So, what are the main concerns for mums, dads and carers? Well, for starters, Halloween falls at the end of half-term for most state schools, but it’s likely to look very different this year, as Downing Street has confirmed that trick or treating will be cancelled for children in local lockdowns (so here are some ideas on making it special, anyway).
There are also rumours of a potential two-week, circuit-breaker lockdown, as has been announced in Northern Ireland. If that happens, it could include an extension to half-term, which would leave many parents facing the dual responsibility of working while homeschooling their kids at the same time.
A primary school teacher pal, who has two children herself, told me teachers are under increased pressure to meet new legal guidelines for home learning. “From October 22, schools have a legal obligation to ensure that children receive exactly the same curriculum delivery at home as they would at school,” she said, “which will mean parents across the country will be being pestered by teachers if their child’s work is not submitted on time each day.
“My trust’s policy is that anything submitted must be marked by 5pm daily – with feedback given to the children. We are under so much pressure to accelerate learning when the poor things are so behind.”
Another mum told me a return to homeschooling was her biggest fear. “Even if I had 16 laptops I couldn’t do that,” she said. “Teaching the kids and working at the same time is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Or attempt to do. It’s impossible.”
Parents are also concerned about the impact of the new, tiered restrictions on their kids, now that they’ve got used to playing with their friends again.
Some questioned the logic of allowing kids to sit next to each other all day at school, but not letting them share birthday celebrations.
So does this Tier 2 business mean you can’t have even one little friend over for a children’s birthday party, even though they are at school (and all the parents are mingling at drop-off) with 29 other children?
— Anita Singh (@anitathetweeter) October 15, 2020
Wait. So it’s my friend’s daughter’s 7th birthday next week and she now can’t go to a pottery cafe with three friends but she can sit next to them every day at school? I don’t envy my friend trying to explain that one.
— Tanya Byrne (@tanyabyrne) October 15, 2020
When it comes to childcare, at least, all is not completely lost. The government guidelines do state that “informal” childcare arrangements are possible across all three tiers, with families allowed to form “childcare bubbles” with relatives to help them look after their kids.
“A childcare bubble is where someone in one household provides informal (unpaid and unregistered) childcare to a child aged 13 or under in another household,” the guidelines explain. “For any given childcare bubble, this must always be between the same two households.”
And if you’re a member of a single-adult household, you can maintain your support bubble, too.
As for me? I’m wondering how to tell my children they won’t be seeing their grandparents at the weekend. We’d planned a family lunch on Saturday – the first in months. I’m also left wondering exactly what we’ll do to while away the hours in half-term, if we’re not allowed to socialise with other households.
So, I turned to our trusty HuffPost UK parent readers, to ask them for their suggestions.
13 half term activities to keep kids happy
Wrap up warm and head outside
“The weather might not be as gorgeous as it was during the first lockdown over the summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put on a warm coat and head outside,” one dad said. If you can find a forest, have a go at building a den – see here for some tips.
It’s perfect timing for Halloween decorations and Christmas card making. Here are some other ideas on how to make the spookiest night of the year fun for kids, without going trick or treating.
We all know how highly, ahem, the government values careers in cyber, so why not get your kids started with some easy-to-pick up coding?
Cypher are offering online educational coding camps over half-term for children aged 4 to 12. Other parents swear by Scratch, an online community where children can learn to program, as well as sharing interactive media such as stories, games, and animation with people from all over the world.
Conduct a science experiment
One mum said of Robert Winston’s Home Lab, “This book is amazing, we’ve done loads from it already but will be doing more, we’re making stalactites at the moment!”
FaceTime friends and family
My little girl has regular FaceTime sessions with her friends, and what I’ve learned is that rather than a simple chat, they use the time creatively: they do mutual makeovers, make up songs and dances, draw pictures, read books aloud to each other and occasionally they even eat together – with the iPads propped up on a table to keep them connected.
Just be sensible. Follow this guidance on how to keep your kids safe online.
Consider either recycling an old toy you’ve stored away and haven’t played with in a while, toy swapping with a friend or – if you can afford it – something shiny and different, such as a jigsaw puzzle. “When on the verge of kicking them out to fend for themselves, I plan to give them something new,” says one mum.
“Go all out – close the curtains, and create a ‘kiosk’ to buy tickets and popcorn,” another mum suggested.
Football, indoors or out.
“Consider buying a soft ball that can be thrown around house without breaking anything!” one dad said, enthusiastically. Alternatively get them practising their football skills in the garden with YouTube or try some Cosmic Kids Yoga.
Consider recreating famous works of art by an artist or theme. “We’ve done Sonia Delaunay,” one mum told HuffPost UK. “The kids loved it.”
Put together a photo album – hey, finally you can print off some of the 32,000 pictures you’ve got stored on your phone. You know you want to!
We know, we know – you’re all over banana bread and making your own sourdough. Still, if you haven’t lost all heart with lockdown baking, try out this decadent chocolate fudge cake recipe: it’s quick and easy to make. Win.
“It’s never too early for revision,” one parent told me, only half jokingly. Another suggested “English comprehension” or “trying to work out WTF the restrictions mean”. We relate.
“I’m thinking a morning piled into bed with my two daughters reading and eating chocolate,” one mum told me.
And she’s right – this half term? Perhaps nothing is more important than giving yourself a break. And if your kids only watch films, eat sweets and pore over Netflix at half-term (especially if you’re trying to work at the same time) that’s okay. It’s been a horrible year. You’ve all earned it.