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  • Aideen McCartney

Summer Holidays and Screens - Your Survival Guide!

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

The UK summer break is here again (how did that happen so fast!) and with it, parents all over the country are wondering how they’re going to strike the right holiday balance; between keeping the kids busy, without over-scheduling them; between allowing them the freedom to choose how they spend their time and not having them staring at screens constantly for 6 weeks; between letting them be bored and not having them drive you insane.


Many parents will be thinking “how can I put something in place that will guide the summer routine, so my children are not just nagging me constantly for a screen?”.

I’ve already shared a few suggestions about how to prepare your kids for long holidays, but in recent months, I’ve found myself borrowing the renowned UK public health campaign ‘Five-a-day’ as a way to help parents plan a healthy balance of play, screen time and other activities in their children's lives.


I’m calling it the Five a Day of Play!


Most parents understand that play is important for their children, but not all kinds of play are equally beneficial for your child, and it can be hard to make sure that your children are getting the kind of diversity of play experiences that they need for healthy development.


Using the 5-a-day format, we can liken screen time to the sweets, crisps or other less-healthy treats that you might allow your child to have, but only within certain limits. Treats/screen time are not necessarily terrible for your child’s (or your) health and wellbeing, but they don’t hold much nutritional/developmental value, so shouldn’t form the basis of their diet/play time. It’s physical, creative and other types of real-world play that are most beneficial for your child; enriching their social, emotional and mental wellbeing and development.

The Playful Pathways Five-A-Day of Play


A guide to the diversity of play opportunities and experiences your child should have on a daily basis.


1.Creative and imaginative play

The kind of play and activities that allow children to exercise their imaginations and problem-solving skills.

Includes - Making music, dancing, art & craft, building/constructing, role-play, reading, storytelling and projection play (e.g. playing with dolls, figurines or vehicles).



2. Outdoor and nature play

Kids love to be outdoors; exploring, adventuring and using ALL of their 5 senses. Time spent outdoors is linked with a number of health benefits of children and adults. Experts recommend at least 3 hrs per day!

Includes - Exploring and adventuring in the great outdoors (which could mean your backyard, a local park, your neighbourhood, the countryside, bushwalking or beach etc.) interacting with wildlife or animals, mess-making, garden-potion making, engaging with natural sensory materials (e.g. sand, water, mud, leaves and sticks), risky play, outdoor sports and activities like bike riding or scooting.


3. Active and physical play

Daily physical activity is absolutely essential for children’s mental and physical health. Children under 5 can’t stay still for long and should be active much more than they are sitting still. Children over 5 should have at least 1hr per day of physical activity

Includes - Indoor and outdoor physical activities, running, cycling, scooting, sports, dancing, playing on playground equipment, risky play, trampoline, skipping, swimming and martial arts.


4. Parent-child play

Time spent being with your child is essential for building a strong parent-child relationship . A strong attachment between children and parents leads to range of long term social, emotional and mental benefits for the child. Even 10mins per day of child-led play can help to strengthen feelings of connection and understanding between a parent and child.

Includes - Cuddling, talking, engaging in cooperative tasks together (such as cooking or building), reading, storytelling and most of all play!


The best kind of parent-child play is child-led, but if you need a bit of inspiration you could try - hide & seek, chasing & catching games, playdough, art & craft, building things together, board games, card games, pillow fights, role-playing (such as doctors, hairdressers, parents & babies and schools), copying & mirroring games and letting your child ‘teach’ you something.


5. Social connection, responsibility and helping

Most children, especially in the toddler years, love to help. This is a wonderful trait which should be encouraged throughout childhood. Asking children to help, do chores, work with others or participate in activities that are focused on improving someone else’s situation, is so beneficial for building their sense of social responsibility and connection, as well as fostering internal feelings of being capable, independent and having something to offer the world.


Although this might not seem like play, it can absolutely be integrated into your daily routines in a playful way, by offering children choices in what or how they would like to be of service to others.


Includes - Tidying, cleaning, helping family members (including siblings), helping others (e.g. neighbours), picking up litter, thoughtful gestures, fixing, donating and sharing.


I’m hoping the concept of Five a Day of Play will help you to find the best balance for your children throughout the school holidays (and beyond!) These suggestions are by no means exhaustive - there are countless types of play that are beneficial for children. You may find that your children engage in a couple of these kinds of play at the same time and there’s much crossover between the categories. You may like to use it as a conversation starter with your kids so you can get them thinking about their own wellbeing, or as inspiration to help them come up with ideas if they’re struggling with boredom (perhaps create a something-to-do jar for each type?).


Think of it as a guide rather than a schedule you should follow each and every day. The best kind of play for children is free and unstructured, where children can play and explore in a self-guided way. The Five a Day of Play is there for you to think about what and how your children are playing and whether or not there is enough diversity in the opportunities that they have.


For more suggestions on dealing with boredom and surviving holidays, check out these videos, and don't forget to follow Playful Pathways on Facebook and Instagram for more updates.


And if you find the Five-A-Day of Play helpful, please let me know!


X Aideen





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Play Therapy and Parenting Support in Central London and South London
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