5 Fun Activities You Can Do With Your Kids at the Comfort of Your Backyard

kids playing at the backyard

I’m very thankful that Simon Barker kindly offered to write this post for my site on this very timely topic.

A lot of people are looking for a way to escape the busy and noisy city life in exchange for some fun and relaxing activities. However, if you are someone who’s on a tight budget or you have a very busy work schedule, the idea of taking traditional vacations might not fit on your list. Between fancy meals and trips, the cost of a family vacation can surely add up.

Fortunately, there are still ways for you to give your kids the ultimate fun without spending a big chunk of cash. All you need is to prepare your backyard for these fun activities.

1. Sandboxes

It may sound like a lot of dirty work, but sandboxes give your children the opportunity to play with their imagination. You can teach them how to build sand castles, move around toy trucks or create their own army. You can even let them make their own planets from sand, mud or clay.

To start, it doesn’t have to be a great or expensive sandbox. In fact, even 4×4 timbers can work just as great as professionally done sandboxes. You just have to be creative in what you encourage your kids to do in their play area. For added fun, you can load up the sandbox with a few toys or you can hide them slightly under the sand.

When setting up your sandbox, make sure to consider your children’s safety. You should think of how they’ll get in and out of it and how safe they’ll be once inside. It’s also a good idea to consider their comfort. Keep in mind to place your sandbox in a shaded area, too.

2. Camping

Take your camping gears and sleeping tents in your backyard for the ultimate camping experience that isn’t as expensive as an out-of-town trip. To make the experience more realistic, you can start a campfire and cook some barbecues and smores. You can also share scary stories to your kids or go stargazing with them in the middle of the night.

Another good idea is to invite some of their friends or cousins over. This way, you can enhance your children’s social skills while allowing them to have fun.

3. Traditional Backyard Party Games

You don’t need to start a full barbecue or family party just to have fun in your backyard. You can do backyard party games for no reason at all- other than letting your kids have fun.

One of the most popular backyard party games is the potato sack race. All you need to prepare is a burlap sack or pillowcase big enough for each of your child. Set up a starting and finishing point in your backyard and make sure to place some obstacles in between these areas. If you can’t find big pillowcases, you can start a three-legged race instead.

4. Play Cooking Up Games

Take your old kitchen cabinets and turn them into pieces your daughters can use for their mini kitchen. Stock them up with any spare cooking pots, pans and other utensils you don’t use anymore. You can also buy them a set from any thrift store near your area. They can add plastic cups and spoons for their “guests”, too.

If this is an activity you can see your kids enjoying very much, you can designate a specific part of your yard to have these cabinets affixed. Setting your kids’ toys this way can save you time and effort from building and rebuilding. It will also enhance their sense of responsibility since they have a specific area they need to maintain. Encourage your kids to clean up after and store their toys properly.

5. Set Up A Treasure Hunt Game

Setting up a treasure hunt is a great idea if your kids frequently complain about feeling bored or if they’re overusing their computers. Treasure hunts are fun, easy to plan and can be modified depending on your children’s age.

With treasure hunts, all you need to do is set up a bunch of clues in specific parts of your yard. They can be riddles, questions or tasks your children need to complete or answer before they can move on to your next clue. You can let them choose a leader or divide them into two groups to start a friendly competition. Just make sure that they’re aware of the rules and boundaries of the hunt.

As an alternative, you can also start a scavenging hunt. It’s a bit different from a treasure hunt game in that players need to collect as many items on their list as possible within a given time frame. You can create a list of fruits or household items and hide them in certain areas of your yard. For added excitement, you can let your kids wear their favorite pirate costumes.


Author Bio:

Simon Barker is a travel enthusiast who’s very passionate about sharing his thrifty ways of journeying around the world. You can see more of his work in www.ElectricCoolBox.co.uk, where you can find his best electric coolbox reviews.



