Our little boys aren’t yet school-age, but it won’t be long. My oldest will start school in September 2017, and while I might now think a 6-week break must be wonderful, I know from plenty of friends that it can also be difficult to find activities to fill the summer holidays.
So, I thought I’d test my creativity and think of 42 things to do for less than £10 each, that’s one activity per day for the six-week break. Some of them are completely free, others require a few low-cost craft or baking items and others are reasonably-priced day trips. I’d say they’re mostly suitable for pre-school and primary school age children. Prices correct at time of publishing.
Sunny day activities:
1. Our go-to cheap day out is a trip to the local park where the boys can play on the playground, then we have a short walk before feeding the ducks and heading to a cafe for a cuppa and a TCTC (toasted currant teacake). Costs about £6 for 2 adult teas plus two teacakes to share, the boys have tap water.
2. A walk in a deep, dark wood. Getting our three-year-old to walk very far is a trial, but if there’s something for him to look for then he breezes along without complaint. A forest walk is the ideal setting for hunting down imaginary Gruffalos, snakes, owls and foxes. For older primary school children, you could compile an I-Spy list beforehand of things for them to spot en route. Or get them to make up their own forest story, taking it in turns to think up a line of the story.
3. Sports day. Gather together any sporting apparatus you have lying around, like a bat and ball, small beanbags, cones, football, hula hoop etc and devise your own sports day. Works really well if you invite a few little friends over. This summer you could let them watch some of the Rio Olympics and get them excited about doing their own track and field events.
4. Have a picnic. Get together with a few friends and head to your nearest park with your children and eat al fresco. Very young might like to take their teddies along and serve their furry friends with plates of food, while older kids could take a football or rounders bat and ball for entertainment.
These bright plastic plates and cups from Wilko’s are just £1 for a set of four cups or plates. Bargain!
5. Pavement chalks. These chunky Crayola ones are just £6.29 from Amazon
Let them loose on the patio or the pavement, mark out hopscotch or targets to hit with a ball. Or just draw pictures!
6. Get the paddling pool out! Endless entertainment for excitable children in the summer. If you haven’t got one, there are always good deals at the big supermarkets. This one, below, is just £10 from Tesco.
7. The beach. When the sun is shining – or let’s be honest, even when it isn’t – there are few pleasures as great as paddling in the sea and building sandcastles. Take a picnic and you’ve got a really cheap day out, even if you do throw in an ice cream or fish ‘n’ chips.
8. Pooh sticks or skimming stones. Head to your nearest stream or lake to play these games. Breaks up a walk nicely.
9. Outdoor art class. Pack up your paper and pens and head to a forest, a park or even an urban area and get your little ones to draw something that catches their eye. If they’re not into drawing then let them run free with your camera phone and promise to print out the best at your nearest Boots.
10. Water guns/water bombs. Prepare to get very wet and have a huge laugh in the process. Cheap ones available at places like pound shops, Home Bargains, B&M and supermarkets.
11. Paper airplanes. If you’ve never made one, just search online and you’ll find plenty of easy instructions.
It might not be a full day activity but if you help your child to make one out of plain paper, then get them to colour it in and fly it, you can probably fill up a morning.
12. Let’s go fly a kite. Obviously you’ll need a windy day and a kite, but these can be pretty reasonable. For example, the Gunther 1159 Children’s Kite (below) gets 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon and is just £10.
13. Treasure hunt. This will require some planning but it’s worth it. No matter how big your house and garden, you’ll be able to find nooks and crannies to hide clues, and depending on where you live, you might be able to sneak some into public areas too. All you need is a little imagination and a prize at the end.
14. Gardening. Especially useful if you do need to sort the garden out and can involve your child in planting and watering.
15. I-Spy. Take a trip to any town, or into the countryside, or even just take the boredom out of a long drive by making a list of items to spot beforehand and let your child find and tick each one off. A little prize at the end might be nice too.
16. Get on your bike. If you haven’t got one, have a look on eBay as well as local second-hand selling sites, eg on Facebook, or ask a friend if you can borrow theirs. There are also plenty of places where you can hire bikes and helmets and follow a safe route.
Rainy day activities
17. Bake cupcakes. Kids love helping to weigh out ingredients, stir the mixture, watch them grow in the oven and decorate them. All you need is flour, sugar, butter, eggs, icing sugar, paper cake cases and some sprinkles, all very cheap items, and you’ve got a morning of wet weather entertainment. If you haven’t got a cupcake tin then just whack all the mixture into a baking sheet and cut it into slices after it’s baked.
18. Visit the library. We absolutely adore going to our local library. A trip generally starts off with playing with some of the toys there, then maybe doing some colouring and then actually reading some books when the boys have quietened down.
19. A jigsaw with a twist. Hide the pieces round the house and play a game of warmer/colder to find them. Complete the jigsaw as you’re going along or wait until you’ve found all the pieces.
20. Home cinema. Taking the kids to the actual cinema can be a costly affair but a cheaper version – and some might say, equally fun – is to have a home cinema afternoon. Spread duvets on the floor, close the curtains and put a film on (If you haven’t got a DVD you fancy or an on-demand TV service like NetFlix then supermarkets always have DVDs on sale for around £5). Buy some microwave popcorn for the occasion – which is entertaining in itself – and settle in.
21. Around the world at home. This takes a little planning but will be educational as well as fun. Theme a few rooms of the house by country, so for example you could start with France in a bedroom with a breakfast of croissants (if you don’t mind the mess!), then Spain in the lounge for flamenco dancing and Italy in the kitchen, making pizza for lunch. In each room, get the kids to colour in that country’s flag on plain A4 paper, and teach them a few basic words (easy to find on the internet).
