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The cost of keeping children happy and entertained for hours? £6.12

Keeping the kids entertained through the long summer break can be all too expensive. In fact, one report from Morrisons found that parents expected to spend an extra £31.59 on each child every week during the summer break.

The damp, bleak weather has probably made the holidays even more expensive, as the rain has meant the cinema has been more practical than the park.

But what if you could entertain your children for hours and spend just £6.12?

[Related feature: You’re wasting money on your kids, stop it]

The ‘Pocket Playground’

Parenting website Netmums has been working with Ribena Plus to develop a cheap alternative to spending hundreds on expensive toys.

Its pocket playground consists of just eight items, which should cost around £6 to buy, and the website’s members have come up with 50 different games that children can play using them. The items are:

• Coloured threads (at least 3 colours)
• Coloured paper
• Drawing / colouring pencils
• Small wooden shapes and building blocks
• Modelling clay
• Beads (under supervision)
• Cardboard pieces  
• Toy people

What impressed me was that I have all the stuff in the house already, except modelling clay, and I can make that using flour, water and a little vegetable oil.

Activities include things like making a concertina fan and colouring it in, to playing games like ‘Names in the hat’.

You can see a full list on the Netmums website. If you try any of the ideas out yourself, please share your experiences with other mums in the comments below.

Good cheap fun or dull dull dull?

If your child is used to playing on the Wii or taken to Laserquest, they might not be entirely pleased when you hand them some paper, pencils and tell them to play hangman.

But they’ll soon get the hang of actively using their imaginations and own resources to have fun, instead of relying on your for expensive entertainment.

My son is just 16 months, so he’s a little young for some of these activities (and perfectly capable of entertaining himself for hours with a shoebox). So I asked a friend of mine with seven-year-old twins to try out a few of the suggestions.

“I think the best game was ‘Monster Consequences’, the one where everyone takes it in turn to draw the head, middle and legs of a monster but folds the paper over so no one else can see. We’ve got about 10 of the best on our fridge,” she told me.

Does she think she could entertain her boys with just the £6.12 pocket playground?

“Honestly? It’s good to be reminded of some of the simpler games, but it’s not as easy as going to the cinema or taking them to a soft play centre. You need to be more involved in organising some of the games – not to mention policing them!

“It means being a bit more hands-on, which isn’t a bad thing. [Parents] maybe fool themselves into thinking the children need day trips and classes, when actually it’s because we can’t think of anything to do with them. It was more hard work, but it was fun.”

On the netmums site, one mum pointed out that with a bit of thought, you can save money and let the children use their imaginations more.

‘Sarah B’ said that her two children “spent a whole morning entertaining themselves today with masking tape, making race tracks on the floor. Total cost of just a few pounds, whereas yesterday we spent £7 for one hour at soft play!”

[Related feature: Some more cheap and unusual ways to entertain children]

The importance of boredom

If you can’t afford another bowling trip or visit to a theme park, or if you don’t have time to spend hours organising games for your children, that’s not always bad. Comfort yourself that you’re helping your children develop.

By not providing constant stimulation, you allow them to use their imaginations. Some experts believe children need space for their imaginations to thrive.

Retired GP and mother-of-four Dr Victoria King-Evans told me that it’s very important for children to be bored occasionally.

“That’s when they start to use their imaginations, which is really important. If you’re spoon-feeding them constant entertainment, they never have to stretch their creativity.

“I think it’s healthy for children to be left to entertain themselves. A cardboard box becomes a den or a pirate ship or a cot.

“Parents who drag their children from one activity to another never allow them to build up their own imaginative abilities; they stop them developing their own resources. They’re not doing their children any favours.”

Do you fill every minute of your children’s spare time? How much have you spent on entertainment this summer? Have you felt pressured into buying an expensive toy or gadget for your child? Share your experiences with other parents using the comments below

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