A portable career…my story

This are my reflections on a topic that matters to all accompanying partners: finding a career or a purpose during their international journey. It is the first time I write about this and putting it all “onto screen” has a very liberating effect. (warning: this is a long text…)

When we lead an international life, we’re not always the one who gets to decide the next place to live in. When we moved to the Netherlands 11 years ago, I turned from the breadwinner into the stay at home mum within 48 hours. The first months I considered it a gift, a prolongued holiday.
I didn’t really have holidays the years before that move: I worked at my project and collaborated at three others as a researcher in Italy, so the “new life” in the Netherlands meant for me to finally spend entire days with my son and make up for all that time I didn’t get to spend with him the 2,5 years before due to my work. It really felt like a fantastic opportunity and I tried to fully embrace it.

Identity shift…

Short comments from friends and family like “you don’t need to work now that R. has this great job” or “you’re an expat now…” made me think about what had changed. Family and friends had a totally different opinion on what our life in Italy had been: “I’m so glad to see that you don’t struggle that much anymore… that you have time now…”. It wasn’t easy, but we really enjoyed those years in Florence and if we would have a choice and if the working conditions were different, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. I didn’t like the comments about me being a stay at home mum: “you’re so lucky, you can just stay home…”, and the worst “what do you do all day now?”…

What hurted the most were the comments of working mums and friends, who  pointed out that they couldn’t “only” stay at home… neither did I but I didn’t really have a choice.

I shifted from hard working person to not-working person and honestly felt puzzled and frustrated about all this new role entailed. – I needed some time to adjust. At least this is what I thought.

After the first months of exploration of our new “home”, I started looking for a job, hoping I could continue my career at one of the Universities here, but I kept on bumping against that hard glass ceiling over and over again. It felt like it was bullet proofed.

I asked former collegues, contacts I had made during countless conferences, people I just met in the Netherlands and who were working at one of the Universities to help me connect with the “right” people, but quickly realized that the academic world was not global (yet), and even a PhD doesn’t help if you don’t have a solid network. – Mine wasn’t ready yet for my demands: the network I builded up in 7 years wasn’t solid enough to support me and help me in the situation I was at that moment. There were many promisses and no real help when I most needed it.

It also didn’t help that I went to job interviews when I was 5 months pregnant with twins. – During this phase I not only experienced the glass ceiling mentioned before but also the non existant support from women. One lady boldly told me not to apply for a job “in my condition”, another one said “see you in five years”.

Being neither… nor…

After the birth of my daughters I took some time off to focus on my family and to reassess all that I had done until then. The fact that I didn’t have a proper night’s sleep didn’t help much as I was in a constant survival mode (I completely understand why sleep deprivation is a method of torture!).

I felt like in limbo: I was no longer the avid reader that could spend days reading, researching, writing, even forgetting to have lunch when completely absorbed in her study. But I wasn’t that happy mom wrapped up in her new role as mother of three either… I was something in between. When getting ready to go out with three children under 4 I longed for my desk and those books that were getting dusty. And when I sat at my desk and saw our babysitter walk out the door with the twins in the pram, I felt guilty and would have liked to go with them. Both felt like done half-heartedly. Getting back and forth between these two me was painful. There wasn’t any balance, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

The end of the tunnel

I remember the day when I came out of this neither this nor that and sleepless-survival-mode. It was the second week that my daugthers were at the crèche and my son at school. I sat down at my kitchen table with my kopje koffie that was supposed to help me stay awake until noon, and started to read a scientific book for an article I was supposed to publish and read the whole first chapter in one go.

When I made this attempt months before I re-read one paragraph 5 times without understanding anything. It was all blurry. Some call it the baby-brain, I call it the mother-exhaustion brain… So, when I sat down to read this same book that day, I suddenly felt that the words I was reading made sense, connected in my brain again and literally sparkled. I read that entire book in 2 days (i.e. 248 pages) and finished the article in 2 weeks.

I was reborn.

I started making plans, meeting other mothers from my childrens’ daycare and school, connecting with more people around me. I extended my comfort and action zone, and stretched it until I felt that I was confident enough to “go out there”.

