Family lockdown activities for half-term: chosen by readers

Travelling the world one dinner at a time is proving popular, but readers also have outdoor ideas involving oaks, fairies and common-or-garden weeds

Winning tip: How old is this oak?

Noticing the enormous oak trees in the local woods started a conversation about how old they were. Arm-spanning the trunks to measure the girth (your arm span is the same as your height), we used this table from the Woodland Trust to work out their age. We began to talk about the events these trees had lived through and created stories about their lives. The planes that flew over in the second world war; the disappearance of the red squirrel and the arrival of the grey; how fashions and land use have changed since they were an acorn. Fuel for inquisitive imaginations!
Vanessa Wright

Guardian Travel readers' tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers' tips homepage


Deep into the weeds

Chalk marks on pavement identifying weed as hedge mustard.
Chalk marks on pavement identifying weed as hedge mustard. Photograph: Clare Smart

Local parks are busy in south-east London, so Ivy (six), Daisy (four) and I have taken lots of walks around our local streets. With spring approaching we are excited to get back out and rediscover the wonderful weeds sprouting up that we started to learn about in lockdown one. Something we had previously not paid attention to became the highlight of our walk as we went out with chalk and an app to identify the weeds. We labelled them with chalk, as they often had brilliant names and we wanted others to notice them too. We were sad that some of the areas where we walked got sprayed with weed killer, but found it amusing that the weeds would always fight back and within a short time would be sprouting back up again!
Clare Smart

Put it in writing

Early on in the first lockdown our nearly seven-year-old requisitioned a large Amazon box, a pair of scissors and copious amounts of red paint. The next day was the first day of our house postal service. Collection was twice a week at 8am, followed shortly by delivery of letters to everyone in the family. After a couple of months, the novelty wore off and the physical post box was relegated to recycling. We’re still all exchanging letters or notes when the postal service has the odd revival though, and writing things down has even helped resolve a few sibling (and parental) arguments!

Puddle skating

Ann and daughter ‘ice-skating’ in Northumberland
Ann and daughter ‘ice-skating’ in Northumberland. Photograph: Ann

In very cold weather we find icy puddles to skate on, or we are intrepid explorers walking across cracking ice, trying to reach the other side without going under. It’s very important to up the drama obviously. There aren’t many better ways to have peril without actual danger. We do this a lot just now and it’s resetting us after a fraught week of homeschool and WFH.

Science fun on YouTube

I don’t know if a YouTube channel counts as a family activity, but in Let’s Go Live!, Maddie Moate and Greg Foot offer science-based antics and have an amazing ability to make anything educational. We have spent many an hour during the various lockdowns entertaining the family with their mini-builds and challenges. From building a zipwire, making poo (yes poo!), building rockets, researching historical figures, climbing Everest and multiple attempts at kitchen science inspired by the twosome. Lockdown would have been a lot longer without these two educating and inspiring our girls.
Darren Atkinson

Bracelets and fairy doors

Rachel Smith’s children decorating fairy doors
Rachel Smith’s children decorating fairy doors. Photograph: Rachel Smith

My children both wanted to make a difference in our community to help them through the latest lockdown. So we’ve been making hug bracelets and delivering to those who need a virtual hug right now. As a family, we have also been creating fairy doors in clay, which has provided little ones with a magical fairy wood in our local area. We’ve designed fairy pictures too, so fairy hunts have also been popular! It’s been amazing to see the community response to our efforts, and for us that’s what we set out to achieve… smiley, happy faces all round when we need them the most. Hopefully we’ve helped make those daily walks a little more exciting!
Rachel Smith

