There’s a reason it costs, on average, £230k to raise a child in the UK – weekends and school holidays.
And I only have one child.
And an NHS. And free education until the age of 18. AND free school meals until Year 3.
Everyone rushes to shower you with gifts in baby’s early days – the outfits really are adorable – but the moment the lively child-ager needs to get out and about, that’s when my pocket is hit the most. A day just popping into town, never mind visiting an attraction, clears my purse of £20-£30, even with a visit to Poundland for the obligatory treat for being good, and not an actual toy shop.
Plus: 12 weeks’ school holidays per year, AND 52 weekends?!
But it’s okay - I’ve compiled a handy A-Z guide of free-ish (but certainly less than a small mortgage) activities for children of most ages. As Maui would sing, You’re Welcome. (Sorry, not sorry).
A good few of these activities may come across as creative, and even if you think that you don’t have a creative bone in your body (I’m sure Scientists are working on a discovery any day now) ...creativity only means a willingness to try something. If you can think, you can create.
Feel free to add your own activities in the comments below!
Abstract Art time – dig out your old wall paper rolls, or even tape newspapers and/or paper together for an arty afternoon. If it’s a sunny day head outside to draw body outlines and paint outfits on, or just mix up your paints for a quick science lesson on primary and secondary colours. If it’s dodgy weather (ie, August), make sure you put a blanket/additional newspaper, so that you don’t end up with an abstract carpet.
Cost: Under £3, depending on resources (papers/tape/paint)
Beach craft. Whether actual sand, or play sand, driftwood, pebbles, shells, or even seaweed can all be used at the beach, in most weathers (I’d avoid storms). Build the tallest tower out of pebbles, or longest line of shells, or instead of sand castles, create sand animals? Take photos of your creativity and upload to an online scrapbook (or a real one!)
Cost: could be around £5-10 for travel, as most places in the UK are either minutes to a couple of hours from a beach. Packed lunches, flasks of tea reduce the costs.
Colours. Whether paint or crayons or chalks, or coloured pencils (felts are a bit naff for this activity) teach/remind your child about the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and ask them to guess/remember what three secondary colours can be made (purple, green, orange).
Cost: whatever colours you have available. Poster paints can be bought for around £1 per bottle and last for ages. A packet of coloured pencils will cost around half a cup of Costa.
Den building. Chairs, blankets, teddies for inside. Washing lines, sheets, teddies for outside. Add books/fairy lights as needed.
Cost: a morning, afternoon or evening.
Elephant noises. Or horse. Or duck. Or giraffe. Next time you’re stuck on a bus/in traffic/inside because of the rain (why are we not in muddy puddles?!)/bored of the TV play Guess the Animal Noise.
Cost: big fat nowt. Maybe a little embarrassment if you’re on public transport, but I bet someone will join in.
Fly the flag. Fish out your art materials and the Internet and have a go at creating flags from the countries of the world. Could use paper, card or bedding, if you’re feeling adventurous.
Cost: bit of online time. Remember not to get too distracted by blogs!
Go to a different park. Assuming the weather is decent, and/or you have wellies, why not head out a little further and go to a different park to your local one? Or playground, whatever you call the swings/slides/climbing frames place. If you are at a park with trees, collect leaves for future art projects. Stay away from stinging nettles and anything poisonous.
Cost: bit of research (of parks/playgrounds/poisonous leaves)
Hopscotch or hula hoop competition. You could draw an outline in your garden (or just practice hopping). If you don’t have the large hula hoop, you could always see how many Hula Hoops you can build onto your fingers.
Cost: minimal. Plus Hula Hoops money.
Inflatadays – each holiday our local community centre will host an Inflatadays event. Lots of bouncy castles. Take Mum and Child friends and you’ll easily lose a day.
Cost: around £4-£6 for six hours of bouncing, and or popcorn/cheesy chips. Perfect found-a-fiver-in-your-coat-pocket treat.
Journaling isn’t just mindfulness for adults. Either create an online diary of your rememberies – Google is great software for this – or use A4 paper, polypockets and a ringbinder for physical reminders of what you’ve been up to.
Cost: whatever stationery you need.