I know now that I was still grieving the life I had “before”. One day I would feel confident, the next day I would feel disoriented and deeply longing for the former me. I was on the rollercoaster ride of my new-life-and-the-new-me. I idealized the before: even if we sometimes struggled to meet the end of the month and if I felt guilty not to be with my son all the time during his first 2,5 years in Italy, that life felt more valuable and more rewarding than this new one, the one where I had to stay at home and didn’t get any recognition of the work I was still doing (I kept on writing). – I know that this sounds ungrateful to some, but not every woman, not every mother, feels fulfilled with staying at home. I know that I don’t and this doesn’t have anything to do with my children, my family or the household (well, at least not entirely…). It has to do with my character, with the way I am “wired”; a friend said to me once “Ute, you’re simply wired in a different way”: I’m a multipotentialite.

I’ve always worked since I was 20 and spending more than 5 years searching for a payed job was daunting. My professional needs weren’t met and not having the support I asked and longed for made it all more difficult. People around me would not recognize my skills. It was tiring to re-explain over and over again why I wasn’t working. I was demotivated and I doubted my skills. And I wasn’t getting any younger.
I withdrew in my comfort zone and silenced that little voice that kept saying “get out there! – you can do it!”.

Being in our comfort zone is important to reload our batteries, “fill our cups”, but if we stay in there for too long we become passive, we end up in the passenger’s seat of our own life.

Everyone who knows me knows that I prefer sitting in the drivers seat. A part the fact that I love driving, I love being in charge, being responsible and doing, making things happen. I like things to happen and to happen fast (I’m quite impatient). So, sitting in the passenger’s seat of a Fiat 500 (old model, the one that goes max 90km/h) instead of sitting in the Ferrari (ok, that’s too much…) wasn’t me. It’s like wanting to run and pulling the brake at the same time.

Re-assessing skills…

When I realized that I was able to read complex texts again and to write intelligent articles, to learn and research again, I signed up for courses, collaborated at new projects and became a freelance translator, editor, author and teacher. Later I did a coaching and counselling course, refreshed my skills in psycholinguistics  and re-read my notes on bilingualism (one of my main areas of interest at University and when I worked at the Dept. of Romance Languages) and catched up with some of my ex-collegues.

Re-assessing my skills and learning new ones helped me to re-define my goal. At the beginning it was very blurry: I wanted to work again, but not for a 9-to-5 job, I wanted to be passionate about what I do. It had to be very interesting and stimulating, and it needed to be flexible and fit into my family routine.

What would possibly be something that I love, what I’m good at, which the world need and which I can be paid for?

Bildschirmfoto 2016-06-17 um 17.17.34

(source: Talking Good Facebook group 7.4.2014; @TalkingGOOD.profiles)

I reassessed my skills, sat my priorities straight and took action. – I felt like Baron von Münchhausen who pulls himself and his horse (!) out of a mire by his own hair (illustration by Oskar Herrfurth).

Bildschirmfoto 2016-06-17 um 14.50.03


When priorities shift…

Like for many parents, my new goals were very different from those I had before having children or when I could count on my husband as house-man. I now wanted to be there for my children and my husband. I wanted to do something where I could see (almost) immediate results. I didn’t want to spend hours and hours in endless meetings where no decisions are made, neither did I want to spend too much time in travelling for work.

I finally was putting “me” first again and I knew exactly what I don’t want (anymore).

Like many accompanying partners, my main need is to be financially independent and to get some recognition for the work I do.

Where to start

The best way to start and bridge the “in between” and the “here” is to volunteer. At least here in the Netherlands volunteering is very common. You’re not payed, but you get to hone your skills and learn new ones. – When I started volunteering  people would comment on saying “I wouldn’t have time for this”, “are you bored?”. It took me a while to manage and actively ignore these peoples’ comments…

I wondered if I could do this for a long time. I was commited, reliable and worked more than others without getting conventionally recognized, i.e. getting paid. Did this gnaw at my self-confidence? No. In these more than 8 years that I volunteer I can only recommend it to everyone; even those in the highest positions should volunteer regularly. Why? Because it makes you understand that you can reach fulfillment with a simple smile and a “thank you”. Volunteering helps to understand the real meaning of society – to give and give and give and give… and take – and to ponder about our core values.

