School holidays can be super expensive, if you’ve got children. Tickets to attractions, eating out and heading away can all cost a bomb.
Luckily, you don’t need to break the bank to have a ton of family fun. My two are now 11 and 9, but we still find loads of ways to enjoy the summer on a budget. I suggested some top tips for an article in the i paper here, and rattled through more when talking to BBC Radio Suffolk on Sunday.
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In practice, I try to switch between cheap and free activities near home, and deals further afield. Despite what your children might say, every other child in their class is not going to a rip-roaring theme park every day of the holidays. Kids need some down time too, to do their own thing, and even (shock horror) get bored. So don’t feel guilty if you’re not forking out a fortune every day.
Here’s a list of more than 50 cheap and free ideas to entertain kids for less over the summer holidays!
Entertain kids for less at home
- Blow up a paddling pool
- Set the sprinkler going, with a plastic sheet to slide along
- Dig out the garden games like swingball, badminton, football, frisbee, whether at home or in the park
- Unleash the nerf guns or water pistols
- Pitch a tent. Don’t pay for a campsite if you’ve got a back garden.
- Get baking. Check out my recipes for quick and easy biscuits, lemon drizzle cake and Victoria sponge. My daughter thinks it’s trendier to make a mug cake in the microwave, so try that too!
- Make a family meal. Ask your child to come up with a meal they’d actually like to eat, then help check the ingredients, buy supplies and cook it. My son really loved cooking the meals sent in a bargain Hello Fresh box*, but we’ve also borrowed the cook book* from the library.
- Make pizzas, whether adding pizza toppings or bashing the dough.
- Hold a movie night, with a DVD from the library or a charity shop. Pop your own popcorn, and a big bag of popcorn kernels only costs about £1 to £1.20.
- Rope in the whole family for board games or card games. Trying swopping your favourite with another family, for a new spin without the expense.
- Resurrect old toys they haven’t played with ages. Mine spent a happy couple of hours when I dug out a box of baby toys and unearthed some Playmobil.
- Sell toys they don’t want any more, by holding a yard sale, running your own stall at a car boot sale, or posting pics on a selling site like Gumtree or a local Facebook selling page.
- Decorate a T shirt. Yup you could invest in fabric pens. But you could also encourage your kids to go crazy drawing designs on an old top using using any old felt tips.
- Build a den. My kids love building dens, from reconstructing sofa cushions to clearing out the understairs cupboard for the full Harry Potter experience.
- Bag some boxes. Ask a local shop if they have any super sized cardboard boxes, add parcel tape and strong scissors, and get your kids building a cardboard house / rocket / fort / submarine.
- Make a movie trailer. Put that mobile phone to good use. Get the kids to plot a film, act it out with costumes and props, then edit it together with titles and music
- Swap childcare. Get your children’s friends round to play. OK it may be more effort at the time, but they’ll love it, and with any luck the parents will invite your kid back.
Entertain kids for less nearby
- Head to the local park or playground. Or head further afield, and try a new one.
- Go for a bike ride
- Take scooters to a local scooter park or quiet car park
- Explore a local nature reserve. If they complain a walk is boring, send them on a scavenger hunt. The Woodland Trust has a good list of suggested items.
- Build a den in the woods.
- Go geocaching with your mobile phone, like a treasure hunt in your local area. Just take a few little toys with you, to swap for whatever your kids take from the cache when they find it.
- Unleash Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, another augmented reality app like Pokemon Go, to get kids outdoors.
- Sign up for the free Summer Reading Challenge at your local library.
- Go swimming at your local council pool. Near us, you pay £2 for a registration card, and then kids can swim for free at fun sessions all summer at the Hadleigh and Kingfisher Sudbury pools.
- Get running. Try a Parkrun Junior or 2K Great Run Local. Luckily the children’s versions are shorter, if you’re not a big runner yourself. Check out my post on cheapo fitness if you do want to start running.
- Paint rocks at home, add the Love on the Rocks facebook group reference, then choose where to leave them for people to find.
- Scour charity shops to stock up on craft materials, toys, books and board games at pocket money prices. Our travel Connect 4 has been worth its weight in gold.
- Book free sessions at local stores, such as arts and crafts at Hobbycraft, gardening at Dobies, or pet care at Pets at Home. Warning: setting foot inside Pets at Home can be a risky strategy if you’re trying to avoid either a) spending money b) acquiring (more) pets.
