It's 10am and I'm still in my dressing gown and pyjamas, my second cup of coffee in hand. The breakfast bowls and glasses are shining in the dishrack, and I'm listening to my children talking and giggling together in the next room.
I haven't raised my voice once. The words "hurry" and "move" haven't even entered my mind and there is nothing we have to do today, the first day of the school holidays.
Ok, it's Saturday, so our two-week winter school break doesn't officially start until Monday, but it can't start soon enough for me.
Naomi, our kindergartener, has been looking forward to the break. So have I. I need a break from shepherding her through the unrelenting school term routines. I need a slower pace for a while, some white space in my days, and some time to try something new, go somewhere different.
I work from home, so for the next two weeks I'll probably have some late evenings after the kids are in bed, but I'm going to enjoy my days. I need some time with my big girl. Do nothing time, do something time, it doesn't matter, so long as it's not rushed time, squeeze-everything-that-needs-to-be-done-before-x-time.
There's a terrific conversation going on at Down to Earth about simple holiday ideas for five year olds (or thereabouts) that are fun, free, and don't involve a TV.
Naomi has made a short list of things that she wants to do: bake a chocolate cake, visit a preschool friend, and go to our local Vietnamese restaurant. All fine choices.
These are my top 10 ideas for entertaining little ones which will save you money and time, are environmentally friendly, and allow you to enjoy each others' company. You won't find a McDonald's or overpriced indoor play gym here.
Holiday fun with little ones - 10 simple ideas
1. Mess up the kitchen
Pancakes, waffles, schnitzel, pizza, cakes - many meals are easy and fun for young children to help prepare. Do something a bit different that you've been meaning to try, to make it more interesting for yourself as well. Pick flowers for the table or light candles, and do it when you've got plenty of time to spare. Washing up can be a novelty too.
2. Look at the local newspaper or your local library or community centre
3. Garden play
Look for butterflies, lady beetles, or lizards. Write names in lettuce seeds in soft, damp garden bed and in a few days it will start to sprout. Or plant some pretty flower seedlings in pots and line them up somewhere near the front door to welcome visitors.
4. Pack a picnic lunch
Meet up with friends in the park, at the beach or the countryside. Fly kites or blow bubbles, climb trees or run around with a ball.
5. Visit the library
We borrow books, toys, music CDs and DVDs at our library. We recently borrowed a book about magic tricks and taught ourselves a few.
6. Make an album or scrapbook
Print off digital photos from their last holiday or birthday party and let them have fun putting it together. Better still, let them take their own new photos. Or give them some old magazines, toy or clothing catalogues and a pair of scissors and glue for making collages.
7. Make a water fountain
Stack colanders, metal or plastic bowls and plates and then pour water over the top to make a fountain. Experiment with different ordering of objects and heights. You can recycle the water if you build the whole thing in a big tub or bucket. At the end, tip it over your plants.
8. Camp out
For real, or in a sleeping bag under a tent made of sheets or blankets on the living room floor.
9. Host a barbeque or pot-luck meal
Invite friends or family to come over during the day or early in the evening. Everyone brings a dish so it's not a lot of work, and the kids can play while the adults take it easy. Get the kids to make up place cards, fold napkins, put up streamers or balloons and plan some simple games.
10. A 'we'll do whatever you want' day
Set some guidelines eg. it has to be safe, free, and local and then see what they would like you to do with them.
You might spend the day in your pjyamas doing puzzles, make a dance video, or lounging around the pool. You might eat pizza for breakfast and apple pie for dinner. Or teach your child how to knit, play soccer, or surf. Or read 20 story books two times each. Whatever you do, have fun!
Above all, take it easy, you deserve a break too.
I used to find it mentally exhausting trying to entertain the children myself with lots of little activities, one after another. Now I try to blend things we'll all enjoy into the rhythm of the day.
My best tip for getting through those long, counting-down-the-hours, days is this: Get them involved in the preparation and then the packing away, and as much walking or riding to or from activities as possible.
It also helps to break up the day into sections where physically active and quieter activies are balanced, as well as short and lengthy activities. For example, I might take my kids out in the morning and come back at lunchtime.
After that the two older ones are usually happy to amuse themselves quietly for a while as the toddler sleeps and I get a few chores done. Then in the afternoon we'll take their bikes to the park for a while, chat to the neighbours and pick flowers from our garden for the dinner table.
After a couple of busier days, sometimes children don't mind staying home and helping with little jobs around the house or with your at-home business (anything except for tidying their own rooms!). They might help clean the car, wash windows, sweep floors, or stick stamps on envelopes.
What do you enjoy doing with your children, grandchildren, or other young charges?