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 2018, and they are mostly free or pretty cheap.
A summer bucket list?
Why not create a summer holiday bucket list and pin it to the fridge or noticeboard? try to cross one off a day… they don’t all have to be big or need a special outing: make a puppet, play a new card game, walk by a river, roll down a hill, make a sandcastle, fly a kite, send a postcard to a friend, photograph a butterfly, enter a competition etc.
If the kids are old enough give them a choice of what to do each day.
Get them out of the house!
- 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 to the park. 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;
- Plan a regular visit to the library – see if you can borrow audiobooks and DVDs as well as books…Have a look at the 2018 Summer Reading Challenge where kids sign up to read six books – this year’s theme is The Mischief Makers, inspired by the Beano, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.
- 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;
- 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!
- Picking up litter – not your first idea of an enjoyable occupation but little ones can find anything interesting and older ones may be interested in saving the planet from plastic.
- Collect pine cones (and later turn them into autumn or Xmas decorations?)
- Plan to visit all the parks / pay areas around you over the summer and let the kids give them star ratings.
- If you all like exploring, have a look at Geocaching – it’s a treasure hunt for the digital generation.
- Join the great 2018 butterfly count any time between 20th July – 12th August – after then you can still use their free app to help you identify butterflies and moths.
- 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.
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 – lots of videos on youtube.
- Easy origami for kids
- Make these cute standing up owls
- Make puppets – a stack of ideas here from shadow puppets (and a cereal box theatre!) to sock puppets.
- Pinterest board full of crafty inspiration for any age group – start saving empty egg boxes and cardboard loo roll inners now!
- Make a large fake photo frame out of painted cardboard and do a phtotshoot with the kids dressing up, pulling faces etc
- 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.
- if the weather gets bad (what, in England, in August?) plan a whole day gaming, dominos, card games, board games.
- have an indoor picnic sitting on the floor with teddies (unlikely to work well with teens…).
- a metal jacks set is cheap. A 7-12 year old that gets hooked can happily play for half an hour a day.
- make a drum kit from saucepans.
- Cats cradle. About 7-10. Video here.
- 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 (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+).
- Make a den.
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 online, there are lots of Sudoku apps.
- check out this list of competitions for kids (it will be updated for summer 2018 in early July). Winning would be great, but keeping them busy is the main aim.
- Even little ones can help you decorate cupcakes or assemble pizzas – see this 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 just how to work a microwave, but spag bol, one-pot meals, chilli con carne, stir-frying.
What’s going on near you?
- Just learning to cycle? See if your council offers free cycle training.
- HSBC UK City Rides – organised free, child-friendly, traffic-free cycle rides for one day only in each of 14 cities, so check the dates now!
- Tennis for kids – 6 lessons for 4-11s, last year it was free, but now it’s £25, a child gets a racket, ball and T-shirt.
- 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 Peter Rabbit, the Greatest Showman, A Wrinkle in Time and Early Man. Tickets from £2.50 check with your local cinema.
- 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…
- Free, ticketed craft workshops at Horniman Museum in South London every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in the holidays;
- City Farms can be great for small children, eg Gorgie City Farm in Glasgow, Ouseburn Farm in Newcastle
Plan an outing:
Many of these are 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.
- Bristol Harbour Fest 21-22 July, lots of free kids stuff from baby racing to water balloon tossing;
- Liverpool Music Festival (LIMF) £5 for over 11s, under 11s free. 21-22 July;
- London Theatre – free/half price kids tickets in August – adults have to pay full price. Booking opens 12th June, some sell out fast;
- Stockton International Riverside Festival (SIRF) 2-5 August;
- Littlehampton sandcastle competition 6 August
- Manchester Caribbean Carnival 11-12 August;
- International Bognor Birdman is a competition for human-powered flying machines 11-12 August;
- Sherwood Forest Country Park Robin Hood Festival 27 August – 2 September £5 car parking;
- Bournemouth Air Festival 30 August – 2 September
- Heritage Open Days – 6-9 & 13-16 September, all free.
Open all summer:
- RAF Museums in Cosford, Shropshire or North London. 2018 is the RAF’s Centenary Year;
- The Line – East London sculpture trail – in two sections, one around the O2 and the other north of the river. They can be joined by the Emirates cable car but that isn’t such a cheap outing.
- 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;
- Harlow, Essex – Visit the UK largest donkey and horse rescue sanctuary featuring donkeys Del Boy and Rodney and dozens more. All free including parking;
- 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.
Parks and adventure playgrounds include:
- Great Notley Country Park Essex’s longest play trail – 1.2km – including a giant see-saw, climbing forest, tyre swings, sand pits, rope climbers, slides, forts and a water play area, making it a great place for all ages to explore. Charges for car parking.
- –Heartlands’s Adventure playground, Redruth, Cornwall . It’s big and it’s free;
- Belfast Castle – adventure playgound (£2.50), free orienteering maps;
- Margam Country Park, Port Talbot, with an adventure playground and Chidren’s Fairytale village for the under 10s. Charges for car parking.
- Wimbledon Sprinkler Park, London.
- and of course beaches – there are over 1,500 beaches listed here!
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!