22. Dress up day. If you haven’t got a dressing up box or any specific make believe clothes then just raid your wardrobe for hats, scarves, dresses, shoes, ties, shirts etc and encourage them to put on a little play.
23. Facepaint/beauty box. Little girls – and some boys – will love to delve into any old make up you can find lying around the drawers. Painting toe nails is a nice activity, either doing their own or yours. Facepaints are available at pound shops.
24. Indoor beach. We do this one quite often and my three-year-old loves it. We spread a picnic blanket out on the floor, put up a golfing umbrella to act as a parasol (no superstitions here!), grab a clean bucket and spade, a couple of books and spread out a blue towel at the edge of the picnic blanket for the sea. You could even have an indoor picnic to really create an atmosphere.
25. Tidy up. If there are certain chores that need doing, then getting the kids to help and making it seem like a fun activity is a win-win situation. A nice idea is to sort through their toy boxes and get them to choose a couple of toys to give to charity, explato them why that is a nice thing to do. Then trundle off to the charity shop and let them choose one item to buy.
26. Disco day. Buy a packet of glow sticks for the kids to wave, get them in their disco gladrags and turn the stereo up for a spot of dancing. This works well over Glastonbury weekend when you can watch some of the performances while dancing or playing air guitar. If they’re into Strictly, you could always find episodes to show on the TV and get them to copy the dancing in each. Encourage them to use their imagination and choreograph their own dance to their favourite song.
27. A roll of wallpaper liner provides great amusement, and costs around £6. Get them to lie flat on the paper and draw round each other, then fill themselves in with crayons or pens. If you really want to be educational, you could use it to fill in all the body organs (for any budding medics, maybe?) Get them to do a graffiti wall by writing their names in big letters and colouring them in. Or draw the outline of something yourself and get them to fill it in with colours and any crafty bits you can get your hands on – feathers, sequins, buttons etc.
28. Layered jelly. Living in Yorkshire, we’ve been to a fair few country shows and amongst all the competitions, I’m always intrigued by the layered jelly in a glass section. I’ve never tried it but it looks fascinating. Simply buy in a few different colour jelly packets, make one colour up and put a thin layer into the bottom of a pint glass, wait for it to set, then add a layer of a different colour and so on. If you start in the morning, and have general playtime while each layer is setting, you should have a fantastic looking dessert ready for teatime.
29. Alphabet drawing or play dough. Giving kids a theme can make an activity a bit different and more of a fun challenge, as well as prolonging the amount of time they might sit still and do it! Go through the alphabet, drawing a picture that begins with each letter, or really test your sculpture skills by doing the same with playdough.
30. Papier mache modelling. All you need is old newspaper, wallpaper paste and some balloons to make papier mache heads. Once they’re dry, you can paint them, add faces and wool hair or whatever you fancy.
31. Puppet show. You can use the papier mache heads on sticks, or try making sock puppets, then encourage your children to plot a play for their new characters.
32. Teach them a new card game. There are a few ideas here:http://www.todaysparent.com/family/activities/10-kid-friendly-card-games/
Days out and local activities
33. Garden centre. Fast becoming my favourite weekend activity. So long as there’s an aquatic centre with loads of fish and some bunnies, plus a cafe, you’re sorted for an afternoon of free entertainment (plus the price of a cuppa). Alternatively, you can always head to the nearest Pets at Home!
One local garden centre which has particularly impressed us is the Tong Garden Centre, near Bradford. It has a massive Grasshoppers outdoor play area, complete with preschool section, a traditional playground, motorised cars and the very brilliant jumping pillows. It does cost to go into this, but at £3.50 per child, it is similar to the price of a soft play centre and well worth it.
34. Ikea. It’s not only heaven for adults, but kids can enjoy the place too. There’s usually a children’s play area, often outdoors and indoors, and you can always bribe them with a hotdog or a doughnut at the end. Young children can push their own mini trolley and the kids’ section is a delight. If you’re actually doing some serious shopping you can always get them involved by testing out the comfort of the chairs, giving their opinions on styles and colours, measuring items with the free paper tape measures and filling out the order forms.
35. Find your nearest ice cream farm. These are often free entry and usually have a playground, so you can spend a good afternoon there and only fork out for an ice cream.
36. Head to a local castle. If you plan in advance, you could buy a couple of foam swords to re-enact a battle scene. Some will have dress up boxes and special activities to keep kids interested.
37. Find a free public paddling pool or lido. We’re lucky to live near Harrogate which has the fantastic Valley Gardens and paddling pool, a really great day’s entertainment.
38. Museums and art galleries. Whatever your interest, there is sure to be a museum to suit near you and they are mostly free entry. Up here, we’ve got amazing places like the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (£8 for all day parking, free entry), the National Railway Museum in York, as well as the wonderful Media Museum in Bradford, all free entry, and many more. Art galleries can be just as entertaining, and it’s a good thing for children to start going to them when they’re young. Take their paper and pens and get them to copy their favourite drawing.
39. If you’ve got a budding plane spotter in the family, why not head somewhere to watch them? Were lucky to have the Multiflight cafe near Leeds Bradford Airport and I’ve also taken the three-year-old to Chocks Away at Hawarden Airport, Flintshire, where you can even watch the enormous Airbus Beluga if you time it right.
40. Pound shops. Give each child say £5 and let them choose five items at the pound shop, then spend the rest of the day playing with the new toys.
41. Fetes, festivals and carnivals. I don’t know about you, but where we live, the summer calendar is jam-packed with local shows and one-day festivals, all free entry. Then it’s up to you how much you want to spend on the tombolas, cake stalls and bouncy castles!
42. Local swimming pool. Always a good option, no matter what your child’s ability, and won’t break the bank.