The ultimate parents’ survival guide to summer 2020

Activities are curbed due to Covid-19, but there’s plenty of ways to keep kids occupied



Treasure hunt
Under-fives have a keen eye for detail and notice the smallest objects, so treasure hunts will keep them amused for ages. Hide objects around the house or garden or ask them to search for various things using a list (draw pictures if they are not at reading age). Outdoors, they could look for sticks, stones, particular flowers or leaves; and inside, a sock of a certain colour, toothbrush or teddy. The list can be as long as your arm – and pack them a snack for their "break". Also, if you have a sandpit, hide small toys or marbles and get them, using a spoon, to dig out the treasure. Mix up the games on different days and, depending on their age, children can be kept busy for up to an hour while you have a quiet cuppa or make an important phone call.

Young children love feeling useful so put them to "work" with some easy sorting jobs: laundry, cutlery, pasta shapes, Lego bricks, crayons and even shoes. Most really enjoy the challenge, so the more intricate the chore the better.

Making sure anything breakable is out of reach, let their imagination run riot by making a den (using blankets, cushions and a sofa) filled with books, games and a "picnic" (raisins, fruit and biscuits). Create entire kingdoms with the contents of their toyboxes: cars, dinosaurs, soldiers, dolls (which can become baby-faced giants), animals. The only rule is, there are no rules.

While preparing dinner, give your child a kid-friendly knife and some easily choppable vegetables, such as mushrooms, courgettes or any other pliant vegetable or fruit. The finished result may not be the desired shape or consistency but should be edible – your child will feel they've "made dinner" (which should also encourage them to eat it).


Get arty
Get some art supplies for the long summer ahead. Print pictures off the internet to colour so they can choose their favourite character, creature or flower. Allow them to experiment with paints and textures on different surfaces, such as canvas. They will also love painting cardboard boxes (to turn into vehicles or houses), stones from the garden (to make ladybirds or other creatures) and even old shoes or items of clothing. As long as your soft furnishings are protected, a little bit of unchecked creativity is good for the soul.

Allocating simple jobs will free up some time while you get on with something else, and small children love copying the things they see their parents doing. So order a child-sized cleaning set online – you can get brushes, dustpan and cloths so they have their own tools (imagine trying to sweep a floor with a brush twice your height) and will enjoy it more.

Allocate a cupboard for their cleaning utensils, basin and also pots and pans for them to wash, clean with a cloth or simply organise.

Be silly
Encourage them to entertain themselves with fun games. Ask them to pretend to be various animals while their siblings (or parent) guesses what they are, hop on one leg for as long as possible, play Simon Says, musical statues, indoor ice-skating (with cloths on their feet which could also double up as a floor-cleaning exercise) or have a dance party where they can dance in any silly fashion.

Sports day
Most children have missed their sports day at school or nursery, so have one at home instead. Small kids will love an egg and spoon race (with hard-boiled eggs or a small potato), keep the balloon up (providing there is no wind) and ball-throwing competitions to see who can catch and throw without dropping.

Other activities could include: balancing on a “tightrope” (some tape on the ground) while carrying something or balancing a soft toy on their head; bean-bag toss using a washing basket or bucket as the target; a three-legged race or long jump – and you could even set up an obstacle course with various objects for children to jump over, climb, run around or carry.

Providing there is no hosepipe ban, paddling pools, sprinklers and water fights always guarantee lots of laughs, but other inventive games can also be fun. Provide a tub of water and some sponges and encourage kids to make designs on a wall or the ground by throwing the wet sponges to create a picture. Time them filling one bucket from another – placed at a distance – using plastic cups or bottles (with holes for maximum fun). Making and blowing bubbles is still a much-loved activity and while washing-up liquid and water are the key ingredients; a little glycerine and cornflour will make all the difference.

The great outdoors
Flying a kite, kicking a ball, hopscotch or skipping are always great for getting kids into the fresh air, but the whole family can get involved on a hike or day out to somewhere like Erica's Fairy Forest, Cootehill, Co Cavan, Lough Boora Discovery Park, Co Offaly, Lough Key Forest Park, Co Roscommon, Phoenix Park, Dublin or any local amenity. Choose a spot, pack a picnic and enjoy.

