Children, School Holidays and the Right Level of Entertainment.

School holidays.

Two words that are met with excitement, relief, trepidation and sometimes even a little bit of dread, by parents (unless you home ed/unschool of course!). I adore having my children at home with me (most of the time), I love the freedom of no school runs, no uniform and book sorting and time to reconnect as a family. Like almost all other parents though I struggle to juggle the days with work deadlines, keeping the house in some sort of hygienic condition and money. I say the latter, not because I spend a fortune entertaining them, but because they seem to constantly eat when they are home and my shopping budget suffers as a result.

IMG_1836I am very much of the school of thought that it is good for children to be bored. When I was a child my parents did very little with me in school holidays, I would ‘play out’ with my friends, make all sorts of concoctions with flowers and mud in our garden, ride my bike and wash it far more often than it needed. Sometimes I would just lay on the grass on a blanket and read a book for hours on end, draw or write letters to my penpals. Saturdays were treat days, with Saturday Superstore and Going Live! on the TV. Life then was much slower paced, if I was lucky we would have one special treat day at the end of the holidays (my favourite was a visit to Hampton Court!), but that really was it. Now I am stunned by the amount of special holiday clubs (not just for working parents) and activities running, so many children seem rushed off of their feet moving from one activity to the next, I wonder when they ever get time for downtime?

IMG_1847I want my children to have the school holidays of my childhood, for this reason I arrange very, very little. I encourage them to get together with their friends, ride their bikes, read books and well – get bored! The boredom doesn’t last long, they always find something to do.This week they made up a game of “car boot sales” and often put on shows, spending hours rehearsing. Without this ‘time to be bored’ they wouldn’t get to use their imaginations half as much.


I do however make an exception in one scenario: Forests/fields/streams – anything with open space to run, picnic and fly a kite in, turn cartwheels, cloud spot, climb and roll. My favourite spots are those run by the National Trust and English Heritage, where nature combines with history. We all love these days out, no fast paced, loud, crowded and busy days, full of queues and crying children, just space, peace, nature and history and the opportunity to have fun, let off steam and relax.


Our local English Heritage property is Audley End, near Saffron Walden in Essex. Audley End is a Jacobean Mansion house with huge gardens (designed by Capability Brown no less). My children love the house and its collection of “spooky dead things” (aka: a large antique taxidermy collection), but more than anything they love the gardens and especially “the climbing tree” (see the top picture – it is pretty perfect!), which they always head straight for. There are large grassy areas perfect for picnicking and cartwheeling (see picture <<<), streams, ducks, horses and stables, a vegetable garden and a pretty good play area for younger children. During the holidays English Heritage put on some special attractions, when we visited Audley End this week there were lots of Victorian games to play with on the lawn (see picture below) and a treasure hunt in the stable area. The nice thing about these activities is that they are very relaxed and low key, something that is rare when it comes to school holiday events. A full list of this summer’s activities can be seen HERE, but you absolutely don’t need them to enjoy a day at one of these properties.

IMG_1845Most properties also have onsite catering, and while we normally choose to take a picnic, this time we were very kindly given some lunch vouchers so headed into the Servants’ Hall Tea Room. To my delight they catered well for gluten free diets (myself and two of my children are Coeliacs), with gluten free rolls and cakes, which is pretty rare for days out I find. The food, especially the gluten free Victoria Sponge, was yummy and actually really reasonably priced. We rounded off our day in the Court Yard cafe near the children’s play area and ate some ice cream from our local supplier The Saffron Ice Cream Company (try the ginger one!), it was great to see English Heritage supporting local suppliers. All in all a lovely day, full of play, exercise and family bonding – perfect!

I would love to hear your suggestions for chilled out summer holiday ‘entertainment’ if you have any? Or do you have a favourite English Heritage property to visit with your family?


p.s: I received free entry and a voucher from English Heritage for lunch for our visit, but this review is my honest opinion and I would still recommend them, without anything from them.

p.p.s: I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.




About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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