I’m booooooooooooooooooooored.” It is a familiar lament heard in the long summer holidays. Not from kids, mind you. They’re too busy skulking in their bedroom or swatting a sibling with a rolled-up copy of a less useful magazine than the one you’re holding in your hands right now.
No, that is what we hear parents say year-after-year. For those of us not making international travel plans or handing offspring over to a summer camp for the duration, it can seem a long and difficult prospect. It needn’t be.
Sprinkle some well-timed days out, a few special occasions and a lot of imagination over your summer and there won’t be any meltdowns. For parents or kids. Try this lot out for starters...
Xavier and Aisha’s Amazing Choral Adventure
It should hardly come as a surprise that the city’s classiest indoor concert venue, the Dubai Opera, keeps its calendar rolling on into the summer. This theatrical performance created by the Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, tells the story of Xavier, Aladdin’s kid brother, and his quest to win the hand of the girl of his dreams, Aisha. We’re promised an educational and entertaining hour of children’s entertainment and we reckon the knock-down price is a decent value for money offer for theatre at this stunning venue.
Dhs50. July 6-7. 11am and 2pm. Dubai Opera, Downtown Dubai, www.dubaiopera.com (04 440 8888).
Dinin and the Naughty Dog
Puppet shows, Time Out Kids sincerely believes, offer two chances of boredom busting. First you get the actual show, in this case a slapstick story about respecting the environment, then you can stretch the activity well beyond final curtain by getting kids to make their own puppets and put on a show at home.
Dhs50. July 7-8. 11am, 2pm and 4.30pm. Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, Barsha, www.ductac.org (04 341 4777).
Dubai Sports World
We’ve grown to love the annual sporting spectacular that takes over much of the Dubai World Trade Centre’s exhibition space every summer. What’s not to like about 25,000 square metres of air-conditioned sports space? There are free activities and hours of entertainment to be had just wandering around watching amateur matches, but the best fun comes if you book a court and play yourself. Choose from indoor football, basketball, volleyball, tennis, cricket, badminton, table tennis and even the Ninja Warrior assault course and skate park. Visit just once, or come every day, this is going to be the sportiest space in the city for a few months to come.
Until September 2. 8am-1am. Dubai Sports World, Sheikh Saeed Hall and Trade Centre Arena, DWTC, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.dubaisportsworld.ae (04 306 4000).
Dubai Summer Surprises
This is the 20th anniversary edition of the annual summer promotion in Dubai. More an umbrella term for a citywide dedication to making summer pass boredom-free than a specific event, it tends to mean mall takeovers, exciting activations and special sales for anybody brave enough to stay in the city all summer. Details are not confirmed at the time of writing, but previous years have seen street performance-style entertainments parading through malls and interactive installations in the larger shopping centres. Expect more of the same as well as big discounts on shopping.
July 1-August 12. www.facebook.com/dsssocial/.
Indoor, pop-up, food truck hangout. Not a word in that description is wasted and we’re happy to see the return of this cool, family-friendly dining concept in Al Quoz this summer. If your family has caught the food truck buzz, then this could be the evening out you need. A collection of popular food trucks and pop-up restaurants have opened a shared space for a limited time in a warehouse in Al Quoz. As well as low-key, yummy snacks there will be a chilled atmosphere and some live music.
Free. Aug 10-Sept 3. Sun-Wed, 8am-11pm; Thu-Sat, 8am-midnight. Hangry Hangar, Al Quoz, www.hangryhangar.com (056 758 7729).
Best Kids Entertainment Centre in Dubai, as voted for by us. Do you really need much more persuading than that? Laser games, virtual reality gaming, 4D cinema, driving games, interactive challenges, karaoke rooms and more thrills and distractions are spread over a sprawling 18,000 square feet dedicated to ending anyone’s ennui.
From Dhs95. Sun-Thu, 5pm-midnight; Fri-Sat, 3pm-midnight. HubZero, City Walk, Al Wasl, www.hubzerodubai.com (800 637 227).
Climbing trees and outdoor pursuits are not valid options for kids in Dubai, particularly in summer. An activity centre such as Adventure HQ’s Adventure Zone brings the outdoors indoors and gives kids the chance to blow cobwebs away with a few inner-city thrills. Climbing walls and an aerial assault course are challenging and rugged enough to class as a holiday treat far more likely to get pulses racing than a trip to the cinema.
Various prices. Sat-Wed, 10am-10pm; Thu-Fri, 10am-midnight. Adventure Zone, Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.adventurezone.ae (04 346 6824).
IMG Worlds of Adventure
File this one under special occasion and wait for when you need to wheel out the big guns. And by big guns we mean 1.5 million square feet (that means the largest temperature-controlled indoor theme park in the world) of IMG excitement. The price tag is heftier than your average day out, but it’s certainly cheaper than jumping on a plane to Orlando or Hong Kong. Themed zones include Marvel (with Avengers, Spider-Man and Hulk rides), Cartoon Network (Ben 10, Adventure Time and Lazy Town) and Lost Valley (dinosaurs, lots and lots of dinosaurs).
Dhs245 (adults), Dhs225 (under-1.2m tall), Free (under-1.05m tall). Sun-Wed, 11am-9pm; Thu-Sat, 11am-10pm. IMG Worlds of Adventure, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road, www.imgworlds.com (600 500 962).
It would be hard to imagine a more kid-friendly arena than the pair of Lego-inspired theme parks in Dubai Parks and Resorts. Both the waterpark and the construction-packed LEGOLAND have special summer rates meaning discounted play awaits. The waterpark should keep you cool (but remember sun cream) and there is lots to do indoors at LEGOLAND itself, including building rooms with unlimited bricks, the Master Builder academy and a 4D cinema. A dual pass gives entry to both for less than Dhs200 and now could be the time to avoid crowds and tick the attractions off your list.
Dhs145 (single park entry), Dhs195 (park and waterpark entry). Until Aug 31. Daily. 10am-7pm (waterpark); 4pm-midnight (park). Legoland Dubai, Dubai Parks and Resorts, www.legoland.com (04 820 3123).
Modhesh, in case you didn’t know, is the spring-bodied mascot of summer season in Dubai. If this is your first summer in the city, get ready to see his smiling face and waving arms beaming out at you from all angles. His pop-up funland is back with more funfair-style rides and games in the gigantic exhibition halls. Expect lots of primary colours and soft-play antics as well as performance, character meet and greets, and arts and crafts, too.
Dhs20. Sun-Thu, 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-midnight. Modhesh World, Halls 1-6, DWTC, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.modheshworld.com (600 555 559).
We never tire of recommending this brilliant activity and were happy to award Ripe Market a highly-commended recognition at the annual Time Out Kids Awards. The market moves indoors for the summer, and at least until October. This means you get the same selection of crafty stores, homegrown pop-up businesses and healthy foods, but all under the air-conditioned cover of the Times Square Centre. It is an easy and cost-effective way to make Saturday mornings pass with ease.
Free. Saturdays, until October 21. 9am-3pm. Ripe Market, Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.ripeme.com (04 315 7000).
It is never too late to change your mind. Sign-ups for Dubai summer camps are ongoing throughout the season so even if you start the holidays with the intention of doing it all yourself, but run out of steam (and glitter) before school rolls around again you can always supplement your intentions with a couple of days help.
See www.timeoutdubai.com/kids for listings of all the camps taking place.
If there’s someone bored, in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? The Ghostbusters, obviously. The Void is an immersive virtual reality experience at The Beach in JBR and uses story, characters and graphics from the popular ’80s film for immersive digital fun. Basically, kids and adults strap on a VR headset and romp around capturing virtual ghosts. Can you think of time better spent?
Dhs110. Daily. Noon-midnight. The Void, The Beach, JBR, www.thevoid.com (800 637 227).
The Flintstones at Ibn Battuta
This Eid activity, which actually runs into early July, is a great reason to head to the exploration-themed mall at the southern end of Dubai. Flintstone characters Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty, Dino et al will meet and greet young fans as well as performing live with talent show-loving Ivan Egomonstrous. There will be song, dance and some family-friendly laughs, as well as art and craft activities to join in. Yabba dabba do it!
Free. Until July 4. 5-8pm. Ibn Battita Mall, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.ibnbattutamall.com (04 568 3599).
Stay-at-home ideas for sunny days
A frequently listed drawback for parents and teachers when discussing home animation is the length of time it takes to get significant results. Use an app such as Stop Motion Studio (available from iTunes or Google Play store) to make animated movies. Even with just a few frames per day kids can have a decent length movie by the end of the summer and can storyboard for hours to get creative results.
Spin the wheel
Construct your own random idea generator to make decisions. We’re using the spinner from the Game of Life, but you can also let a dice decide. Assign each number on the wheel or dice an activity and that is what the kids have to do next. Land on a one, for example, and you all go and get ice cream; two is tidy bedrooms; three is watch a movie, and so on.
Bribery and competition
Tried and tested parenting techniques like the reward chart can be your friend. The lengths a child will go to in order to earn a gold star on an arbitrary goal chart are staggering. Use it to your advantage by having tidy bedroom competitions, basic housework incentives and points for good behaviour.
You can be more flexible than the school week but the basic structure provided by Soft Play Sundays, Mall Mondays, Try Something New Tuesdays, Waterplay Wednesdays and Thinking Time Thursdays removes the burden of coming up with something new each morning.
Making up a batch of simple cookies or cupcakes easily takes a full afternoon or morning. As well as being hands on, fun and a tactile, teachable moment, it combines most kids’ loves of getting messy and eating their fill of sweet stuff.
We accept that this sounds insane, but have witnessed first-hand that asking children to simply make a list of all their possessions does a lot more than keep them busy for an hour or two. Somewhere around 117 books, 42 teddy bears, 26 toy cars, nine video games and three toy chests they start to appreciate how lucky they are and will often relent and make up a donation box for charity.
Treasure hunts and quizzes
You don’t need transport or school books to keep brains active over the holidays. Organise a mental quest around your own home or set a customised general knowledge quiz to keep minds sharp and kids engaged.
It takes a special sort of patience to complete a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Just as clever is the person who invented it and ensured days of silent concentration from children. When effort starts to slip, incentivise the completion to earn yourself more time WhatsApping friends.
Double the number of toys at your disposal by arranging one-week sharing systems with close friends. They take your fire engine for a week and you get their mini-tool kit and you swap back a week later. There might be a lesson about sharing in there but the main thing is the kids get to play with more toys for free. Plus, you don’t have to listen to that blasted fire truck for a whole week.
Stories, postcards and diaries Whatever you do, don’t let the kid find out this is educational or you will instantly lose their interest. However, an excuse for just ten minutes of writing every day will keep skills warm for the next school term.
Time Out Kids has a theory that early cave paintings show not only primitive man’s basic hunting techniques but also a first example of parents keeping kids quiet, distracted and engaged in something productive for a bit.
Any activity is better if you do it in a den. Surely you remember that from your own childhood? Watch a film, read by torchlight, play with toys, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing under a pile of cushions and a duvet, they will be happy doing it.
They make the rules, they choose the foods, they decide on the activities. On the plus-side they have to clean up and they have to prepare the food.
Keeping kids busy and starting family arguments for generations. Old-school fun.
If anybody needs help with poise, concentration and meditative breathing techniques it is a kid with cabin fever and a belly full of holiday pick ’n’ mix.
Technology is your friend and allowing a child 30 minutes’ face time with a friend on the other side of town, or some time to talk with cousins or grandparent back home, will be appreciated by everybody.
Make the news
Some pens, paper, scissors, glue and imagination are all a kid needs to start making their own magazine or scrapbook. Fill it with stories about the holiday, life in Dubai or even a favourite cartoon and it is a crafty project that can develop for weeks.
Read a book
No, really. Switch off video games, apps, TV and tech of all types and let them discover adventures with Jules Verne, wizardry with J.K. Rowling, friendship with Jacqueline Wilson or just the funny side of farting with Roald Dahl.
You know how little kids tend to play with the box more than they toy that comes inside it? Let that be the guiding principal behind asking children to use their imagination and the recycling to make their own toys. Margarine tub boats, cereal box doll houses and egg carton lairs are just a few crayons and a sprinkle of imagination away at all times.
Be a YouTuber
Vloggers are more engaging to children than any film star these days. Instead of pushing them into expensive drama classes, let kids create their own brand and share their own stories. Some internet safety and supervision is required, but the tales of expat life as told through the eyes of an articulate and web-savvy kid sounds like a winner to us.
Start a business
You’re not asking them to prop up the economy or pay rent just yet, but the kid who wants to top up their pocket money with some hard-earned income might spark an interest that leads to a future career. Trading Pokemon cards online, a simple jumble sale or a marketed and controlled pop-up lemonade stand or bake sale are time fillers with a tangible return.
Be inspired by bloggers
Normally we would happily stand by and allow our kids to merrily slap the cute fedora straight off a smug mummy blogger’s kid’s head. When the long, uninterrupted days of summer come round, however, we’re willing to try anything. Trawl Instagram and Pinterest for ideas of what perfect parents out there are doing. Homemade play dough, customised T-shirts, food art, edible necklaces, crochet dinosaurs, origami zoos. It will probably end up a disaster, but surely it is worth a go?
Corridor bowling, dustbin basketball, rolling pin golf and bedroom assault course are all legitimate sports waiting for a champion to be crowned. Ask kids to create performance and score charts and create winner’s certificates to stretch the activity out further.
If you have an outdoor space (villas with covered gardens or rooftop pool areas with non-slip flooring are ideal) there is literally no better way to pass time without spending too much money. A couple of waterpistols, a bag of pre-filled balloons and some towels on standby and hours will slide by.
An iPad is better than I-Spy, hangman, noughts and crosses, cards and bingo. We’re not going to dispute that. But an afternoon of retro games with crayons and a notepad is a welcome change of pace for everyone.
It doesn’t matter what, let your kid decide. Playing an instrument, building Lego toys, skateboarding, fidget spinner tricks, Minecraft, drawing, football. Whatever they want to get better at give them some time, space and encouragement to work on it.
Finding a workable patch of garden might be a tough ask for many Dubai families. Maintaining a small tub or windowbox, however, is simple. Get creative by growing grass on colourful sponges or making egg-carton seed boxes on a bedroom windowsill. Customising it with decorated pebbles and painted lollipop sticks just adds to the effect. Monty Don would be proud.
You know as well as we do that you gave up any chance of winning a parent of the year award when you were spotted using your baby’s head as a handkerchief at the park that one time. Just pop in a Toy Story DVD and let Woody and Buzz look after the kids for a few hours.
Let them be bored
No, seriously. It is not your job as a parent to provide dawn ’til dusk entertainment for your children. Let them think up some activities of their own and they will be better equipped for adult life.