20 cool things to do with the kids this summer

SCHOOL'S out for summer. The kids are delirious and the parents, let's just say they're trepidatious. There's a reason Alice Cooper sounded threatening when he sang that!

Will you be able to prise your kids away from their PlayStations and Wiis? Will they emerge, blinking, into the mid-August light able to recite the last-ever Shrek movie verbatim? Or is it possible to fill the days with fun, stimulating activities to ensure they'll return to the classroom brimming over with tales of "What I did on my summer holidays?"

Lee Randall has 20 top ideas that'll make children smile without boring their parents rigid.

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1 Fancy rolling downhill inside a giant inflatable ball? Nae Limits is the only place in Scotland where you can give it a whirl. Ages 12 and up, from 29.50. They also offer paintballing, white water rafting, cliff jumping, clay pigeon shooting, and more besides.

www.naelimits.co.uk; seven days a week, 9am to 9pm; call 08450 178177 or 01796 482600 for information. Located in Perthshire, off the A9, roughly one hour from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, with activity centres in Ballinluig (wet) and Dunkeld (dry).

2 The first beavers in Scotland for more than 400 years reside at Knapdale Forest, a reserve run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, about three miles north-west of Lochgilphead. Follow the Detective Trail to see beaver dams and lodges. Early morning and late evening are the best times to maximise your chance of seeing the furry beasties themselves.

Visit www.swt.org.uk or www.scottishbeavers.org.uk, call 0131-312.7765 or e-mail [email protected] for more information. FREE.

3 Get into the groove by taking advantage of Dancebase's drop-in classes for young and old. Options include hip-hop for tots, wiggle and giggle (boogie woogie for the very young), hula hooping, ballet and much more. Prices vary.

Dancebase, 14-16 Grassmarket, Edinburgh. For information: 0131-225 5525 or [email protected]; www.dancebase.co.uk.

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4 Grab a copy of Seashore Safaris by Judith Oakley (Graffeg, 9.99) and head for one of Scotland's justly celebrated beaches to see how many varieties of wildlife you can spot.

www.welcometoscotland.com/article/beaches-of-scotland-guide is a great place to start when planning your day out. FREE (the beaches, that is).

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5 Thinking ahead to the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games? Take the kids swimming. In Edinburgh, all council-run pools are free for primary schoolchildren, with the exception of Waterworld, in Leith. FREE

6 Whether you gather a gang for an in-store party, or stock up on supplies in case of an emergency – aka, typical Scottish weather – The Imagination Workshop will bring out your child's inner artist. From 12-16 July, for instance, kids ten years and up can do a week's course in jewellery and beading (75 for the week, 15 for a single day, includes a drink and snack). Or learn puppetry, plaster of Paris modelling, or sewing.

www.theimaginationworkshop.co.uk; 136 Marchmont Road, Edinburgh; 0845 111 1125 or [email protected]

7 Until 30 November, at the Glasgow Science Centre, you can explore Wallace & Gromit present … A World of Cracking Ideas, an interactive exhibit full of "crazy innovation". Every day there are dozens of nifty activities, from live science shows to a chance to make your own animations, planetarium shows, and much more.

Glasgow Science Centre, 50 Pacific Quay, Glasgow; 0141-420 5000; Science Mall tickets: 9.95 adults/7.95 child & concessions; Add Ons to planetarium, Glasgow Tower, or IMAX science film, 2.50 each; IMAX feature films: 8.95 and 6.95.

8 Want to dress up like a Roman centurion? Fire a medieval catapult? Reassemble a broken artefact? Visit The National Museum of Scotland, on Chambers Street, Edinburgh. And all across the country there are Kids Go Free programmes through July and August, including Summer Science, Go Wild in the country! Watch the Birdie, Heavy Horse Show, and Garden Detectives.

Visit www.nms.ac.uk/ for more information. FREE

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9 The Edinburgh Book Festival, 14-30 August at Charlotte Square Gardens, has a dynamic children's programme that this year features visits from crowd pleasers such as Jacqueline Wilson, Judith Kerr, and Meg Rosoff, daily storytelling sessions, and more.

For information or tickets visit www.edbookfest.co.uk or call 0845 373 5888.

