they'll go to the summer scheme there for a week in July and another in August.

I work freelance so I might have to work sometimes – it's thanks to my mum and my mother-in-law that I can take jobs sometimes. I try not to be away during the day too much.

I have a National Trust pass, too, so we've done all round the Giant's Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I think it's a great idea because they hold lots of events and there's lots of stories and history around the sites.

The summer holidays can be really expensive, particularly if the weather's not good because then they'll want to visit the cinema and go to places like W5 which all adds up if you do it every day.

I try and rely on the experiences I had in Girl Guides so I'm always thinking up activities.

We Sellotape sheets of newspaper together and practise painting techniques or cut shapes in potatoes and print with them.

When the weather's good we go to the bikes for picnics or to feed the ducks or bring the bikes out.

You just need to keep coming up with stuff to do with them."

Leesa Harker (35) is a playwright and lives in Belfast with her two daughters; Lola (6) and Lexie (4). She says:

"Lola has just finished primary two and Lexie is just starting nursery. I think the summer is easier for me because I work from home instead of having to go to an office. I do find, though, that I don't get any work done during the day because of the children and I find that I then end up working into the night.

I don't have loads planned – a lot depends on the weather which you can't predict here. We go to the beach and to local parks. I also home school them. I print off exercises and colouring projects to keep their minds going – they would forget everything they'd learned if I didn't do that. I check the paper to find out what's on and we go on trips to the theatre. I spent a long time not working so you learn cheaper ways to do things.

A trip to the cinema costs £30 these days with the sweets and drinks but a picnic in the park will only cost a couple of pounds and the children won't really notice the difference."

School's out for summer: 25 things to do with your children 

Kerry McLean (39), from Ballymoney, presents BBC Radio Ulster each weekday from 3pm. She is married to fellow Radio Ulster broadcaster Ralph McLean and they have two children, Tara (7) and Dan (6). She says:

"I don't plan ahead at all for the summer holidays – we normally have the kids booked into a couple of summer schemes; one in July and one in August for a week each and they love them. Anything to do with art or sport and they throw themselves into them.

We both work so it can be hard to get time off. I think it's crazy going away when you have sunshine at home at this time of the year. We spend a lot of time on the beach and our front door lies open during the day – there will be random amounts of children in my house at any time. We keep the tennis nets up and a paddling pool in the back garden and all the kids in the street just roam around.

I know mums whose shoulders get lower to the ground as the summer approaches and they face the prospect of having to entertain their children for eight weeks. I love having mine at home, though – it's coming up to September that I get depressed."

Claire Allan (38), is a novelist and lives in Londonderry with husband Neil and children; Joseph (10) and Cara (6). She says:

"We have a number of different things planned at different intervals throughout the summer so there's always someone to look forward to. We're staying local this year as we're going to Disney in January but there will be little outings.

Cara and I are going to Belfast soon to see Scooby Doo at the Grand Opera House and we'll probably make a night of it – stay over and do some shopping.

Then Joseph and his dad will go to Tennent's Vital as he loves music. My husband will also take the children on camping trips when I'm working. There probably won't be a chance for my husband and I to have a break at the same time because we both work.

During the summer holidays you need to call in a lot of favours to look after the kids.

My sister has lots of children so she doesn't notice one or two more and my dad is around to look after them sometimes.

Planning is the key though but you do have to be careful what you do. With two children you can spend a lot of money over the course of eight weeks."

Siobhan McGarry (48) presents Daytime on Downtown Radio and lives in Lurgan. She has two grown-up sons, Ruairi (27) and Eolann McGarry (24) and a daughter, Mainie Mulholland (11). She says:

"It's all about summer schemes for us – Newtownabbey Borough Council actually produce a brilliant booklet with 20 to 30 things that are going on. That's my bible for the summer. I don't plan that far ahead in advance, though. In saying that Mainie plays tennis and she is signed up for six weeks of tennis summer school at Lurgan Tennis Club so that's her summer almost covered. People think tennis is an expensive sport but this scheme works out at £25 a week. Mainie did it about two years ago and loved it – she's now old enough that she can walk down to it with her friends.

We've done other things too – we did an adventure weekend on the North Coast and loved that. It's amazing what you can do on your own doorstep."

‘Every suggestion is met with a snort of derision or a resounding no'

Alex Kane is a writer and commentator. He lives in Belfast with his partner Kerri and their daughters Megan (15) and Lilah-Liberty (4). He says:

The school holidays began very, very early in our house yesterday, when Lilah-Liberty — she'll be five in October — charged into our bedroom shortly after dawn and announced (and there really is no other word for it) that she wanted to go to the museum.

She has a thing about Takibuti the mummy at the moment and there's rarely a week when we aren't dragged in to see her.

Having explained, as reasonably and quietly as I could at 5.45am, that the museum was closed on a Monday, she replied, “Daddy, you told me I could do what I wanted to do in the school holidays!”

Hmm, I don't quite remember saying that.

Anyway, she stormed out and started to play her guitar. Well, I say play, but it consisted of twanging the same string and hollering, “I want to see Takibuti, my Daddy promised me,” over and over and over again.

And, then, silence. Wonderful, I thought, sleep has caught up with her and she'll be out for the count for another few hours. But no: she came back, sheepishly this time, bringing the guitar and begging me to untangle the hair that had somehow wrapped itself around the strings and attached it to her head.

It took a while to unravel it and I was rewarded with a huge hug: “I love you, Daddy. Can you take me to the museum now so I can tell Takibuti?”

Megan — who'll be 16 in October — is a different kettle of fish altogether. She's at that stage in life when everything, every single thing you can think of, is “boring”.

She makes the town-crier of Pompeii sound enthusiastic. While Lilah-Liberty wants Takibuti, Megan wants to take to bed and stay there, with an iPhone in one hand and an iPad in the other.

Every suggestion we make is met with a snort of derision, while every, “But there must be something you want to do” question earns a resounding “No”.

We hit upon the bright idea of getting them to make a summer list of the things they would like to do. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, there was no meeting of minds.

Yep, they both wanted to go to the cinema — but to see different things. They both wanted to go out — but to different places. They both wanted activity days — but while Megan wanted to rock climb, Lilah-Liberty wanted to build sheep from cotton wool and plastic tops. And the garden, a wonderland when they were two, is now just something to be weeded and mown.

The reality is that there's no halfway house between a four-year-old and a 15-year-old. They see things entirely differently and it's either their way or the sort of epic tantrum that deserves Wagner thumping in the background.

Worse, all of the Guides and Brownies and other razzmatazz that keeps them occupied during the year also stops over the summer months. So in essence it is eight weeks — 56 solid days — of arguments, sulks, door slamming and prima donna over-reactions: and that's just the parents.

It doesn't take much for kids to get bored. Even when you take them away on a ‘proper’ holiday they get bored. And once you say, “But we have to pick something that we all want to do” you're only inviting a massive strop.

I've wondered if the extraordinarily long holidays are actually a Government ploy to make school look like an attractive alternative? Anyway, head down and teeth gritted: roll on September.”

Belfast Telegraph


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