Kite building. I’ve never successfully flown a kite for more than a few minutes, but there’s great fun to be had from making your own kite. Use whatever materials you have to hand – twigs or garden bamboo for the structure plus lightweight material - baking paper or tissue paper work. You could even build tiny kites with straws and paper.
Cost: perhaps tissue paper or baking paper.
Library. If your local library hasn’t closed, this is a great escape – most libraries now open from 8.30-6pm and have a host of free activities for children, from story time, to Lego or Coding or film clubs. You can also renew books online, to save fines.
Cost: free. Or perhaps bus fare/parking. Or fine money if you forgot to renew.
Make. Absolutely anything. With whatever materials you have at home. Tip – check your recycling before you throw it away; cereal boxes, egg cartons, toilet roll tubes, bottle tops can all be used for art projects.
Cost: Free. Bit of imagination or Pinterest searching for art projects. Remember you have a child waiting for you, too.
Nature. Children are endlessly fascinated by nature, and there are great online resources to help you identify leaves/birds/insects/flowers. Leaves can be used for leaf-rubbing activities, too. Flowers can be pressed or made into chains. I’d leave the birds and the insects behind.
Cost: fresh air.
Open a shop. Dig out all that plastic that Santa and Grandparents gleefully buy and create your own shop. Depending on the child’s age, they could write the signs, and labels.
Cost: Nowt. Even if you don’t have a till, you can use buttons/beads/game counters for money, and sell anything, even if it’s pretend.
Penny rubbing. Find any coins – don’t even have to be British coins – and lay a sheet of paper over them. Rub away with the side of a crayon to reveal a magic picture! Same principle applies to leave rubbing.
Queen (or King)-for-an-hour. First they’re the boss, then you are. Keep switching roles as needed.
Cost: they’ll likely prefer being the boss. You could get the crafts out and make crowns/sceptres, too.
Rice-Crispie cakes. Or Cornflakes. Or any cereal you have in your cupboard. Lots of recipes and variations online. Great for leftover Christmas or Easter chocolate, too.
Cost: Whatever cereal/chocolate/marshmallows/sprinkles you have in the cupboards.
Send a postcard, or a letter, or a card to a friend. You could pop it through their letter box if they’re local, or incorporate a Post Office trip (if it isn’t Sunday) and buy a stamp.
Cost: have you seen the price of stamps lately? There’s a reason we email and WhatsApp. But, still, great for children to learn about the Post Office, and how important it is to save money.
Take photos of your adventures and head to your nearest Quick Print booth (many supermarkets have these).
Cost: possibly around 50p a print. Costs less if you order online, but isn’t as spontaneous waiting a week for delivery.
Up and go to a cafe. My daughter loves choosing her own food and many cafes will have deals on during school holidays. They’re not daft. Take a magazine and colours/paper for your little one(s) to extend the stay, and enjoy that zone out latte.
Cost: you’ve done so well saving on the other activities that this will be £8 well spent.
Volcano. Hit the YouTube for instructions and the kitchen cupboard for vinegar and bicarb, and have fun creating your own volcanoes. Build with newspaper and glue (flour and water if you don’t have glue) and paint. You could play the Floor is Lava Game whilst waiting for your creations to dry.
Cost: £1-2 if any materials are needed. Perhaps a sheet to protect surfaces, too.
Wheels up. Head out for a cycle/scooter/roller blade hour/afternoon.
Cost: whatever wheels you have in your shed.
Cross your feet and try to walk. Cross your arms and try to eat. Be silly, but be safe.
Cost: depends what you break. (Hopefully not limbs)
YouTube your day away, with your child. There are endless options, whether learning songs from your favourite Disney films, or watching (and then playing) Toy Reviews.
Cost: depends if you ‘play’ at reviewing toys your child already has, or if you have to head out to Smyths/The Entertainer.
Zone out milkshake. See who can blow the biggest bubbles. Tip – only pour half the mixture in the glass, to make room for bubbles.
Cost: you may need to nip out for milkshake mixture, or you may head out to a cafe.
So, there you go, 26 or so activities to reach for next time your child yells, ‘I’m bored’. You could even ask them to say a number between 1-26 and the activities become random. Until they know which letter of the alphabet they’re dealing with.
Let me know which of these work best for your family...or if you have your own Go To list of activities to occupy the weekends and the summer.