It’s difficult to believe that the summer holidays are here already. It can be difficult to keep the kids happy at weekends let alone for six weeks of summer, and soaring costs can make the task a whole lot harder.
Firstly, we know that “free days out” are never free! There’s the parking, the food, the little extras the kids ask for from the shop, and all the other bits that make what you hoped would be an inexpensive and fun day out a worrying time for you and your bank balance.
We’ve recently read that some children are missing out as families can’t afford the entry fees and food for day trips. Maybe it’s because other costs are higher and people are prioritising, to afford other luxuries such as Sky TV instead?
No matter what your financial situation, if panic has set in about how you’re going to keep the kids entertained for six whole weeks without breaking the bank don’t worry as we’re here to help.
Here are our ideas for cheap and cheerful things to do over the summer with kids of all ages.
Take advantage of the summer of sport
There’s plenty of expensive ways to enjoy the Olympics but we’ve listed lots of ways to get involved without spending a fortune. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever host the event again in any of our lifetimes so it would be a shame to miss out.
Enjoy the outdoors (fingers crossed we’ll have the weather for it!)
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could dig out the bikes or trainers and head for the hills for some fresh air and exercise. The Lake and Peak Districts, Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands are all great places to visit. Why not teach them some map skills and try a bit of orienteering?
For details on walking routes, go to www.walkingbritain.co.uk, or www.moredirt.co.uk if you’re going on a mountain bike. The great thing is that you’ll get a good night’s sleep if you manage to wear them out enough!
If you fancy less greenery you could try a city-walking tour. For example Bath offers free two-hour tours each day, and a Jane Austen audio tour that you can freely download on to an MP3 player.
Other cities sometimes charge a small fee but you can find out about free ones by visiting the appropriate tourist board website.
Garden and parks
Apparently summer is in full swing so it should be a good time to see gardens and parks in bloom. You could simply take a walk and enjoy the scenery, try to spot different forms of wildlife or even fly a kite if the weather’s right. The younger ones will always find something to keep themselves occupied for a few hours in a park.
Arrange a date with the telly
If the kids don’t fancy the outdoors or the British weather is doing its best to dampen our spirits, settle in with a good DVD box set or catch up online with television that you’ve missed over the last few weeks.
If they’ve already seen everything take a trip to the local library – you could do a fact-finding mission or just let them get on with it if they’re happy to be bookworms!
Try some wild camping!
Unlike in England and Wales, camping in the wild is free in Scotland, provided you’re well away from property and roads. If Scotland’s too far, you’ll need permission of the landowner before pitching your tent. They don’t usually mind as long as you respect the land.
Visit a museum
The vast amount of fascinating museums across the country gives us the chance to teach the kids about history, industry, nature, fashion, science and the universe – you’ll probably learn lots yourselves too!
You can visit the Natural History Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Media Museum, the National Railway Museum, the National Football Museum and the Science Museum, to name but a few, all completely free of charge.
For information about museums and exhibitions go to www.24hourmuseum.org.uk.
Plant a veggie patch
You can save money and eat healthier by growing your own fruit and vegetables. It’s one of those things that can always be put off so there’s no time like the present to make a start.
Kids of all ages will enjoy the satisfaction of seeing something grow and it gives you things to do later on in the year when they’re ready to eat – you could get them to look into what to cook with once they’ll be ripe.
Check out the Which? guide to growing your own.
Teach them something new
Have you always wanted them to be bilingual or do you have an old violin or even a recorder that’s collecting dust in the loft? Lessons can be costly but there is a wealth of information available for free on the internet. Of course this is for the older ones and may take a while but this could be the start of a new hobby – you could even learn together.
Try the BBC online language centre which offers a 12-week free course for beginners.
Everyone has a collection of old board games like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit at the back of a cupboard. Why not dig them out and invite their friends round to join in? Get the kids involved to make some home made snacks beforehand so the cost doesn’t mount.
If board games are too ‘old school’ for them, have an XBox or PlayStation tournament instead.
City farms and animal sanctuaries
If you’re animal lovers but your budget or time is too tight to have your own pets, go to a city farm or organise a visit to an open day at an animal sanctuary.
Devon’s Donkey Sanctuary cares for sick and neglected donkeys and is free to visit, and Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital outside Aylesbury has a nursery area, where you can watch staff hand-rearing the orphaned birds and mammals, opens to the public during the spring and summer months.
For more information on city farms, go to www.farmgarden.org.uk.
Churches, cathedrals and castles
If they’re interested in history and beautiful architecture that dates back thousands of years there are many churches, cathedrals and castles to visit throughout the UK.
Durham Cathedral, for example, was founded in 995 and is thought to be the greatest Norman building in England, while Exeter Cathedral, which was built in the early 12th century, has the longest uninterrupted medieval Gothic vaulting in the world.
You can visit them for free throughout the year, or check websites such as www.english-heritage.org.uk.
Support the arts
Tap into their creative side and inspire them by and spending an afternoon soaking up art at a gallery. Many institutions, such as the Tate galleries in London, Liverpool and St Ives, are free except for major exhibitions.
Or why not look out for work by local artists, and shows by art schools and colleges, which sometimes exhibit students’ work.
Art lovers should head over to The National Gallery for a large collection of Western European art from the middle ages to the early 20th century. Modern art enthusiasts must see Tate Modern, the contemporary art museum.
They may be inspired enough to make a few pieces of their own when you get back.
Check out your local council website as there’s often lots of free local events that aren’t always as well advertised. They can include free skate parks, exhibitions and open-air dance and entertainment for all ages.
If you’re heading out, always research before you travel to see if you can find free or cheaper parking nearby – this handy website lists free car parks. Keep an eye out for vouchers on MoneySavingExpert.com and plan your activities or trips around them but remember to read the small print.
And finally always try and pack snacks or a picnic so you’re not spending a fortune on food if you’re out and about.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you keep your kids entertained over the holidays. Leave us a comment or pop over to our Facebook page to let us know what you do.
With thanks to our Facebook followers, especially Jill, Helen C, Jane, Helen W and Alison for help with the tips!