Are you wondering how to keep your children happily occupied at the lowest possible cost all through the summer holiday? Here is a pile of ideas, including some new ones for 2016, and they are almost all free or pretty cheap.
Get out of the house as often as possible
- Picnics! In your own garden or down at the local park. Sit around in the sun and show them how to make daisy-chains. Take a tennis ball, football, frisbees with you. If the weather isn’t good have an indoor picnic sitting on the floor with teddies – this probably won’t work well with teens…
- If it gets hot, look for free splash parks.
- Offer to walk someone’s dog, once or every day. Or feed their cat if they are away on holiday, a chore for you but it could be the highlight of the holiday for your 5 year old.
- Let the kids camp in the garden. Even if they don’t actually sleep outside, a cheap “festival” tent can keep primary school kids happy for days.
- Wash the car – on a sunny day with under 6s this can actually be fun.
- Odeon Kids showings – tickets £2.50.
- Pick blackberries. You don’t need many to make blackberry and apple crumble and making the crumble is easy!
- Weekly visit to the library – see if you can borrow audio books and DVDs as well as books… Have a look at the 2016 Summer Reading Challenge where kids sign up to read six books.
You can do this together with a 4 or 5 year old, but it also works well for older children. If they have some friends round, divide them into teams. The aim is to find every item on the list you made – some examples:
- Take them down the park and look for a leaf bigger than their hand, a butterfly, something stripey, something beginning with D etc.
- Send teens out to photograph everything on a list: a huge pothole, something large and round, something purple, something ending in a T, something beginning with W, something in a foreign language, a happy stranger, something very expensive, a very dirty car, a very small dog, the highest pair of heels etc
- Budding cyclists? Your council may offer free cycle training. Book now for a place on a Halfords free bike repair workshops as they fill up.
- Couch to 5k would be a great program for the holidays if they would like to start running. Pre-teens will probably want you to do it with them.
- If you all like exploring, have a look at Geocaching – its a treasure hunt for the digital generation.
Craft / Creative stuff
- There are lots of printable colouring activities online – just google for colouring zoo / beach / cars etc. Or look for Join The Numbers and colour the discovered picture.
- An Argos catalogue (or similar), pair of blunt-ended scissors, some glue and a roll of lining wall-paper can keep under 6s happy for a surprisingly long while.
- Make fairy houses or even a whole fairy garden.
- Check out this list of competitions for kids – winning would be great, but keeping them busy is the main aim.
- Pinterest board full of crafty inspiration for any age group – start saving empty egg boxes and cardboard loo roll inners now!
- Encourage teens to set up their own Pinterest boards: colour themed /baby animals /fashion /cool places to visit etc.
- If Art GCSE or A level is coming up, find out what some of the themes will be so your teen can start taking photographs.
- “Make Your Own Dinosaur Out of Chicken Bones” by Chris McGowan is available cheaply on Amazon second-hand . Your child will need 3 chickens (but the meat can be eaten!), glue, a wire coat hanger etc and a LOT of determination. Probably best for mid teens.
Card and board games
Card games are cheap and very portable. You can find the rules online if you don’t remember them. Games for two include: Snap (sometimes ends in fights if 2 children are playing) (4+), Beggar my neighbour (also called Strip Jack Naked) (4+), Memory (3+), Rummy (6+) and Crib (8+).
Board games aren’t so cheap, although you can sometimes find them in local charity shops or on eBay. Find the right one and it will occupy hours and hours. My kids favourites included: Rummikub (8+), Hare and Tortoise (8+), Carcassonne (8+) and Settlers of Catan (10+).
Time to think
- Make your own Word Search using themes your kids will enjoy (bands? their friends’ names? Harry Potter? Frozen?) – lots of options here to make it easier (smaller grid, no backwards words, list the words that are hidden) for younger children.
- Learn to code – Different level 20 hour courses, starting from pre-readers going up to 18, so that should keep someone occupied for a while (and then there are other courses eg for Java afterwards if they get hooked.)
- A crossword or Sudoku a day for teens – the Guardian’s quick crosswords can be filled in on-line, there are lots of Sudoku apps.
- Euclid the game – this starts with very simple geometry problems and works up to the nearly impossible. Bit hard to put an age range on this, kids may like it surprisingly young – a keen 7 year old will be able to do much better than an unkeen 17 year old.
- Even little ones can help you decorate cup cakes or assemble pizzas – BBC guide to what kids can do at different ages.
- Aspiring uni students should learn to cook by themselves! Not Master Chef foams or how to work a microwave, but somewhere in between…think spag bol, one-pot meals, chili con carne, stir frying.
These are all free but eating out can add up to a lot, so don’t forget to take bottles of water, squash, plenty of snacks and full scale picnics along:
- P1 Powerboat racing at Greenock (June 18/19), Gosport (July 9/10), Cardiff (August 28/29) and Bournemouth (September 3/4) – free for spectators;
- Tour the Game of Thrones filming locations in Westeros (aka Northern Ireland);
- London Theatre – free / half price kids tickets in August – adults have to pay full price. Booking opens 14th June, some will sell out fast;
- London: Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2016 A free festival of visionary science and technology, 4 10 July;
- Two great free museums in Yorkshire: the National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in Bradford
- August 11-14th the 38th Annual Bristol International Balloon Fiesta – it’s free but you have to pay for car parking;
- The Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenafon, Wales has free underground tours (with hard hats!) every day. On August 6-7th, there is special weekend commemorating the forgotten Bevin Boys, who spent the war on the ‘underground front’.
- Take a tour around BBC Birmingham.
- The Snail Racing World Championship takes place on Saturday 16th July in Congham, Norfolk. “Current World Champion is a snail called George owned by Dale Thorne from Gayton. His time was 2 minutes 45 seconds over the 13 inch course.” If you can’t get there, make your own track in the garden or a park.
- Persuade your child to apply for a Blue Peter badge and there are 200+ places they can get in for free – but you have to pay.
English Heritage annual membership isn’t cheap – £52 for an adult, £92.50 for two, kids are free (you can get it a lot cheaper if you look out for deals, eg Tesco Clubcard vouchers,). But if you have kids that love Horrible Histories and there are enough places to visit in your area, it could keep them happy all summer.
Someone else’s house!
You probably have a friend on Facebook somewhere across the country who is also wondering how to keep her kids occupied for 6 weeks, how about a house swap? Or go and visit the grandparents, especially with little ones.
What works well with your kids? Post a comment below!