There will be times when children and adults need to rely on the TV or internet to provide much-needed downtime. Kloud Academy ( has educational videos on yoga, dance, drama, literacy, science, puppetry and more and is aimed at pre-school children.

There are also plenty of free apps for small children including Paint Sparkles for those who like to colour, Lego Juniors Create & Cruise, Kids Piano Lite, Pirate Treasure Hunt and Endless Wordplay.

From June 13th to August 21st, children aged 2-4 can enjoy a range of online visual arts, drama and dance inspired by the Ark's collection of lovable animal sculptures, The Beautiful Beasts for the Early Years. With animal-themed workshops, stories and dance workshops, children and parents will be entranced.

Presented by Helen Blackmore, early years teacher at TU Dublin Conservatoire, the National Concert Hall is running a video series of interactive songs and musical activities for young children (3-4 years) in Music Time this summer. (Search for Music Time with Helen Blackmore on YouTube. )

Dublin City Council's Virtual Creative Hubs will bring children from two to 12 on a journey of the imagination this summer with visual artists, musicians and dancers in many different virtual landscapes – including deepest space, under the sea and through imaginary lands in the company of Púca Puppets. See and

5-12 year olds


Become a critic
Choose a movie based on a book. Read the book first, watch the movie and do a comparative analysis between the two. Which was your favourite? What would you have done differently? The Hobbit and Coraline were hits with our budding critics.

Get writing
642 Big Things to Write About: Young Writer's Edition is full of brilliant prompts to get the creative juices flowing. (€18 from Halfway Up the Stairs Or start a blog. Sign up for a free blog at Wordpress or Blogger. com"> For your first project, write about lockdown, or interview your grandparents.

Make your own podcast
All you need is a phone or tablet with a recording app and a topic you're passionate – or even mildly curious – about. Research it first. Write out a rough script, then record and have fun. Older children could experiment with a sig tune, audio inserts, studio guests and some sound effects; younger ones can keep it simple.

Become a filmmaker
Cinemagic Film Festival Dublin will be running online workshops for 7-12 year olds in SFX make-up, Lego animation and stop motion, in partnership with the Can-Do Academy in July. Cost €5 per tutorial; five for €20. More details from after June 25th email

Learn how to animate
The Museum of Ireland has some great online tutorials. Our favourites are by the animation studio Paper Panther on how to create an optical animation toy, a thaumatrope, or a cut-out animation character.

Take part in a live art workshop
As part of The Ark @ Home, artist Duffy Mooney-Sheppard will guide children aged 5-12 through visual art workshops via Zoom, introducing them to some curious beasts and inspiring them to create their own artwork. Details from

Paint a portrait
Enter the Zurich Young Portrait Prize for a chance to have your work hang in the National Gallery. Entries are open until July 1 (see also under teens). Details from

Become a stained glass artist
Stick some masking tape to your windows, and get painting using washable paint (washable is crucial). You can do the same on the pavement with chalk.


Camp out in the back garden
Fun to hang out in during the day and even more fun to camp out overnight. If you have an outdoor stove or fire pit and parental supervision, make s'mores (sandwiches made with digestive biscuits, roasted marshmallows and a piece of chocolate.)

Explore the natural world
Clonmel Junction Festival is going ahead in reimagined fashion from July 4th to 12th this summer, and will include a number of nature-based digital workshops with downloadable activity sheets. Workshops include Nature Detectives with Mieke Mulyart on July 7th at 3pm, or learn how to make a bee hotel with Albert Nolan on July 10th at 3pm.

Become a citizen scientist
Do a flower insect count and support the study of biodiversity in Ireland. You can even log your findings at

Paint some rocks
Rockpainting – a bit like fairy doors a few years ago – has taken off in parts of Ireland. This is literally what it sounds like: you paint rocks with a miniature landscape, your own design or a message ("kindness rocks" is popular) and place them in the great outdoors for others to find. Check your local social media groups for hints on where to rock hunt.

Get growing
Create a herb garden using cheap cooking herbs from the supermarket and a few big pots.


