Best toys and books to keep your children busy over the summer holidays - from garden toys to classic Lego
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The last day of the school year may be greeted with whoops of delight from children, but their parents are more likely to let out an anxious sigh of impending exasperation. Just how are they going to keep those little angels occupied for the whole of the summer holiday?
While older kids with the freedom to roam can often be relied upon to keep themselves entertained for large parts of the vacation, it’s the younger ones that need more constant attention, so arming yourself with suitable activities is advisable.
To provide you with some inspiration for things that might give you a bit of peace and quiet for a few precious minutes, we’ve come up with a range of different toys and crafts that will keep them busy.
There are suggestions for those with a garden, and ideas for inside when the weather inevitably goes bad. And while some activities may need input from parents (particularly for those who have only completed one or two school years), there are several more they can enjoy all on their own.
Besides looking at things that are fun to play with, we’ve also highlighted some activities that will help support their educational development. And if you’re taking the family on a vacation, a few of them can be packed with you, hopefully occupying them during at least part of the car journey, besides giving you a chance to relax when you’ve arrived.
The summer holidays may well seem like a long time for parents of young school kids, but with some careful planning and a few tricks up your sleeve, it might not be quite as stressful as you might imagine.
If you’re looking to cool your kids down in the summer heat, check out our list of the best paddling pools for 2022, or head to the beach with one of these fantastic body boards. If they’re a bit more confident in the surf, try them on one of these surfboards, or our best rated SUPs.
Best toys for summer holidays at a glance
- Best for digital entertainment: Fire HD 8 Kids Tablet
- Best for spending time in the garden: Waltons Buttercup Shop Playhouse
- Best for crafting activities: toucan Box
- Best for outdoor fun: Plum Wave Springsafe Trampoline, 8ft
- Best for in the kitchen: Lakeland Kids Ultimate Baking Set
- Best for an educational magazine: Britannica Magazine
- Best for family games: Waboba Backnine Disc Golf
- Best for endless creativity: Lego Classic Box
- Best for reading: Bunny Vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger by Jamie Smart
- Best for rainy days: Usborne 300 Piece Jigsaw Dinosaur and Timeline
Pros: Hours of entertainment in a tablet for kids
Cons: Too much screen time? You may struggle to wrestle them away
While some parents are rightly wary of their kids indulging in ‘too much screen time’, those we know with an Amazon Fire declare it a lifesaver. For folk who are less familiar with this device, it’s a tablet that can be filled with apps, games and videos aimed at 3 to 7 year olds.
It has an 8 inch screen sealed in a tough, kid proof case and you can stream content through Wi-Fi or download it to the 32GB internal storage drive (additional 1TB storage cards are also available). Parents can control screen time and set tasks directly through the tablet or by connecting it to their Smartphone.
Apps from the likes of CBeebies can help with younger kids’ development, while for the older kids there are plenty of games and books available for educational purposes, besides the more fun stuff provided by the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon.
Whether at home or on the move, a Fire is a handy gadget to fall back on for those moments of desperation.
Pros: Well built wooden shop with 10 year guarantee
Cons: Needs sufficient garden space and some self assembly
If you’re keen for the kids to spend more time in the garden this summer then it’s a good idea to give them a designated area all of their own.
A small patch where they can grow their own plants, or make mud pies, is a good start; but even better is a playhouse that they can use as a base.
Waltons playhouse has the look of a pop up shop, with open sides, a counter and sloping roof, allowing them to use their imagination for some role play, besides being a base for garden games and experimentation.
Waltons is one of the country’s leading garden building manufacturers and this product is built to the same high standards as their grown up sheds and summer houses.
It’s 150cm wide with a depth of 90cm and is made from FSC Certified timber that has a ten year anti rot guarantee and is supplied with mineral roofing felt. Once up, it should keep the kids entertained for many summers to come.
Pros: Packed with craft activities that are fun and help develop skills in young children
Cons: Subscription only service
toucanBox is a subscription based craft kit for kids up to eight years of age that includes two different activity boxes each month, along with a fun magazine and stickers. The kits are designed to help develop key skills and, within each one, your child will get to enjoy the process of making things to play with, including interactive games, role-play items and toys.
The crafting products are all of a decent quality, with plastic tat kept to a minimum. Through a ‘Care for Kids’ programme, the company also donates boxes to disadvantaged children during the school holidays.
Craft box activities include flower pressing, dinosaur dressing up and building a bamboo beehive, with special summer boxes lined up too. The packages neatly fit through your letterbox and, although it’s a monthly service, you can cancel your subscription whenever you wish
Pros: good value, safe and secure trampoline
Cons: Takes a couple of hours to assemble
Children (and most adults) love to bounce, so put a decent trampoline in your garden and it’ll soon attract the attention of all the kids in the neighbourhood.
Plum has a good range of trampolines to choose from, with child safety to the forefront. Their 8ft Wave Springsafe provides a large bounce area at a good price and, after spending a few hours assembling it (nothing complicated) our junior testers were bouncing on it for hours.