Entertain kids for less further afield
- Set out for the seaside – just don’t forget your own picnic, refillable bottles, buckets, spades, balls, sun cream and swimming costumes, so you can spend less on arrival!
- Check local listings. We’ll be heading out to spot elephants in Ipswich on Elmer’s Big Parade in aid of St Elizabeth Hospice. We also enjoyed going to the Ipswich Maritime Festival last year, which is back on 17 and 18 August. I’m a big fan of village fetes and church fairs too.
- Make a morning cinema trip. Cinema tickets are super cheap if you can persuade everyone out of the house in time for a 10am to 11am cinema screening. Catch up on any big releases you missed a few months back for around £2.50 per person, at the likes of Cineworld Movies for Juniors, ODEON kids, Empire JNRS and Vue Mini Mornings.
- Scan museum listings. Loads of museums have free entry, and many run special activities during school holidays. Particularly handy if the weather is rubbish!
- Go fruit picking with your own containers, and aim to bring back more strawberries and raspberries than you actually eat…
- Take a train. During the summer holidays, kids can travel off peak for just £1 each way on Greater Anglia, so we’ve had great days out in Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds and Norwich. I also pay £30 a year for a Network Railcard*, which cuts a third off my tickets when travelling off peak in the Network Railcard area.
- Use 2 for 1 vouchers with a train trip. Check out whether you can get 2 for the price of 1 entry to attractions at the Days Out Guide. This works particularly well for the big London attractions like the London Eye, London Dungeons, Cutty Sark and London Zoo.
- See a London show. Take advantage of Kids Week during August to get a free child ticket with every adult ticket at participating shows, plus up to two additional half-price child tickets.
- Go to the races. Newmarket runs Family Fun Days, with free tickets for children. We have a great time sticking £1 bets on our favourite horses.
- Look out for vouchers on cereal packets or biscuits offering 2 for 1 entry, adults go free, or free kids tickets. We’ve visited Sea Life centres and Legoland off the back of cereal packets! I even wrote a post all about visiting Legoland on a budget.
- Swap loyalty points for tickets. Tesco Clubcard vouchers and Nectar points can be worth way more if you use them for entry tickets rather than food shopping. We particularly loved the playground at Pensthorpe in Norfolk, thanks to Tesco Clubcard.
- Scroll through sites like Wowcher or Groupon, for discounts on local attractions such as soft play, trampoline parks, paint ball and climbing walls.
- Make the most of membership. If you have forked out to join the National Trust* or English Heritage*, look out for special summer activities as a reason to revisit familiar places.Near us, English Heritage runs Framlingham Castle, Orford Castle, Audley End and the Landguard Fort at Felixstowe, while we’ve visit Melford Hall, Ixworth, Sutton Hoo, Bourne Mill and the Dunwich nature reserve with our National Trust membership.
- Use the 2 for 1 entry card from Gardeners World magazine. Near us, we’ve loved the Place for Plants and Helmingham Hall. My top tip is to watch out in January for subscription offers when you might get for example 5 copies for £5, including the all-important May issue with the garden entry card!
Food for less when out and about
Eating out is always going to cost more than food you’ve prepped yourself. So my top tips are:
- Pack a picnic. I rarely seem to venture out of the house during the summer without a picnic. Check out my tips for thrifty packed lunches here.
- Take refillable water bottles. Ring the changes if you don’t fancy water all the time, with squash or smoothies
- Stash some snacks. Even if you don’t take a full on picnic, shoving a couple of bits of fruit or packets of crisps in your handbag can cut out trips to the shops
- Buy sweets before the cinema. Yes, I smuggle snacks into the cinema. We nip to the supermarket for big £1 bags of sweets, nab Wilko pick and mix or pick up popcorn at Poundland.
- Buy more ice creams. Multipacks from a supermarket freezer always cost less per cone or lolly than buying them each individually, or queuing up at an ice cream van.
- Eat outside. Takeaway food will be cheaper than eating in, worth remembering if the weather is good and you fancy chips on the beach!
- Take advantage of Kids Menus. If you’re ready to branch out from Happy Meals, I’m a big fan of the Prezzo £1 kids menu with every adult meal purchased. They even run a refer a friend scheme – click here for a £10 voucher, and if you use it, I’ll get one too.
- Pay in points. You can also spend supermarket loyalty rewards in restaurants, such as swapping Nectar Points for Pizza Hut vouchers.
Now – over to you. What are your favourite ways to entertain kids for less in the summer holidays? Do share in the comments – I’m always looking for new ideas!
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