Camp in a crate
Camp KiwiCo is a "non-virtual summer camp in a crate" from the US company behind a popular curated delivery service for science and art packages. The camps kick off online from June 22nd, and offer loads of free content for 3 to 11 year olds, plus the chance to buy a crate to go with each day's theme. Depending on which camp they sign up for, your kids will get the chance to learn about the science behind movie illusions, build a miniature pizzeria, or explore an interactive rainforest treehouse. Prices for the crates to go with each day's theme start from €22-€27, plus €4.95 delivery from An Post, but you can participate in the interactive elements for free. Sign up at

Learn about famous diaspora
EPIC Museum is running an Explorers Summer Camp for Kids from July 13th to 17th, featuring Ernest Shackleton, Neil Armstrong and pirate Anne Bonny in this summer camp which is suitable for the whole family. Delivered via Zoom, but featuring interactive events aimed at getting kids involved. Suitable for 12s and under. It costs €5 for one day, €10 for three days and €15 for all five (or free with a family ticket to EPIC). See

Become an archaeologist
Dig It Kids will offer two-hour craft-focused archaeology and history workshops from Tuesdays-Fridays for four weeks from July 7, from 10.30am-12.30pm. From €12.50 per day/€40 per week. Before you commit, try one of the free Saturday morning workshops.

Get coding
Microsoft Ireland is running a DreamSpace programme at home, called HomeSpace, involving 30-minute tutorials, a home challenge and Q&A session. Mondays are MakeCode for micro:bit for 2nd to 6th class; Thursdays are for Maker Challenges that you can complete using everyday materials around your home, for 3rd to 6th class. CoderDojo has also gone online in association with Raspberry Pi.

Visit a museum
Some of the world's greatest museums now have virtual tours. Our favourites are the Smithsonian and the London Science Museum


Make a boomerang
Find out how to make your own boomerang and other ways to stay entertained outside with Usborne's brilliant Never Get Bored Outdoors, €12 from all good booksellers.

Create a Bloomsday bowler hat
For Bloomsday next Tuesday, the Chester Beatty library is hosting a workshop on how to make a cardboard boater hat from 1-3pm. Details and lots more ideas to get creative from

Build a marble run
All you need is some toilet roll tubes, a cardboard base, Sellotape, marbles, and your imagination.


Create a milk sculpture
Using warm milk, vinegar, a sieve and as much creativity as you can muster. This and more kitchen science projects from The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Dr Michelle Dickinson, €24 from

Make an ice pop
Blend some fresh fruit with yoghurt or milk, and pop it in ice lolly moulds in the freezer. Like all kitchen projects, this may require some adult supervision.


Cruinniú na nÓg
Some of today's (June 13th) one-off Cruinniú na nÓg events of interest to teens include: Tunes from Me Gaff Irish Youth Music Awards live stream (3pm, Dublin City Council's Arts Office Facebook); Resilient/Resilience, a large-scale street art project; Make, Participate, exploring resilience; and Dancing From a Distance showcase.

Tons of Cruinniú na nÓg's free projects run through the summer. Here are some: Draíocht Blanchardstown's Drama Challenge (13+) builds performance skills in online workshops, starting today on Draíocht's Facebook and YouTube.

Create a Moving Portrait – TikTok-esque micro-videos – with Limerick and Clare Local Creative Youth Partnership's online workshop (voice coaching, editing, dialogue, copyright). Register via LCYP social media; info: 086-4120440.

Develop your own musical in Where to Start week-long workshop (June 22-26, 10am-1pm; ages 12-18)

Three online workshops about foraging, harvesting and preparing edible plants and seaweeds along the Connemara coast.

Composer Garrett Sholdice’s teen workshops on music for visual media and composition. Info:

Novel Teens' free online creative writing mini-masterclasses (ages 13-17) by young adult authors including Dave Rudden, Anna Carey, Deirdre Sullivan and Darren Shan (new additions fortnightly).

Search for all events.

While Gaeltacht rites of passage are out, coláistaí have online language courses (fees), and there are language resources at Fáilte Online, Edcite as Gaeilge, Vifax, TG4 Foghlaim, Gaeloideachas, Gael-Linn, Glór na nGael.

For learners of German, is a great new free interactive workbook developed by TU Dublin lecturer Dagmar Fischer. Its constantly expanding activities are based on authentic materials and promote active engagement with the language.

