As the half-term holiday rapidly approaches (where does the time go?) thoughts in our base camp are already turning to activities to entertain and engage our troopers. But it’s not just about what to do with the troopers in the school holidays. It’s about how to do it. Preparation and Planning Prevent Poor Parental Performance after all.

I’m always a bit mystified when people use the term ‘planned like a military operation’ as a form of criticism. A military operation is about moving people and resources from A to B to achieve the specified objective. As a dad with three troopers, I plan every activity like a military operation.  And school holidays are no exception. Here’s a few tips from me:

Don’t Overstretch the Unit

Don’t commit the unit to too many missions. Hyper scheduling makes life difficult – and exhausting – for all of you. It’s not quantity of activity that counts, it’s quality. The most engaging and entertaining thing for all your troopers – even older ones – is your undivided attention. If you are stressed out about transporting troops from one activity to another, then they’re not going to be able to benefit from time with you.

Plan your activities beforehand. If you’re staying at home, check out the internet and local papers – you’ll be amazed what’s on nearby (and usually for free). If a big day out (theme park etc.) is planned, then let the next day be a lazy one, spending time together in the house or garden. You’ll need time to relax and recover together.

Don’t tell you troopers everything you have planned. Then not only do you not have to deal with disappointments when plans change, but also you’ll have a few surprises up your sleeve. When planning activities, as in life, it pays to under promise and over deliver.

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Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

Always have a ‘rainy day’ activity or two for when the inevitable happens. One of my favourites is drawing the curtains, getting some popcorn and a film on and having a bit of a ‘matinee’.  When my troopers were younger, we’d get suited and booted and go and have competitions about who could jump in the most puddles. Another cracker was building an indoor den with a sheet over the back of the sofa. The key is to join in. The troopers will love it.

Transporting – and Entertaining – your Troops.

I know it sounds obvious, but once you’ve planned your means of transportation, you need to plan how you are going to entertain your troops. Know your enemy – and the enemy is boredom and frustration. For example, if you’re going to be on a long car journey don’t pack the very noisy toy to entertain your trooper – unless it can be muted – as it will fray your nerves and shorten your flash to bang time.

Spotting games are brilliant and require no special equipment. A particularly good one is ‘Mini Cheddar’ where spotting a Mini is 10 points, a yellow car is five points and a yellow Mini (or Mini cheddar) is 25 points. The first one to 100 wins. Save the arguments by allowing one ‘unconfirmed’ sighting (i.e. one that only the spotter can see – normally a Mini cheddar by some strange coincidence). My troopers are now 12, 11 and eight and we are still playing this game. I actually got the highest score of all time by spotting a cheddar Mini Clubman in Malta, but I’m not big headed about it.

Spotting games are also great for all forms of public transport, as are all the songs from our own childhood: The Wheels on the Bus, 10 Men went to Mow, 10 Green Bottles etc.

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An Army Marches on its Stomach – a hungry trooper is an unhappy trooper.
Take packed lunches, or picnics, even if you are going somewhere where food is on sale. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • The time spent making a packed lunch is much MUCH shorter than the time you will spend in the queue, waiting to be served food. I guarantee it.
  • It puts you in control of what your troopers eat.
  • It’s more convenient as you can eat where and when is best for your family unit.
  • It’s cheaper. Don’t get me wrong, if you have the money to spend, then please spend it as the economy needs it. But when you’re out and about, food, and especially drinks, can work out to be very expensive (especially when you have a lot of troopers, like me).

Take snacks. It’s a universally acknowledged fact that 10 minutes outside the safety of base camp, troopers will be hungry. Embrace this and plan accordingly. Pack snacks that are suitable for eating on the move. Good options are oatcakes, nuts (allergies permitting), carrot sticks and low fat crisps (as a treat). You could make your own trial mix: seeds, chopped dried fruit and nuts, and some chocolate chips mixed in. The best fruit for snacks is an apple in my experience – bananas and berries get mashed and oranges require you to find a bin to get rid of the peel, and something to wash sticky juice off hands and faces.

Make sure you have water, and plenty of it. Get the troopers water bottles that can be refilled. I usually fill them up with squash when we leave base camp, but all refills after that are water.

So there’s my top tips, but I’m always looking for new ones to add to the armoury – especially as my troops are getting older. So, if you’ve got any tips you could share with me, please let me know below.

For more information on Commando Dad: Basic Training, a guide for new dads, or to share any experiences or advice with dads on the Commando Dad forums, please go to: www.commandodad.com.