Danielle Wright takes a hiatus from school holiday programmes and goes in search of ideas on how to make having the kids home from school a time to treasure.
School holidays can sometimes be more structured than the school term. After a particularly bad experience at a school holiday programme last break-time, we decided to find our own fun these holidays. Here's some inspiration:
Leave the car in the garage
Most children love catching public transport. Buy them a Hop card ($10 for the card) and explore Auckland by bus. Instilling a love of public transport might even help the city one day and will be good preparation for the school bus years.
Turn a city visit into an exciting adventure with a Fullers ferry trip. Walk to the Jellicoe St play park with a stop at the Maritime Museum for a Pirate Tales school holiday activity on the way back. fullers.co.nz.
For a full day-trip, take a 360 Discovery Cruise to Coromandel, Rotoroa Island or Tiritiri Matangi - the current promotion is for one child to travel for free per adult fare. Rotoroa Island also has a free family discovery trail for ages 7 and up.
There's also a free Ports of Auckland boat trip on the Waitemata Harbour for an hour-long tour of the big cranes and machinery at work. Tuesday, July 10 at 11am. Bookings recommended, click here.
Check out Auckland's newest train station at Manukau, the first new rail route to be built in Auckland since 1930, or train-spot at the shiny Britomart station - a day-trip in itself for train-mad kids. On a rainy day, take the train to Sylvia Park - easier than the miserable search for a carpark.
Set little wheels in motion
With fewer cars on the roads, teach your children bike-safety skills around the neighbourhood. A new downloadable leaflet for parents at nzta.govt.nz called "Hike It, Bike It, Scoot It, Skate It" has tips on cycling, such as checking over the shoulder for traffic and using hand signals. It's recommended that children under 10 always ride with an adult. Bikewise also has safety sheets online.
If you get sick of running behind them, head to a bike hire shop and get a tandem with a kid's bike on the back so you can get some exercise while the kids enjoy the novelty factor.
Or head to some bike-friendly parks with easy trails for beginners.
Foster a love of literature
Have a morning tea for a favourite book character, even if it is Captain Underpants. Kids will love writing the invitations and putting them somewhere to be discovered. Try to find a soft toy of the book character to surprise them with on the day. Get the kids to come up with party food ideas or try itsasmallworld.co.nz for recipes from books, such as Pippi Longstocking's Swedish Pepparkakor.
Another idea is to find a book pal, ideally a friend or cousin of your child who lives in another city or country. They can choose a book for them, draw pictures and write a card and send the parcel off, knowing one day they will receive a package for themselves. Like a pen pal, only with books.
Children can be creatures of habit, so these holidays find interesting playgrounds in areas just a little bit further away than normal. Our favourites include Wainoni Park in Greenhithe, Hobsonville's playground with giant metal pods and seeds to play in and Upland Rd Park with its flying fox and Teletubby-ish hills.
On the wildest weather days, head to the west coast beaches to blow away the cobwebs. Beaches are surprisingly good on bad-weather days and kids love them in any season.
Warm up inside at child-friendly cafes. There's the Wintergarden cafe with a duck pond, twisted tree roots to climb along and fernery with cool and hot houses nearby. For country charm, visit Fernielea Cafe in Coatesville with its outdoor playground, indoor activities and Pick Your Own fruit shop next door.
The food of love
On wet-weather days, stay inside and cook. It's a great way to spend time together, teach your children a skill and get them to experiment with foods and textures they might not go near normally. Remember not to hover, let them do it for themselves.
"Cooking with the kids doesn't need to be a drag or a mess," says Kirin Lockie of Little Cookies. "Kids love being involved with the big people in their lives and thrive on being given a responsibility or task, they love being part of the decision-making."
She recommends choosing a theme, like foods from another country, and making some Mexican or Japanese recipes, as an example. Extend the learning by reading books from that country or visit speciality supermarkets such as Japan Mart.
For inspiration for your older kids, visit itsmyturntocooktonight.com, put together by Claire Gourley for teen-friendly recipes they can make for the family or their friends.
The usual suspects
On days when you need a break from planning all the fun, head to the usual school holiday places and follow the kids' interests. Choose from:
* The Auckland War Memorial Museum, which has a focus on photography with its Wildlife Photography of the Year exhibition (free).
* Motat, with its "On" holiday experience, featuring energy and where power comes from - including interactive exploding foam, bubbling liquid and laser beams and the Fonterra Science Roadshow.
* Auckland Zoo is holding a Zoolympic Challenge to run, jump, hang and hop in its 10 challenges to get gold - for example, can you stand on one leg for as long as a flamingo?
* Or head out of town for a kid-centric day in Hamilton. At the Waikato Museum join the final two weeks of How to Make a Monster: The Art & Technology of Animatronics (the monster storyteller is there this weekend and next from 11am until 1pm). The prize for cutest activity goes to the free Handgrown: Hand-crafted Fruit and Vegetables, an interactive garden full of - yes - hand-knitted fruit (then run to the library to borrow the how-to knit them books). Exscite Science Gallery builds a giant Lego car and the Mighty River Waikato blends science, wildlife, art and history to deliver a world-class experience of the mighty Waikato River.
Tidy up time
Don't stress about the housework. There will be plenty of time to catch up when the kids are back at school. One thing I learnt parent-helping at school is you can't clean up after 26 kids in the class, so you delegate. Make that work for you at home as well.
With less of the rush of normal life, school holiday time lets you slow down, take the time to teach your kids life skills and have fun along the way - all too soon they will be out in the world on their own.
So enjoy them while you can and let the email messages wait.