Ideas for everyday living

Parents share their favourite cheap ways to entertain the kids

Determined to dodge another movie marathon? Try these great ways to fill the school holidays instead.

It can be tough to keep kids entertained with activities that don’t revolve around screentime. And, like a lot of things these days, those activities often come with a hefty price tag.

Things can be especially difficult during school holidays, when you might have had to take time off work, or pay for additional childcare, and you have weeks’ worth of time to fill, not days.

So we’ve asked parents from across the country to share their favourite low-cost ideas, from days out to playing at home. Take a look and get inspired.  

Explore the great outdoors

“As an outdoorsy family, we spend a lot of time on long walks in the countryside with the dog. We often take a picnic, drinks and a flask so we don’t spend any money whilst we’re out. We keep the kids entertained by spotting wildlife, and collecting leaves, sticks and flowers to create a collage back at home. We talk to them about what we see, nature and why we need to protect the environment. And, of course, they just love to run, climb, hide and take it all in!”

- Emma, 40, Hampshire

Make magazines go further

“Like lots of parents, I sometimes get persuaded to buy my daughter an over-priced magazine. To make it go a little further, once she’s read it, I go through and cut out all the characters and save any stickers. Then she makes pictures out of them, gluing and sticking – she usually spends more time doing this than she spent with the actual magazine itself!”

- Amy, 30, Dorset

Make a movie

“Lego is a firm favourite in our house. To take it one step further, we use Lego to make our own stop-motion videos. I use an app on my phone, and we build and move the characters to create our own animated shorts. The only limit is your imagination!”

- Jason, 43, Bakewell

Get the kids in the kitchen

“We love a ‘kids make dinner’ night! We set a budget and sometimes a theme. The kids plan together and come to us with ideas. Then we take them to the supermarket with a calculator to add up as they go along – sometimes they have to change the menu if they don’t have enough money. Then we come home and they make us the meal. It’s a great way to keep them busy and encourage them to be creative, and also teach them some valuable life skills.”

- Gia, 41, Manchester

Sit for your portrait

“My son and I look up drawing tutorials on YouTube Kids, and we sit and create things together. We also draw portraits of each other. It’s a lovely and creative bonding activity.”

- Victoria, 51, Somerset 

Watch it grow

“If we can recycle bits and bobs from the house, we will. My daughter and I do lots of craft things together and recently she really enjoyed making a terrarium from a plastic bottle. It’s really easy:

01  Take the label off the bottle and mark five inches from the top and bottom.

02  Cut around the bottle where you made your marks and discard the middle.

03  Put stones in the base, add some soil and pat it down.

04  Plant a seed, top with some more soil and give it a little water.

05  Put the top of the bottle back on and there you have it!

Depending on the age of your children, they can draw pictures or write about what they see as they watch their plants grow.”

- Natalie, 36, Cheshire 

Become a streaming star

“My son loves watching gaming videos on YouTube, so I used to prop an old smartphone up aimed at the TV and record him gaming as he narrated. Most of the time I didn’t even upload the videos, he just loved playing at being a YouTuber!”

- Robbie, 40, Lincolnshire

Take a field trip

“When my son was younger, he was obsessed with being a builder, so we would take him to the DIY shop to watch wood being sawn up on the timber-cutting machines. We’d also drive by building sites to watch the diggers. There was a new housing estate being built near where we lived, so we’d go quite often – hours of fun for free!”

- James, 43, Nottingham

Have a pre-loved game night

“Brand new games can be so expensive, so we love to scour the local charity shops looking for board games and set aside time over the weekends to play together. We’ve found all sorts of hidden gems! The kids love learning new games and playing old favourites.”

- Carly, 41, York

Take a hike

“My kids and I love to go hiking in the Lake District – aside from the fuel to get there, it’s free. There’s the challenge of walking named mountains and an achievement when the challenge is complete. A flask of hot chocolate by the lakeside in winter (or a dip in the water during the summer) is a great way to finish the adventure.”

- Joseph, 36, Harrogate

Embrace adventure

“I look up where’s cheap to get to on the train and take the kids out for a day trip to a new town or city. Plenty of places have museums and art galleries with free entry, which is perfect for the colder months. It suits our budget and feels like an adventure.”

- Jo, 41, Warwickshire

Paint the house

“We let the children use paint sticks to draw all over the windows - it's easy to clean off, and if you have a lot of windows, can take up a lot of time! Sometimes we’ll write a different theme on each window, and they can draw to that theme, then go to the next window and do that one. It's a really fun way to decorate your house as well, especially for occasions like Valentine’s Day, Halloween or Christmas!”

- Jupiter, 26, Harlow

Jo Kingsley

Jo is a writer, mental health blogger and mum of two.

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