School in the UAE is out: 13 fun activities to keep children happy and busy at home

Here are some ways to burn off all that restless energy

School’s out, travel is being discouraged, and taking your children to crowded places defeats the purpose of the safety-against-coronavirus drive that has prompted spring break to start early in the UAE.

This means many parents may be scratching their heads over ways to engage their young and restless at home. Here we put together the top suggestions for activities that are effective and entertaining for mums and dads to adopt before the e-learning classrooms kick-start.

Crafts

Google has ideas aplenty of course, but here are three recommended by seasoned parent Emily Price.

1. Home-made lava lamps 

Fashion home-made lava lamps by filling tall, empty water bottles or jars three-quarters full with vegetable oil, then water, leaving a gap at the top. Add a few drops of food colouring then drop in four to six Alka-Seltzer tablets and watch the bubbling commence.

2. Make your own body scrub 

Prepare a homemade body scrub by mixing 300 grams of granulated sugar and 200g fine salt in a bowl. Add lemon, lime or orange zest and a handful of herbs (mint, basil, rosemary or thyme). Stir in 50ml olive oil, then divide the mixture between jars and fasten with a lid.

3. Slime time

Create your own slime using 40g chia seeds and 400ml water. To this mix, add a few drops of food colouring and a sprinkling of glitter, cover with cling film and transfer to the fridge overnight. The next morning, gradually add 250g to 400g cornflour until the slime reaches the desired consistency.

More ideas...

4. Homemade colouring books

Art is another go-to, and you don’t even need store-bought books anymore; just type “colouring sheets” into Google or on Pinterest and download and print reams of free sketches for your children who can then spend hours on end with their crayons, colour pencils and paints.

The advantage with sheets is that you can print out images of characters, animals and scenarios that appeal to your children. Better still, get them involved in the selection process.

Older children can draw their own outlines from a book or online source before colouring them in. One mum finds rotational units of 45 minutes each, with colouring sheets, Lego and slime, “so there’s some variety”, are most effective.

5. At-home obstacle course 

Convert your home (or one room in it) into a child-friendly obstacle or circuit training course to help burn off some of that restless energy. Dubai personal trainer Olga Martinica, who is part of the team at Athletic Body Shape, shares some of her top tips.

“There are plenty of activities you can plan around a height-appropriate chair or a sofa. Get your children to step up on the chair and then slowly step down for a number of repetitions, or get them to squat down on the chair or sofa, and raise their legs up and down before standing upright again. The inch worm is another option; instruct your kids to go into plank position and then walk back [into standing position] using just their arms.

“Buy a floor ladder from any sports shop or online, and devise routines such as jumping in and out or left and right. It’s great fun and also builds co-ordination.

“For younger kids, set up lots of fluffy pillows in one corner, and let them jump and bounce around on those. Older ones can start with weight-training, using 500ml bottles filled with water to do shoulder presses or flies. Burpees are another fun one for children as they involve a range of motions. If you have two or more children, get them to play catch with a softball and squat each time they have the ball in their possession.

“Finally, set up a jumping obstacle course by placing toys of progressively varying heights all around the house for kids to jump over, going from 5cm to 10cm to 15cm and so on. Consider the clean-up that comes after to be your own workout!”

Cooking

Cooking is an inexpensive way to while away time indoors, and also equips your children with valuable knowledge and lessons about health and nutrition. This is a good chance for your little ones to learn how to use various pieces of equipment, from whisking eggs to flipping pancakes.

Here are three dishes to try.

6. Fruit sushi

Make sushi rolls, sashimi slices and nigiri out of fruit and vegetables. Think: banana sushi (chunks of hollowed out banana filled with natural yogurt and berries); papaya and cucumber nigiri (peeled papaya cut into rectangles and topped with thinly sliced cucumber); California-style strawberry and cream cheese rolls (hulled strawberries spread with cream cheese, and decorated with cucumber and mint); and cucumber maki (pieces of peeled cucumber filled with nut butter, rolled in grated coconut and topped with apple crisps).

7. Pick-and-mix salad

Rather than presenting young children with a ready-prepared plain salad, offer them an array of different items from which they can make their own salad bowl. The more visually appealing the spread, the more popular it’s likely to be. Cut radishes into paper-thin slithers, slice peppers into strips, add crunchy cucumber, soft mini balls of mozzarella and crisp bruschetta or crackers. Then leave it to the little ones to build their own creations.

8. No-bake mini cheesecakes

Grease and line a mini 12-hole muffin tin with baking paper. Melt 45g butter on low heat then cool slightly. Tip 60g oats and 60g crushed Digestive biscuits in a bowl and pour over the butter. Divide the mix between the muffin tin hole, pack tightly and freeze for 15 minutes. Beat 100g yogurt and 100g cream cheese and use to top the chilled cheesecake bases. Freeze again for 10 minutes, then remove the cheesecakes from the tin and top with 30g mixed berries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

9. Make a cookbook or food magazine

If your children enjoy the cooking session, take it one step further and get them to compile a cookbook or food magazine. This involves displaying the recipes they create using colourful plates, bowls, napkins, cutlery and crockery, and styling the image up to capture on camera and paste it in their bespoke cookbook.

Other similar projects include: a family photo album, daily diary, story or poetry writing, and drawing book for budding artists. Younger kids can be asked to identify a specific group - all red images in a magazine, say, and then to cut and glue them in a scrapbook of colours.

10. An apartment picnic 

A basket, blanket and throw cushions are all you need to set up a picnic on your balcony. That, and finger sandwiches and lemonade to make it all the more authentic. Throw in a few books and board games for all involved, set up a playlist of favourite tunes and think up games that can be played in a circle. Turf optional.

A picnic is also one way to make a regular play date more fun, especially if you have a bigger outdoor space. One more option if you have a backyard or a big enough balcony is to buy a blow-up tub for hours and hours of pool-time fun.

11. Role-play day

From chef to artist to astronaut, set aside a day for role-play, and involve your children in every step of the process. They can spend hours planning and putting together their costumes and accessories, a couple hours more finding out what a particular role entails, and what tools and props they have at their disposal.

Parents can volunteer to be part of the main event (for budding make-up artists, say) or be judges and score their efforts (of their little masterchefs or stage actors).

12. Gardening

Whether you have a backyard, balcony or windowsill, it does not take much to create a herb garden. Seedlings for basil, mint, thyme, rosemary are easy enough to acquire from a garden centre or plant market, and sprout quickly. Equip your little gardeners with soil, trowels, watering cans, plant pots and labels, and let the fun ensue.

13. A film festival 

Love it or hate it, there’s little chance that you’ll be able to keep your kids away from tablets and tellies this month. It’s good to have cut-off times though, say an hour on the iPad in the morning and an hour of Netflix or a Disney movie in the evening.

One way to elevate regular screen time is to set up a home cinema by creating a sense of anticipation around an afternoon or evening spent in front of a movie. You can embark on an intense film-selection process with a critic’s choice vote, ask for cinema tickets to be made from scratch, get children to dress up like the main characters and build a den.