An older man smiles while carrying his grandson on his shoulders Credit: Shutterstock

7 smart ideas to keep grandchildren entertained this summer

No more “I’m bored!” – if you’re helping with childcare over the summer holidays, take inspiration from these grandparents and their brilliant ideas.

New research from has revealed that grandparents are set to spend an average of over 250 hours looking after their grandchildren this summer, as almost 60% take on the responsibility. And while for many of us that means a welcome chance to see more of our grandchildren, it also means finding creative ways to entertain them.  

We know how tough it can be coming up with new ideas to fend off the dreaded cry of, “I’m bored!” without resorting to turning on the TV – especially if you’ve offered “granny daycare” to plug childcare gaps over the holidays. So we asked grandparents who’ve been there, done that, for their top tips for entertaining grandchildren of all ages. 

From channelling your inner Girl Guide, to games the grandchildren can enjoy by themselves while you put your feet up, here are their best ideas:  


“I make ‘volcanoes’ with my dino-mad grandson”

Gina Bell, 63, from Essex, says: “I help look after my eight-year-old grandson, Sebastian, over the summer, and because he loves anything to do with volcanoes, we make our own in the garden. We mould old sheets of newspaper around a kitchen funnel covered in clingfilm, using water and a thin layer of wallpaper paste, and leave it to dry. Then Sebastian paints it however he likes and makes plasticine dinosaurs to go with it – if he’s in the garden it’s a lot less to clean up!  

“Next, we put plasticine inside the base of the volcano and build it up almost to the top, and then put a plastic bottle lid filled with vinegar, baking soda and red food colouring near the opening of our volcano. When you add soda water, the baking soda bubbles up and looks like the volcano is erupting. Sebastian was six when we started doing this, and he still loves it now!”   

“Setting up a treasure hunt gave him hours of fun”

Grandmother Jane with her grandson Thomas, leaning their heads together in a restaurantCredit: Jane Groves

Jane Groves, 69, from Essex, says: “When my grandson, Thomas, was around six years old, he wanted to be a palaeontologist – his favourite pastime was running around Reculver in Kent looking for sharks’ teeth! So, to entertain him, I’d collect bits and pieces like old coins, single earrings and broken pottery, and bury them around the garden in our flowerbeds for him to ‘discover’, giving him treasure-hunt clues to follow.  

“He was always so excited when he found the buried treasure, and afterwards he’d clean all the bits and bobs in a bucket of water in the garden, and draw pictures of what he’d found. It was a game that could keep him occupied for hours – and gave me the chance to put my feet up with a book while he played!  

“Thomas is a bit too old for treasure hunts now, so he and his grandad occupy themselves by making models of his favourite superheroes out of wire coat hangers, covering them in clay and painting them, which he also loves.” 

“We go on scooter adventures”

Grandmother Amanda with her grandson ElijahCredit: Amanda White

Amanda White, 67, from Bristol, says: “I look after my grandson, Elijah, who’s five, some mornings in the school holidays, and last summer I planned a scooter adventure for him. I worked out the route of the adventure ahead of the day he was with me, and the things to tell him to look out for – a big tree, a sea of pink flowers, a hedge tunnel.  

“After a morning of guessing where we might go, I took him on the tour, telling him what landmarks to look out for and taking photographs as he found each one. At the end, we popped out at a new park. We spent an hour playing and, on the way home, he had to remember all the landmarks we’d seen on our journey. 

“Afterwards, I printed out the pictures and made a book of our adventure, and Elijah drew a map to go inside it. Like most children, he loves seeing himself in photos, so we read it over and over again. It’s a great activity that will entertain small children for hours.” 

“Colour-in tablecloths save your furniture and your sanity!”

Patricia Harrison, 77, from Herefordshire, says:I run Ceci Paolo, a lifestyle store in Ledbury, and our giant Eggnogg colour-in tablecloths are not only popular with my customers, they’re a godsend when it comes to entertaining my grandchildren, Michael, two, and Emily Rae, six, who I help look after whenever I’m needed.  

“There’s a huge choice of designs available, from dinosaurs, ghosts and monsters, to nature and maps, which means there’s a tablecloth to suit most children’s interests. They can be coloured in using felt tips or crayons, which is great, because Michael’s too little for felt tips.  