Gingerbread village

Lotie Worsley’s family’s gingerbread village. Photograph: Lotie Worsley

During lockdown my family of six plus one boyfriend contracted coronavirus: we were now no longer simply in lockdown but in isolation, unable to leave the house. It was just past Christmas and my older sister decided that it would be really fun to make gingerbread because we hadn’t made any at Christmas. With five “kids” we decided to make a gingerbread village. This was a three-day job of making and remaking large batches of gingerbread, planning our designs and finally building. The final product was the length of a very large kitchen table, with a church, a fire station, rows of terrace houses, and three other houses modern and traditional. It was really, really fun and kept our minds off Covid.
Lotie Worsley

Penguin land – in their bedroom

Victoria’s daughters’ bedroom Penguin-land
Victoria’s daughters’ bedroom, Penguin Land. Photograph: Victoria

Our youngest daughter is penguin-mad. During lockdown, she and her big sister have used their imaginations to create “Penguin Land”. Inspired by the places they can no longer visit, such as the Living Coasts marine zoo in Torquay (now sadly closed forever as a result of coronavirus), they have constructed their own miniature theme park, with a variety of activities, such as meet the penguins, penguin library, penguin disco and penguin bank. They issue us with tickets and we join them on their adventures, expanding the boundaries of our Covid-restricted world.

Literary scavenger hunt

Rapunzel castle cake by Trevor and family
Rapunzel’s castle cake by Trevor and family. Photograph: Trevor

It’s hard to drag children away from screens to read books, but these ideas have been invaluable. Make a scavenger hunt by asking your child to make “tracks” of books throughout the house, then provide them with a list of items to scavenge for: an animal, country, fairy, monster, etc. They need to find the page, title and author. It really encourages them to look closely and revisit books they may have forgotten about. Second, we’re baking scenes from books – Rapunzel’s castle, the golden (boiled) goose egg and even Mrs Twit’s revolting false eye (a pierogi filled with red berries). Some are more edible than others!

Plus: Many ways of travelling the world from home

Bridget Payton’s family doing International night
Bridget Payton’s family doing International night. Photograph: Bridget Payton

International evenings
For our family international evenings, we choose a country and a menu. We dress up and decorate the table, mix cocktails and make food, listen to music, push back the furniture and dance, and sometimes watch a film – all in the tradition of the country we’re celebrating! Every decoration and costume has to be made from things we already have in the house, and so far we’ve been to Cuba, France, Italy, Finland, Portugal, Hawaii, Ethiopia, Scotland and Mexico. It’s brought a lot of laughter to two 12-year olds and their parents.
Bridget Payton

Rooms with a view
We hosted an evening of “Around the World in Six Rooms” where each family member chose a room of the house and their favourite country. During the week preceding, we all got crafty, chose food and drinks and put together playlists of themed music. Saturday night rolled around and we flew from a beach party in Hawaii, with flower leis and mini burgers, to a jazz bar next to the Eiffel Tower, eating eclairs and holding silly moustaches on sticks to our faces. You could also get creative for the “flights” between countries – conga lines and swooping planes were our favourites!

Reader Amanda’s two girls in saris for India night
Amanda’s two girls in saris for India day. Photograph: Amanda

Themed weekends
We’re travelling the world in lockdown by having a different country theme every weekend. It all started when we were planning on having a curry one weekend and decided to make it India day. The girls, aged four and seven, dressed up in saris, listened to Bollywood music, watched videos about Hindu gods and coloured in flags. A friend did us a bhangra dancing video lesson. After this we did Italy, made lasagne, learned about the Romans and had a virtual language lesson. Each week the kids pick a different country and we choose something to cook from that country and find out all about the culture. I’m enjoying it as much as they are.

Where are we going this Friday?
My teenage son, an aspiring chef, dreamed up an “around the world” cooking challenge. He put the names of all the countries he could think of into a hat and every Friday (before I go to the supermarket!) we take it in turns to pick out a country. Whoever picked it has to find a recipe or dish from that country that we attempt to cook. It’s loads of fun and we end up eating really random things that we never would have tried before! Even if you can’t get the ingredients you need it’s easy enough to adapt pretty much any recipe to what you can get hold of.
Amy Cantelo


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