Entertain kids for free in the school holidays


It won’t have escaped your notice that the school holidays are fast approaching – or for some people they’ve already begun. For many parents this fills the heart with dread: the squabbles, the boredom – and the expense. Grandparents are also racking their brains, whether the grandchildren are coming to stay or whether you’re helping out with child care during the school break. Yes, you love to see the children, but keeping them occupied and happy can be a real challenge, especially if you need to do so without breaking the bank.

As a matter of fact, money isn’t the real issue: you could spend a lot of money trying to entertain and occupy kids, only to have them still whinging and moaning that they’re bored. The truth is that a bit of imagination and preparation will ultimately contribute more towards a happy holiday than a whole pile of cash will.

The ideas below are free – or very nearly free, often reusing or recycling items the children already have. Many of them will fill hours or even a whole day in a very enjoyable way. I’m not going to pretend you won’t need to get involved: most of these need an adult at least to set them up and start things off (although obviously this depends to some extent on the age of the children). But what we’re talking about here is spending quality time with the children, which has to be better than sorting out the arguments!

Before the holidays begin you need to

Read through the list of ideas and mark the ones you think would work for you and your children or grandchildren
• Make a list of items you need
• Start collecting things together: check what’s in the attic, shed and cupboards which might be useful. Sort out some old clothes for dressing up: save old boxes, packaging and any other craft materials; round up pens and stationery, paper and unused notebooks. Ask the family for useful items they’ve got and don’t need.
• Start talking to the kids about some of the ideas you’ve got planned. That way you start to build up some anticipation and you can listen and include their ideas to make the activities even better.

30 Happy School Holiday Ideas

1. On the first day of the holidays hold a family meeting and plan the calendar. Decide what will be done on each day and write these on a chart. Decorate the chart and display it. If plans change, update it.
2. Put on a little show or play for family or friends. Maybe dramatise a favourite book, film or TV show or organise a programme of short items like dancing and sketches. The standard doesn’t have to be great; the enjoyment is in the preparation. Don’t forget to make a nice programme.
3. Have a home disco: plan the music and take it in turns to DJ. Prepare decorations for the room and cool outfits.
4. Arrange some races, ball throwing and jumping events in the garden or park. Include an obstacle course using whatever’s available, including some dressing up. Use a tape measure and a timer to improve times and distances; keep a record.
5. Use clothes and materials you’ve already got to put on a fashion show. The models could either be kids, teddies or dolls.

6.Arrange games tournaments (either a knock-out or a league) to continue throughout the holiday. Competitors could be just family, or friends could take part too. Include every game you can think of: sports like football, cricket and badminton; all the computer games you have; all the board games you own. Prizes can be home-made tinfoil medals.
7. Sort through the toyboxes and cupboards to find everything that has never been used or hasn’t been used for a long time. Arrange a time to play with them or try out puzzle books etc. Use it as an opportunity to take unwanted items to the charity shop.
8. Plan a scavenger hunt: each child is given a list of items they have to find. The one who finds them first is the winner. This could take place either indoors, in the garden or somewhere in your locality.
9. Think about friends and family members you haven’t had much contact with lately. Either arrange to see them or write letters or emails to them. Remember to draw some nice pictures for them too.
10. Plan and cook a meal together, using ingredients you already have. Serve it up like a restaurant or teashop meal. Remember to provide a well decorated menu too.

11. Start a kids’ or family blog either on a specific subject or on general matters of interest. These two websites will help junior bloggers get started:



12. Visit your local library. Come home with a stack of good books to read, another pile of books outlining new hobbies to pursue and new games to play. While you’re there, pick up some leaflets about free events for kids in your area.
13. Go to your local park. Play on the swings and slides, than have a kick-about with a football or a game of rounders.
14. Start a collection: cut out pictures and articles of interest from magazines and newspapers; or collect different shaped and coloured leaves; or collect, organise and label photos; or collect and make a list of favourite sayings or pub names in your area. Use scrapbooks to keep items together.
15. Use old cardboard boxes and packaging of all sizes to model things like: boats, houses, cars, robots – anything really. The best glue for sticking is a cheap squeezy bottle of PVA.

16. Visit a museum – most of them are free, but check first.
17. Learn a skill or craft – adults can teach kids what they played or made as a kid. Card games and ball games would be a start.
18. Decide on some challenges to be set during the holidays, then keep a record of how you’re doing. For instance, what could you achieve in sport? What could you make or learn to do? How many books could you read?
19. Make tidying fun: change your bedroom a bit by moving furniture around, reorganising drawers, storage containers etc. Draw and colour some new pictures for the wall and, if feasible, repaint furniture or walls.
20. Put together music collections for different occasions e.g. music to play when I’m sad, or happy or want to dance or concentrate.

21. Start a DVD club with friends: make a list of who owns which films, then book in some dates and times to view them together.
22. Look at wildlife in the garden, park or local wild area. Use the internet or books to identify bugs, birds and flowers. Take photos of them and keep a record or press leaves and flowers.
23. Have a picnic in the garden or somewhere nice nearby. Plan everything first.
24. Make a den, tent or house in the garden: tie lengths of thick string across the garden, fold over old curtains or sheets and peg them. Weigh them down at the bottom. Take up residence!
25. Have a party – make invitations then plan food, drinks, music, games and decorations first. Either celebrate a birthday or, if it’s no-one’s birthday, have an unbirthday. If you don’t want company, just invite the teddies.

26. Visit the pound shop once a week: allow one pound per child to buy whatever they like. (Okay, so this one’s not free!)
27. Do some crafts using materials you already have or trying out kits you’ve forgotten about. Make birthday and Christmas cards using library books and the internet for ideas. Papier mache is a cheap, satisfying craft: you can work wonders with newspaper and PVA glue. And don’t forget to get the paints out one day, maybe having an art or colouring competition.
28. Younger children can make the most of natural resources: water and mud or sand. Provide a mixture of containers and squirty bottles to experiment with and paintbrushes to “paint” the fence with water; “cook” and “eat” mud pies. (Supervise carefully!) Older kids can have a water fight on hot days.
29. Investigate your family tree: interview older relatives and make a plan of who’s related to who.
30. On the final day of the holidays review all the things you’ve done. If you’ve taken photos, look through them and select the best. Maybe write about what you enjoyed most and why – it will be nice to look back on in years to come. Email your thoughts to this blog!

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