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Surviving a staycation with toddlers & young children

by James Fouché
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To most people, a holiday is the most fantastic time of the year. They sit at the office counting off the last days until their leave kicks in. They think about family time, beach trips, gift-shopping sprees, and the overall enjoyment of the festive season.

However, if you have a toddler or two (or three, in our case) under your care, then the thought of holiday might fill you with terror. You are counting down the days until school closes and it almost pushes you to the point of tears.

You anticipate the screaming, the running and the trips to the potty. It is impending chaos. How will you keep sane during the long school break when you are stuck at home with a bunch of hooligans bent on trying your every nerve until you finally crack?

It is good to try and be proactive. You can start planning a wide variety of activities and outings to keep the kids entertained and occupied. Keep in mind, no matter how many things you have planned, it will probably never be enough.

You can only go to the mall so many times before falling victim to questionable parenting. The last thing you want is to be arrested for losing your cool in a public space. The local newspapers will have a field day with it. Besides, the mall during holidays becomes a scary place once you wander in there with toddlers.

To make it worse, the financial pinch limits your options even more. Since the whole of South Africa has received a knock to the household budget, you can’t spend too much money. You are unduly obligated to entertain the kids at home. Your vacation has just been downgraded to a staycation. Your stress-o-meter skyrockets. Tears multiply.

But before you start humming along absent-mindedly to rehashed Christmas jingles which are already set to repeat on your stereo, look at the below tips:

Open spaces

Make use of all the open spaces in the house. Be it the garage or the living room, an open space can be converted into a magical place in a couple of minutes. While the kids are asleep, move tables out of the way and clear a decent area. Construct elaborate castles with inter-linking tunnels by means of boxes, chairs or blankets pinned down by broom handles. Hide tiny treasures everywhere with clues leading to the next treasure.

Don’t cram everything into one day

Doing a hundred things in a day will surely exhaust them and send them off to dreamland on the Slumber Express, but the consequences can be detrimental. Not only could they expect the next day to run at the same tempo, but they could also develop a habit of quickly losing interest in something without persevering.

You could also be overstimulating them. If you haven’t experienced the consequences of an overstimulated child, then you should probably do this first and record the experience for future remembrance. It’s all about pacing the holidays. Sure, by doing it this way you get to keep some activities for tomorrow, but you also dealt with every possible aspect of the one or two activities you did that day.

To a young and excited mind, any activity is never just the one thing. Just look at painting. Besides being messy play, finger painting can be a long and highly educational activity. From letters to numbers to shapes to animals, paint can be a constructive and creative educational tool.

Staycation Olympics

Contrary to what you have convinced yourself is the absolute truth, all toddlers love exercise. Their abounding energy pours out from a well that seems to be without end. For the most part, it’s infectious, but it also gets exhausting if you’re flying solo with the kids. You can only wrestle with an octopus for so long before you’re tapped out. They can tire you out in a flash, and then they’re still good to go for another hour.

I have yet to meet a healthy toddler who does not enjoy clambering any structure in sight, or who does not try to outrun the wind, or who does not get fascinated by muddy puddles. They are indefatigable and they will wear you down unless you have a clever strategy to combat or direct their energy.

“You can only go to the mall so many times before falling victim to questionable parenting. The last thing you want is to be arrested for losing your cool in a public space.”

  • Put up a bounce-back punching bag or hang a small one at the correct height, get them small gloves and start knocking the bag around. Teach them about impact and the recoil, how gravity makes it swing, and how they can punch a bag and not another child in the playpark.
  • Make a running track and do relay running with make-shift batons.
  • Put up skittles and show them how to aim and roll the ball to hit more skittles.
  • Throwing a ball through a hoop, kicking a ball into a bucket, or blowing up a balloon are all measurable sports to a young Olympian.
  • The last activity could be the “ice award”, where contestants battle it out to see who can finish a bowl of ice cream the fastest.


There has never been a more appropriate time to get the garden into shape than when the kids are at home. First off, go to the local DIY store or nursery and see what might pass for or be transformed into kiddies’ activities. Walk down the aisles and make notes. Be mindful not to make gardening sound or manifest like work.

  • Make a special home for the new garden gnome you have bought and another special home for the gnome’s pet frog, Gunther The Slimy.
  • Let them dig a couple of holes and drop in some lovely marigolds to prettify a dull pathway.
  • Get each child to pick a seasonal vegetable and help them plant it.
  • Introduce them to nature as you go along, and be thankful for every question or engaging comment you get. Loads of opportunities will present themselves.

Longevity versus brevity

The longevity of a particular activity is what will cement the experience. If you’re going out to look at the Christmas lights in town, then make a night of it. Pack a couple of snacks, take a blanket, load the mosquito repellent and go sit somewhere after you have viewed the lights.

If you’re doing exercises with the kids, then ask them to create new silly exercises and film them performing it. If you’re making a quick lunch, then let the kids help. It might be messy, but they can help with washing dishes afterwards. What kid doesn’t like playing with water and bubbles?

The rules

It’s important to establish the rules beforehand. Children have the immaculate ability to bend every possible rule without really breaking them. Therefore, you need to have the rules down before the holiday officially kicks off.

There should be clear distinction between the reckless fun time, when chaos and mayhem get together to be wild, and cleaning up time, when the fun is done. The house or yard must be prepared for tomorrow and they can be roped in to help. Encouraging your kids to clean up an area where they had fun, is as important as allowing them to destroy it in the first place. It creates a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Remember, you are not busy creating fleeting memories. You are trying to firmly lodge an experience in their young minds. At the same time, whatever you are doing with them will be either physically or mentally challenging, or an exercise of prolonged enjoyment.

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