For French students TV5 Apprendre le Français is free, interesting and fun, with videos, news clips, music and documentaries. For all levels (mobile app: TV5Monde Learn French).

Goethe-Institut, Alliance Française and Instituto Cervantes Dublin also have online courses (fees).

Science and Engineering
STEPS Engineering Your Future@Home three-part series from Engineers Ireland to inspire TY students towards careers in electrical engineering, product design and sports engineering.

At the bottom of Science Foundation Ireland's primary school page are useful links to science, maths, space and environmental projects, for all ages.

Science Gallery has workshops and self-guided, interactive projects for teenagers.

Art and crafts
Design & Crafts Council Ireland has tons of activities and workshops, including Get Ireland Making weekly online craft workshops (short craft hack tutorials and making videos in weaving, printing, basket-making, jewellery, ceramics, for all ages). Check and, and social and YouTube channels (Get Ireland Making playlist).

The National Gallery's Zurich Young Portrait Prize competition has teen categories. Its Apollo Project (with artists and makers such as Maser and Ruth Medjber, plus reimagining The Liffey Swim, and drawing) has moved online (Instagram @apolloprojectirl). National Gallery at Home has work of the day, mindfulness and art, and even Spotify playlists inspired by the collection.

Chester Beatty's online workshops include Bloomsday, yoga and drawing. Watch for July-August teen events (tutorials based on the Mustard Seed Garden Manual for Painting, build and fly a Japanese-style kite, STEAM-based workshops).

IMMA's online art-making activities for teens – creative thinking and art techniques.

Hugh Lane's Teen Culture Club online includes This Lunar Life, exploring human interaction with the lunar landscape, and Wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection). See its YouTube playlist.

Music and drama
Enjoy shutdown performances (music, spoken word, theatre, visual arts) by 120 Irish artists on Ireland Performs, Culture Ireland's Facebook page.

National Concert Hall has livestreamed concerts; online workshops and masterclasses in its learning programme; and music resources (more coming) on its Youtube/social media, including songwriting, choral music.

The Irish Association of Youth Orchestra's summer programmes in chamber music, wind ensemble and baroque music will be on soon.

The Royal Irish Academy of Music's summer tuition is online via Zoom for aspiring composers, pianists, chamber musicians and collaborative virtual youth choir, aged 13-18. €185-€195.

Music Generation's Facebook page has links to online tutorials, workshops.

The Gaiety School of Acting is online (ages 13-18), including musical theatre, film-making and casting. €120

The Department of Heritage's features section on has eclectic resources, from wildlife rangers to gardening for biodiversity to stargazing.

National Museum's short films, from Eileen Gray-inspired design challenges to making your own musical instruments with recycled materials.

The National Library reopens July 20th, and meantime has virtual resources for teens including close-reading poetry workshops and Zoom tours.

Heritage Week (August 15th-23rd; theme: Learning from our Heritage) will involve collaborative projects at family/community level. and social media.

Project Arts Centre invites letters, stories, scribbles, drawings and videos for Lockdown Letters.

Monaghan County Museum's Recording Our Experience is looking for photographs, stories, video during Covid19

Wicklow Mountains National Park worksheets:

Epic Irish Emigration Museum for teens: two-day online Stories that Move (writing, oral storytelling, theatre) and Innovators Camp (fees) July/Aug

And there’s more . . .

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a useful page gathering online resources for heritage, culture, Irish:

West Cork Literary Festival's Words Allowed workshops (ages 14-17) move online in July ( And EU project Read On has online sessions on critical and interview skills, with teens interviewing YA writers (

Smashing Times has July workshops in rap (Find Your Voice and Build Resilience), and Story and Film Making, €5. Contact smashingtimes.ieKerry Local Creative Youth Partnership has an eclectic selection of free, live-streamed workshops (July 6th-17th) including animation, poetry as medicine, birdhouse making, design a speaker for your mobile, creative writing, screenwriting. social media: @kerrylcyp

Keep an eye for Festival of Curiosity (July 16th-19th), Dublin's annual festival of science, arts, design and technology.

National Chlldren Arts Charity Helium Arts' Distance Creates: home-based six-week programmes for young people with long-term health conditions.

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O’Connell is Opinion Editor with The Irish Times

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories