I love summer. It’s my favourite season, or at least it was; until I had kids.
Now long summer evenings = impossible to put toddlers to bed; sunny afternoons = slather on the sunscreen or hide in the shade.
Oh, and then we go and move to topsy-turvy land where summer days are so boiling hot and humid you could fry an egg on your car. Being outdoors living in the desert is simply out of the question. Throw the Holy Month of Ramadan into the mix and what have you got?….
Like many expats before me , my journey to new lands started with living in a hotel room. With a toddler and a newborn and without a car, during the Middle East summer. I had never felt so utterly trapped, and at times, isolated.
The following summer I wised up and joined the expat exodus, heading back to the Australian winter. But in 2014 with the arrival of Master J, I had to don my best battle armour and sit out most of the summer in Abu Dhabi. With three under five inside. And I’ve survived to tell the tale.
So if you are feeling trapped in the desert heat this year, or perhaps you are a first timer, this is your ultimate hot weather summer survival guide for tots and pre-schoolers in 6 easy steps.
1. Stick to a routine
I know holidays are supposed to be a break from the routine, but be careful how far you go – because kids crave it!! Sure you can sleep in a little longer (if you’re lucky!) but keep the normal steps of the day in place, activities, snacks, nap times. Remember boredom, tiredness and hunger are the triggers for misbehaviour – this applies at 30,000 feet or in your living room.
Try creating a daily and weekly routine chart, this will help you explain when snacks are coming, when quiet time is expected and minimize the nagging and ‘what next’.
You can vary things slightly day-to-day but whatever you do, don’t throw in too many late nights. One-offs are ok – or completely shifting bedtime to later is great if you can do it – but like being smacked in the face with jet lag don’t expect late nights to translate to next morning lie-ins.
2. Be prepared with entertainment
This doesn’t have to mean mum putting on a performance 24/7; sure some kids (like mine!) want mummy to be interactive ALL.THE.TIME. so try to find activities that can be explored more independently.
Surf Pinterest for ideas and get some activities and get craft supplies lined up – our stash of cardboard boxes is looking mighty impressive this year! This is especially important when you are living away from home. It can be hard to find little crafty things last minute running about in the heat with the kids in the car so stock up early (not forgetting also Ramadan business hours can vary greatly and the shops you need may not be open during the day).
If you are an incredibly uncrafty mama (don’t worry, you’re not alone!!) there are some wonderfully simply make-at-home ideas here from Mum Learning with Baby and favourite suggestions for 3 to 5-year-olds from Latika at Stars in the Desert.
3. Let them get messy
Yep I know, I can’t believe I’ve just said this one. I get snotty and uptight when even the playdoh comes out, but kids need creative time, as they would get if they were at school or nursery.
If you can’t bare the cleanup operation then look for options at play centres, but expect this to cost as of course. My suggestion, get some plastic table clothes or floor covering, have the mop and sponge ready and suck it up mums; time in one “messy play” session a day and get it out of their systems.
4. Save up the special outings
Ok, we really do have to start talking about soft plays here. Yeah, it seems to be the default option that people think of when you mention indoor activities, but don’t feel like you need to fork out cash every time to let your kids have a good run around. There are PLENTY of options for outings – and some of them don’t need to cost you a cent.
Especially for the younger set, the simple fact you are leaving the house can be exciting in itself, so build it up! Add “surprise day” to that fabulous routine chart you’ve already drawn up, right? Then you can build up excitement to the big event. Whatever you do will seem more exciting than another day of mum anxiously hovering over you with the mop.
You could make this your one “paid activity” day of the week, which yes, could mean a soft play centre I’m afraid (gather some other mums, it’ll be fine, honest). Some of them are really quite elaborate these days and you can even grab a coffee too while they are having fun. See our bumper indoor activity guide here:
But I have an inner saver in me too, so explore these options if you’re in Abu Dhabi:
Yas Mall is excellent for the free activities, not just events put on by Mall management, but in-shop entertainment. The Virgin Megastore is a huge hit, their indoor slide is magnificent and they put on activities like story reading. Hamleys have great interactive toy demonstrations and colouring, as does the Lego concept store. Even The Toy Store has interactive displays out the front with staff always willing to give you a few minutes free entertainment, and Shoe Mart has a little-hidden play are upstairs!
If you really want the kids to stretch their legs, then Dalma Mall is your place. They get a bit shitty about scooters but honestly, this place in the morning during Ramadan is completely empty and about a kilometre straight stretch of air-conditioned running luxury! After you’ve worn them out doing a few laps, head into the slide showroom at Toys R Us – yep free again folks (2018 update -sadly now closed!). A load of fun paid activities including trampolines can also be found at Adventure HQ but they are for the slightly older crowd, over four years old.
Keep your eye out for freebie offers too. Many restaurants and attractions offer deep discounts or ‘kids eat free’ vouchers over the summer to keep attracting customers.
5. You are not alone!
Look for local playgroups – or if you can’t find one, make one! Ask around your neighbours, post your kids ages on a community Facebook page and you will be surprised how many other mums are just waiting for an invite to join in (see more in the resources below).
6. Give yourself a break
More summer resources specific to the UAE:
- Those with under 6’s in Abu Dhabi it is definitely worth joining Abu Dhabi Mums to take advantage of their play area at the Dome Clubhouse @Rawdat (note the actual Dome has now been bulldozed but the clubhouse remains!!) At 20dhs a session per family this is a steal for a sanity saver! Note AD Mums is a member only club – join via Facebook (it’s now FREE). (Not all playgroups are running over the summer but if you can’t find one that fits – volunteer!! Even if you are brand new here, you get out what you put in for these clubs.
- Music Monkeys has been my saviour in Abu Dhabi for a couple of years now; These music classes are perfect for the under-4 crowd and thanks to their expanding team of music teachers, classes now run through the summer.
- And those in Dubai, sick of all the same old soft plays? Check out this amazing pretend play located in Galleries Lafayette, Dubai Mall – thanks to Laura from Life with Baby Kicks for this discovery and Mattel Play Town located at City Walk Dubai thanks to top Dubai family blogger Tarana at Sand in My Toes.
- Take a short Staycation. Just because you can’t fly overseas doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to a short break, we’ve chosen all our favourites that still operate a great family service over the hotter summer months.
- Don’t forget if you are travelling anywhere around the desert, having your car ready for the journey is vitally important – there are some great timely tips here from Housewives of AD.
Do you have any other hidden gems for extreme heat summer survival? Do you have a guide for activities in other Middle East cities? Please share your links below.
And when all else fails? KEEP CALM ITS ONLY SUMMER – 5 more months and we’ll be laughing at all the poor old people in the Northern Hemisphere heading into winter.
© Our Globetrotters