The mat feels taut with plenty of bounce, while the ‘Springsafe’ enclosure separates kids from both the springs and the frame.
The steel frame, galvanised for rust prevention, is strong and secure and a ring of padding covers the springs to make for a safer entrance and exit to the mat.
Other sizes are available and you can also upgrade to Plum’s ‘Mist’, which allows you to connect to a hosepipe for added water fun.
Pros: 48 piece set for real baking
Cons: You’ll need to adapt recipes for the kids-sized tins
Encouraging your kids to get baking has many benefits: it teaches them new, valuable skills; it saps up plenty of time; it can help them appreciate new foods and flavours; and, if all goes well, you’ll have a tasty treat at the end of it.
The only downside is the cleaning up you’ll have to do afterwards.
This 48 piece set has everything you need to inspire young cooks (apart from the recipes). There are tiny tins for tartlets, loaves and cupcakes – all with non-stick coatings. There are cookie cutters, piping bags with nozzles, pop sticks and moulds, measuring spoons, a whisk, rolling pin and more. Every item is well made and perfectly usable, and it comes in a range of rainbow colours.
Clear away a large space in the kitchen and your kids will have loads of fun creating cakes, biscuits, lollies and, of course, a mess.
Pros: An educational, absorbing magazine for children
Cons: Available on subscription only
The current formula adopted by lots of kids magazines is to stick a piece of plastic tat on the cover and hope that nobody notices there’s not much to occupy them inside.
However, our junior testers found Britannica magazine a much more absorbing and educational read.
Pitched at kids aged 6+ it’s full of the kind of facts, puzzles and pictures about the world around us that can fire up a thirst for knowledge.
We like that it’s structured along similar lines to grown up magazines, with a mix of in-depth articles and expert opinions alongside more dip-in-and-out features, which makes it a less disposable proposition than other kids magazines.
Each magazine contains 52 pages, with a bumper 68 page edition out in time for the summer break.
Pros: A fun, portable frisbee game for all the family
Cons: It’s harder than it looks…
This is a fun family target game to keep by the back door for impromptu games in the garden or to sling in the car for picnics and holidays.
It’s essentially frisbee that has been turned into a golf-like game, with the object being to throw small discs (the equivalent of the golf balls) into a ring (the hole).
Both the ring and the four different coloured discs skim through the air like frisbees, so you have the bonus of being able to use them individually as you would a regular frisbee.
Launch the ring first and then see who can land their disc in its hole in the fewest moves. It’s much harder than it first looks and can get quite addictive trying to achieve the ultimate ‘hole in one.’
It comes in a slim carry case with a scorecard and is light and portable, making it a useful addition to summer play at home or out and about.
Pros: Great value Lego kit to fire the imagination
Cons: It could start an expensive new hobby
Lego has moved on considerably since we were kids with brick shapes and builds we could only dream of, but that evolution has helped to remain one of the best toys around.
Prices have moved on too, but there are still plenty of kits that work out at great value for the amount of play time they will generate.
One such item is this box of 221 pieces that includes classic bricks, doors, windows, eyes, wheels and more, in 29 colours. The box contains ideas for some simple builds, including a lighthouse, aeroplane and animals, but endless fun can be had if you dip into your imagination.
All this and a giant lego brick shaped package that makes an excellent storage box for these pieces and the next set you’ll inevitably be asked to buy.
Pros: Entertaining comic book for young readers
Cons: No cons - the Bunny vs Monkey books are fantastic
Everyone needs a good book or two to enjoy over summer and kids are no exception. For this year’s top reading tips we checked in at a regional finalist in the Independent Bookshop of the Year Awards, Frome’s Hunting Raven, to get manager Tina Gaisford-Waller’s recommendations.
For younger kids, Tina’s tip is ‘Tiny Crab is a Tidy Crab’ by Laura Bowles, a cheerful picture book that will encourage readers to pick up litter and look after our beaches. For older children, ‘Solitaire’, by Alice Oseman, is a witty, engrossing read that teens will be able relate to.
And for those in between, treat them to the comic chaos of Jamie Smart’s ‘Bunny Vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger’ and at least some of the summer should be filled with the sound of laughter.
Pros: Informative jigsaw with stunning dinosaur illustrations
Cons: No Cons
An inquiry of ‘who wants to get the jigsaw out?’ can sometimes be met with reluctant groans, but lure the family to the table and, once the pieces start slotting together, everyone will soon be hooked.
We especially like this dinosaur timeline jigsaw, a 300 piece prehistoric puzzle with an educational slant.
An expansive illustration features a host of different dinosaurs and a large, fold out timeline places them all in order of existence, from the Triassic age through to their demise.
The thick pieces are around 35mm square and the finished jigsaw measures 590mm x 400mm, and it provides a tough but surmountable challenge for ages seven and above.
An excellent jigsaw that could prove to be the ultimate rainy day activity.