“The tablecloths make a lovely group activity, with the children starting at a different corner each, and they always come out when they need a bit of quiet time. They bring a little bit of calm to the day and are the perfect antidote to too much screen time.” 


“Channel your inner Girl Guide and build a shelter”

Robbie Burch, 68, from Essex, says: “My grandchildren are teenagers now, but when they were around six and eight years old, I would channel my inner Girl Guide and take them to the woods to build a shelter. They’d collect all the things they needed, scrambling around for leaves, twigs and branches, then I’d show them how to build it.

A girl on top of a woodland den at Quarry Bank Mill in CheshireCredit: National Trust Images
Quarry Bank, Cheshire, is one of many National Trust sites where children can build dens

“We’d find two trees with forked branches close enough to put a long branch between them, then lean more long sticks against that. Next, we’d weave bendy twigs in between the sticks, and pack the gaps with leaves. We’d take a picnic, and once the shelter was built, we could enjoy it inside. 

“I’d also get them to collect as many small bits as they could find from the woods, like feathers, twigs and leaves, to take home. The next day they’d make pictures with them. It meant one trip to the woods would entertain them for hours, and also gave us something to do on a rainy day.”  

Spotlight on den building 

Jo Killeya, the National Trust’s head of experience development, says: “Den building is a brilliant activity for all the family. Everyone can play their part designing and scavenging for materials, and they’re great spaces for letting your imagination run wild. What will your den be? A secret storytelling hideout, a fairy castle or something else?” 

Den building is just one of hundreds of activities taking place as part of the National Trust’s fun-filled Summer of Play. With more than 170 Trust places involved, find your nearest location at 

This video from Sussex Wildlife Trust has a great step-by-step guide if you need some practical inspiration. 

“I made some giant ‘busy boards’ for the garden”

Busy boards leaning against a fenceCredit: Rachell Innes

Rachell Innes, 48, from Cheshire, says: “I have my granddaughter, Etta, who is almost one, every Thursday while her mum’s at work. This year, I wanted to make an area for her to play in the garden for summer, so I created a wall of ‘busy boards’ across the bottom of the fence in our garden.  

“I started out by finding four flat pieces of wood and painting them bright colours using child-safe outdoor paint. Then I decided on four themes. The first was locks, catches and switches, which I bought from places like B&M and B&Q.  

“For board two, I bought some hamster runs wide enough to fit ball-pit balls, and some baskets for the balls to drop into. The third board was filled with things that make a noise, like a xylophone, a bike horn, some little bells and a door knocker. Then the final board featured random bits like buttons, a zip and abacus beads.  

“Once everything was securely fastened to the boards, we attached them to the fence – and Etta loves them! My youngest children are 12-year-old twins, and I have a stepson who’s 10, and they love playing with the boards with Etta, too. I’ve got eight children, so I expect they’ll be entertaining lots of grandchildren in the summers to come.” 

“Coming up with a theme for the day keeps kids occupied”

Grandmother Lynn in a coffee shop with her two granddaughtersCredit: Lynn Knott

Lynn Knott, 71, from Norfolk, says: “When my granddaughters, Chloe, 10, and Jessica, 12, were younger, I would regularly look after them, using my years of experience as a primary school teacher to entertain them. I start by creating a theme around a book – for example, The Bad-Tempered Ladybird – then together we’ll come up with various activities.

“As well as reading the book together, we’ll find rocks and paint them with ladybirds, make colour-in ladybirds out of paper plates and play a drawing game. You take a die and some paper, and the first person to roll a six draws the body. Then, you take it in turns to roll the die: a five to draw the head, four for the wings, three for the legs, two for the antennae and one for the eyes. 

“We would also play word games, like making a simple word search, or we’d make ladybird biscuits together. Each activity is fairly basic, but the theme makes it a lot more fun, and you can adapt it to any creature you like.” 


Written by Rosie Mullender


Writer Rosie Mullender has been working in journalism for over 20 years, including a stint as Cosmopolitan‘s Sex and the Single Girl columnist. Her work has appeared in titles including StylistGraziaMarie ClaireThe GuardianStyle Magazine, Observer Food, and The Times. She has also written two novels, The Time of My Life and Ghosted, which are published by Sphere – but her proudest achievement to date is probably winning Pointless with her mum.