It’s like walking in nature after a day in the office.

A portable career…

Even if we don’t plan to move in the nearer future, I chose a career that I could easily take with me wherever I live. At Ute’s Lounge my main purpose is to help accompanying partners quickly adapt to the new place, connect with like minded people, and find a new purpose. I support and empower them to fully embrace the opportunities they have.

With “career” I mean:

The progress and actions taken by a person throughout a lifetime, especially those related to that person’s occupations. A career is often composed of the jobs held, titles earned and work accomplished over a long period of time, rather than just referring to one position.

While employees in some cultures and economies stay with one job during their career, there is an increasing trend to employees changing jobs more frequently. (definition by Business Dictionnary)


One of the 6 hours volunteer work I still do on a weekly basis consists in organising talks for my childrens’ school community. In the past 2 years I have organised more than 24 talks/workshops with a great success and countless “thank you’s” and “smiles”.
Today it was Colleen Reichrath-Smith turn, co-author of the 4th edition of Jo Parfitt’s “A Career In Your Suitcase“, to hold a workshop at our school about this topic. It was like if I would re-live some of the stages I just described. Some of the 23 parents who came to this workshop were puzzled, wondering what to do with the excellent skills they already have and that they can’t really use in this new phase of their life for multiple reasons. Mainly because they are the accompanying partners and because they have to look after their children, their family, while on this journey. They are torn between what they once were and what they are now, recognizing that all they did “before” embarking on this international journey is gone, somewhere lost in transition.

Living an international life means to make sacrifices and many families can’t afford a dual-career, either because the children are too young or need extra support, the working parent travels a lot, or because they move very frequently. It is very difficult to find a balance that meets everyone’s needs. As parents we tend to put our childrens’ needs first, for obvious reasons, but we shouldn’t forget our owns either. Finding a new purpose during every phase of our mobile life is so important for our very own sanity and health, and I find that it should matter more and be more supported by those companies who post their employees, and by the communities who welcome these families around the globe.

– Having a portable career enables accompanying partners to keep that healthy balance and helps our family to thrive during our international journey.


The Six Must Haves (from Career In Your Suitcase)

  1. KNOW YOURSELF: be consciously aware of your backstory
  2. PLUG IN: Your passion, values, interests and purpose will sustain and keep you going as long as you engage them.
  3. NAVIGATE AN UNCHARTED PATH: Use your personal North Star to guide and keep you on course, as you navigate your way off the beaten track.
  4. RECOGNIZE OPPORTUNITY: Notice unexpected and unplanned things along the way that fit your criteria, and allow room for serendipity to play a role in your journey.
  5. CONNECT: Link with others along the way, support them, learn from them and apply that information.
  6. ADAPT: Adjust to new information and opportunities as everything stays in motion around you.

When a bilingual child turns quiet

Bildschirmfoto 2013-02-27 um 15.19.03

This is an extended version of an answer I gave to parents who asked me for advice about their 7 yo boy turning silent.

One or the biggest myths about bilingual children is that they are all like sponges and that they become fluent in no time…

Fact is, that during language aquisition, children go through different stages: Pre-production, Early Production, Speech Emergent, Beginning Fluency, Intermediate Fluency, Advanced Fluency.

When a child turns silent there is usually some reason. It can be one that seems minor to parents but is major for the child. – Maybe your child went through a major change during the last few months? Or anything else happened like:  you moved country, or your child is attending daycare or school in another language? What is important for any parent, teacher, speechtherapist etc. needs to know if the child stoped talking both (or all) languages at the same time, and what could have triggerd this reaction.

