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14th July 2000 at 01:00
The threat of an indoor summer need not dismay children's project leaders, parents and carers. Even if you don't have dozens of back-up ideas for entertaining bored and fractious youngsters, the Internet has.

Start with http: craftsforkids. miningco. comparentingcraftsforkids, a gargantuan United States-based site full of simple craft ideas, for primary and (sometimes) pre-school children. "Make your own Olympics" encourages children to throw the discus (paper plates) and javelin (drinking straws) and compete at hopscotch and bubble-blowing (having made their own chalk and bubble mix first, of course). Instructions are simple, materials cheap.

Other ideas include a flute from a toilet roll, a dinosaur diorama in a shoe box, play dough both for eating and moulding, and a Styrofoam-ball solar system, all within a clear, easy-to-navigate site.

For a visual arts focus, try Sceptics will assume that this glossy site (also US-based) aims to sell Crayola products, and they will be right. But it's too good to pass up - you type in age and interests of child, time available and type of activity required, then it spits out half a dozen good ideas.

Children can print out cards, puzzles or pictures for colouring; write, illustrate and submit a story, poem or review to be "published" onsite; or even read the history of the Crayola crayon (eight colours in 1903, 120 in 1998) and undertake a Masters in Crayonology quiz. No silier than Pokemon, and the hours will pass.

Ideas for longer projects can be found on the Owl and Mouse educational software company's site www. owlmouse.htm. Again, it is US-based, with a focus on teaching children at home. Offerings include a downloadable town to colour, cut, fold and glue.

Clear instructions promote individual design. "Add curtains, houseplants, a cat in the window... even a tricycle or lawnmower outside." Also on offer: a downloadable village, farm or medieval castle, or shields and heraldry for coat-of-arms making. All require a PC running Windows 3.1, 95 or 98.

Computer-literate children can turn to www. for a comprehensive range of (sometimes educational) online games: from "help Dallas Dinosaur put his bike together" to "put the animals in their correct environments" (Shockwave or Java required). Craft activities, clip art, stories (to read and write), and news too, with a particularly good range of recipes. This is a child-friendly site; plenty of what young users like, with a tempering of what adults think they should have.

If the kids in your care (and you) are a little more low-tech, don't despair. The web includes enough print-out colouring pages to wipe out a forest. A good starting place is littlekidscolouring. Just keep those 120 colours on hand, and the holidays will be over in no time. Then the sun will come out.


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