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 a lot of new ones for 2017, and they are mostly 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 (probably won’t work well with teens);
- get a boules/petanque set;
- 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. That sounds like a chore for you but it could be the highlight of the holiday for a five 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;
- Picking blackberries is free and more exciting than pick your own farms. You don’t need many to make blackberry and apple crumble and making the crumble is easy!
- 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;
- Have an outdoor bucket list to cross off: paddle in the sea, walk by a river, walk in a wood, roll down a hill, make a sandcastle, fly a kite, send a postcard to a friend etc
- Plan a regular visit to the library – see if you can borrow audio books and DVDs as well as books…
- Have a look at the 2017 Summer Reading Challenge where kids sign up to read six books – this year’s theme is Animal Agents.
- If you all like exploring, have a look at Geocaching – it’s a treasure hunt for the digital generation.
- Pokemon Go has been updated, so grab a smart phone (and preferably a battery pack) and go and catch some! This gets through your data allowance very quickly, but it may get those teens out of their bedrooms.
- Design your own scavenger hunt. The aim is to find every item on the list you made. Take little ones 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 – they may have more fun working in pairs rather than being competitive: something large and round, something purple, something ending in a T, something beginning with W, something in a foreign language, something very expensive, a very dirty car, a very small dog, the highest pair of heels etc.
- Join the great butterfly count any time between 14th July – 6th August – after then you can still use their free app to help you identify butterflies and moths.
Craft / Creative stuff
- There are lots of printable activities online – just google for colouring zoo/beach/cars etc. Or look for Join The Numbers and colour the discovered picture. These “symmetry sea animal sheets” are an unusual variation.
- A catalogue, a pair of blunt-ended scissors, some glue and a roll of lining wall-paper can keep under 4-6s happy for a surprisingly long while.
- Make fairy houses or even a whole fairy garden.
- Easy origami for kids
- Make cute standing up owls
- Make puppets – a stack of ideas here from shadow puppets (and a cereal box theatre!) to sock puppets.
- check out this list of competitions for kids – winning would be great, but keeping them busy is the main aim. The one that I liked the look of was Win a GIANT bean bag featuring your dream dinosaur – as drawn by you!
- 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.
- a metal jacks set is cheap. A 7-12 year old that gets hooked can happily play for half an hour a day.
- get some bean bags or a small quoits set. Tossing games in the house need to be smaller scale and softer than those for the park!
- 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: Monopoly, Rummikub (8+), Hare and Tortoise (8+), Carcassonne (8+) and Settlers of Catan (10+).
- if the weather gets bad (what, in England, in August?) plan a whole day gaming, dominos, card games, board games.
Time to think
- Make your own Word Search using themes your kids will enjoy (bands? their friends’ names? Star Wars?) – 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.
- Even little ones can help you decorate cupcakes or assemble pizzas – BBC guide to what kids can do at different ages.
- make jellies and ice lollies.
- 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.
What’s going on near you?
- Just learning to cycle? See if your council offers free cycle training.
- See if there is a Halfords free bike repair workshop near you – for 7-11s.
- Tennis for kids – free course for 5-8s, including rackets – they are getting booked up fast!
- Swim Safe – your children may be able to swim well in a pool, but what about the sea, rivers and lakes? Free swimming and water safety lessons in 20 outdoor locations across the country for 7-14s.
- Odeon Kids showings – this summer’s choices include Beauty and the Beast and the Lego Batman movie tickets £2.50.
- Pets at Home is offering free workshops for kids – probably best if you already have pets or intend to get one, otherwise the pestering may never stop…
- Craft workshops can be expensive, but look for things like £2 drawing class every Tuesday at Hackney City Farm, London;
- City Farms can be great for small children, eg Gorgie City Farm, Glasgow.
Plan an outing:
These are all free or pretty cheap, 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:
- RAF Museums in Cosford, Shropshire or North London;
- London Theatre – free/half price kids tickets in August – adults have to pay full price. Booking opens 14th June, some will sell out fast;
- Heritage Open Days – 7-10 September, all free, program here;
- HSBC UK City Rides – free, child-friendly, traffic-free rides in 14 cities;
- Frieze sculpture trail – 25 large modern sculptures in Regent’s Park, London. Small kids may love these even if you are left wondering if it is really art!
- Two great free museums in Yorkshire: the National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in Bradford;
- The Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenafon, Wales has free underground tours (with hard hats!) every day;
- Take a free tour around BBC Birmingham;
- Harlow, Essex – Visit the UK largest donkey and horse rescue sanctuary featuring donkeys Del Boy and Rodney and dozens more. All free including parking;
- Redruth, Cornwall – Heartlands’s Adventure playground. It’s big and it’s free;
- Belfast Castle – adventure playgound (£2.50), free orienteering maps;
- Scot Rail Kids Go Free – free train tickets for kids and 1 free child entry to lots of attractions in Scotland;
- 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.
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 six 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!