In days gone by, had my wife told me she was going away for the weekend, it would have been music to my ears. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my wife but just occasionally I enjoy being the lone wolf. I’d be filled with visions of manly independence where I would eat ice cream in the morning with the cricket on the radio and football on the TV before meeting the lads to watch even more sport (in reality everyone would most likely be away and I would spend the weekend tidying the larder and arranging my shirts in colour order).
However, now I have a toddler, if my wife is going away, I panic. I think a lot of men do. A friend of mine asked if he could bring his daughter over for lunch at 11am!
With this in mind, here are 10 budget friendly ideas for dad-only weekends (I have been told its not babysitting when it’s your own child). I live in London but the same kind of things exist in or around any largish town. Prices correct at time of going to press.
Children love splashing around in a swimming pool, so don’t let all the preparation that goes into a swimming trip deter you. Plus 10 minutes in the water seems to tire them out enormously. Our local Virgin Active offers “pay and swim” to non members; I think other gyms do this. There is a small, warm, shallow kids pool, which is ideal for new swimmers and a lane reserved for children and families in the large lap pool. A great way to kill an afternoon and they’ll be less fussy at supper. £3.20 per adult/free for children.
Science Museum (or any museum with a kids room)
Don’t be put off by the name – the Science Museum is not filled with Bunsen burners and chemistry geeks. This is a great place to spend a (rainy) morning or afternoon, with a number of activity rooms for children of all ages. Entry is free (but there are signs “suggesting” you make a donation). If you don’t live in London, Google your local museum to find out what’s on. Free
A National Trust property or similar
My favourite is Crystal Palace Park, home of the quite brilliant ‘Dinosaur Court’, and it is well worth a visit. In 1852, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins designed and sculpted fifteen models of extinct animals (mainly dinosaurs) using notes from the latest scientific knowledge at the time (six years before Darwin’s On the origins of species). The models were extensively restored in 2002, and definitely worth a look. Plus there is a smart phone audio guide. Everyone loves dinosaurs – even our young daughter, probably because of George in Peppa Pig! The park also has a café, children’s play area and petting zoo. Free
Open spaces are a great source of amusement for kids, much more so than your own garden. My picks in London would be Holland Park (adventure playground and peacocks); Bishop’s Park (excellent playground, duck bond and beach); Kensington Gardens (Princess Diana playground); Crystal Palace Park (see above); Battersea Park (children’s zoo Adult £8.75, Children 2-15 £6.20, under 2 free); and Richmond Park (deer) Free
Bafflingly children seem to quite enjoy food shopping so make an occasion of any grocery shopping you need to do. Contain you darling in a trolley and chat to them as you walk around – count the pumpkins, name the colours of the various packets and boxes and, if deserved, buy them a treat …. Cost depends on how extravagant you’re feeling
OK, this one is just for Londoners and it is not that cheap. Plus it can be a little hectic to get to on a weekend (definitely book tickets online ahead of your visit). But it is a great afternoon activity as children are mesmerised by fish and sea life, not to mention the penguins and starfish – which they can touch. Adult £23.85, Child Free (London Zoo follows similar guidelines)
Ball pits, slides, swings, climbing frames, the smell of sweaty feet, nannies on their iphones, other desperate dads…Bramleys Big Adventure, near Ladbroke Grove, has it all. However hellish they appear at first glance, soft plays are a good place to let your child run around and let off some steam with other over excited little terrors. Helps coordination, negotiation and, just maybe, aggression. £2.50-£6.75
The mall (hate that word)
My first visit to Westfield was 23 December 2013 and I vowed never to go back. However, with young daughter in tow Westfield early on a Saturday is quite an enjoyable way to spend some time. There is a small soft play area (see above) and when you want to hit the shops (M&S, Boots, etc) you can push them around in a kiddie car. Plus there are plenty of (mother unfriendly) eateries to score you major points with the little one. Play Area Free, Kiddy Cars £5-£8 http://uk.westfield.com/london/kids/kids-services/
Entertain them at home
This doesn’t have to be as dreadful as it sounds. If they (and most importantly, you) are in the mood, create your own soft play at home. Hide and seek, drawing, scooting, building blocks, tickle chase, blowing bubbles are all ways to pass the time (just don’t look at the clock too often). If you get really desperate, dancing is a good way to pass the time and tire kids out – I go for Bruce Springsteen, Disney tunes and the Scissor Scissors (don’t knock it). Just keep your curtains closed. Free
Visit the grandparents
If this is an option, run with it. Take a few toys, colouring books and the iPad. Hopefully your parents (or inlaws) have patience and good Wi-Fi. Free (unless a vase is smashed)