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10 Amid the frenzy that is the Fringe festival, there are countless shows targeted at kids, but did you know that many are free? For example, there's Sheep Ahoy, with cartoonist/poet/stand up Phil Sheppard, at the City Cafe from 14-22 August at 3:45pm.

For a full list, visit: www.laughinghorse comedy.co.uk/freefestival/childrens FREE

11 You're never too young to bag your first Munro. According to Scotland the Best author Pete Irvine, Ben Lomond is a good one for beginners. Start at the car park at Rowerdennan, which has an information centre and toilets.

For more information, try www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochlomond FREE

12 The Forestry Commission runs a Kids Summer Nature Club at Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Aberfoyle every Saturday throughout July for budding rangers aged 7-12. Refreshments included, all-weather outdoor clothing required. 3.50 per session of 15 for all five. Booking required.

Contact David Marshall Lodge: 01877 382258 or e-mail: cowal&[email protected]. www.forestry.gov.uk.

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13 Stuck indoors? Why not help your child write their first book? For top tips, visit www.summeractivitiesforkids.co.uk, where you'll discover innovative ways to get the story started, or ideas for cooking projects, family games and even how to throw an indoor beach party. Games are organised both by age and area of interest. FREE or low cost.

14 Mention the Edinburgh Zoo and even parents' eyes light up, though I'm warned that it's an active day out, so not ideal if you're pushing a pram. Especially popular is the Budongo Trail, a state- of-the-art chimpanzee facility that lets kids see humans' closest relatives up close.

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Though not cheap, the zoo offers value for money. A one-day family ticket for two adults and three children runs about 51.80. If you go often, it pays to become a member.

For information and to book tickets online, visit www.edinburghzoo.org.uk, or call 0131-334 9171. Open 365 days a year, from 9am until 6pm in July and August.

15 Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum is offering free drop-in activities from noon-4pm throughout the holiday period. Why not take the Around the World Passport Challenge, and collect a free stamp every time you visit for an activity, such as making a Venetian mask, or recreating one of the masterpieces on the gallery walls. Get five stamps and win one nifty wee prize!

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow, 0141-276 9599; [email protected]. Open Monday to Thursday, and Saturday, 10am to 5pm; Friday and Sunday 11am to 5pm. FREE

16 The play park at the eastern edge of Edinburgh's Meadows is FREE to visit, and filled with a terrific range of enticing apparatus suitable for kids of all ages, including comfy swings, water-pump spirals, a zip wire, spinning discs and more.

17 If your kid's permanently glued to a skateboard, visit Saughton Skateboard Park, on Edinburgh's Balgreen Road. For more information visit www.edinburghskatepark.org.uk.

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For information about other places to skate in Scotland, visit www.skateboardscotland.com.FREE

18 You're spoiled for choice among Scotland's gorgeous country parks, each offering a unique range of activities. At Beecraigs, near Linlithgow, West Lothian, for one, you can cycle or ride a horse, learn about the wildlife – trout, deer, owls, etc – or climb Cockleroy Hill, and enjoy a view stretching across to Arran!

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For the locations of Scotland's country parks, info, and hours, try: www.activitypoint.co.uk or www.scotlandmag.com/directory FREE

19 Harbouring a budding Gordon or Nigella aged 9-12 at home? How about a two-day, three-day, or full-week tutorial in all the basics at the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School? Kids classes serve the 9 to 12-year-old set; teen classes are for those aged 13-17, and there's a one-day class for parent and child together. For example, a two-day kids class 9/10 August, 10am until 3pm, costs 100.

Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, 7 Queen Street; 0131-226 4314; www.entcs.co.uk.

20 Fancy a junior quad bike experience suitable for 6-12 year olds, or a tour round a 25-acre quad track ideal for teens or adults? You can scratch that itch at Bogbain Adventure & Heritage Farm, near Inverness, from 10am to 6pm 3 July to 3 September. Junior Quads cost 4; prices for adults start at 8 for 15 minutes.

For information about these and other activities, including archery, clay pigeon shooting, electric go-karts and their collection of insects and reptiles, visit www.bogbainfarm.com; [email protected]; 0146 3772800