Studies observe that the nonverbal period is typically

1) shorter than 6 months,

2) common in 3-8 year olds and

3) longer in the younger child

(cfr. Tabors PO. One Child, Two Languages: A Guide for Preschool Educators of Children Learning English as a Second Language. Baltimore: Brookes; 1997.)

During this time a child needs time to acclimatise to the new context and to begin to tune into the sounds of all languages involved. He may start rehearsing the language(s) silently to himself and practice “private speech”. You would notice this when he plays by himself and lets toys talk. – He is probably processing the language internally and building up confidence to try out the language before “going public” again.

What you, your partner and everyone interacting with the child can do, is to reassure and encourage him by making him feel accepted member of the group/family/society.
I know that the pressure from society, family, friends, teachers (?) can be very hard on you and your child, but I really suggest that you entirely focus on his needs now. Let your child decide when he wants to interact with you.

Here are some suggestions about what you can do:

1. Continue talking even when your child does not respond verbally.
2. Try to include you child in small groups (1-2) with other children who speak the same language.
3. Use varied questions, especially open questions, where your child can’t only nodd or shake his head.
4. Include other children as the focus in the conversation.
5. Use the first language.
6. Accept non-verbal responses.
7. Praise minimal efforts, but not in an exaggerated way. If he says something or tries to say something, you can praise with a smile or by repeating what he said. This will comfort him.
8. You can try to sing more songs with him. Through music, rythm, the body can relax and if he may try to sing the tune too.
9. The practice through role play can be beneficial. too: let him choose a puppet or a toy and try to let him talk through it.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.


Reverse Culture Shock (Hélène Rybol)


In her latest book Reverse Culture Shock, Hélène Rybol explains the complexity of feelings we experience when going back to our home country or a country we lived before, after having spent a considerable time living in other cultures.

Hélène describes her repatriation to Europe after living four years in The US.

“I spent four years becoming aware of my “Europeanness” to come back to a Europe that felt alien to me and where people kept and still keep pointing out my “Americanness”.“

This book is a collection of adapted posts from Hélène’s blog where she gives valuable suggestions on how to cope with all the contradictory feelings expats have while going through the different phases of expat life. While feeling “familiar and completely different at the same time”, experiences can be very challenging and alienating. When trying desperately to fit in doesn’t work the way we expect, the whole process feels more “like an implosion”, and it “requires constant adjustment”.

Starting with her own reverse culture shock experience (p.15-22), Hélène lists up the “symptoms and lessons” (p.23-26), and talks about “cultural mirrors” (p.27-30). Feeling out of context can put us out of balance and we need to “nurture our cultural layers” from time to time in order to live in the present and fully embrace the moment.

In the chapter “culture shock and friendships” (p.31-36) she uses the term of “compartimentalizing” to explain how we all have a core identity to which we add layers of other cultural identities during our international life, which makes it so difficult for our friends (and family!) to understand us.

When she explains what “Home” (p.37-41) means to someone who grew up in several cultures and that not “having an un-traditional sense of home” is not at all sad, she speaks the mind of all those who live in many cultures.

The positive way to experience reverse culture shock is nicely described in the chapters “gumption” (p.42-44) – a new word to discover and remember! – and the “effects and challenges of living abroad” (p.46-48).

She dedicates some chapters to the languages we acquire or learn along the way (p.49-69) by explaining what a multilingual bain is (p.58-60), what code-switching is and why it is so common among multilinguals and by answering some of the most common questions multilinguals get asked (p.62-64).

When we move back to a country we lived before we tend to strike a balance of which trip changed us the most (p.75-79), we try to understand how our international journey changed us and make sense of the different phases (cfr. “contextualizing experiences” (p.80-84)). – She ends this “guide for reentry” with giving us “food for thoughts” (p.85-91): a list of questions we can ask ourselves to assess our international journey and to become aware of what this experience brought us.

– This book is a must read for those who repatriate because it helps to focus on how life abroad changes people. I would also warmly recommend this book to friends and families of those who repartiate because moving back is often be more challenging than entering a new country.