How to keep the kids occupied this summer for less

posted by in Budgeting

The summer holidays are here! It can be a tricky task to keep the kids happy for six or eight whole weeks, especially with soaring costs making the task even harder.

kids occupied this summer

Many ‘free days out’ aren’t actually free when there’s the parking, the food, and all the little extras the kids ask for (“Mum can I have another ice cream?”). They all turn a cheap day out into a worry for your bank balance.

But, never fear. No matter what your money situation is, if panic has set in about how to keep the kids entertained without breaking the bank, here’s a bumper list of fun things to do over the summer with kids of all ages.

Enjoy the outdoors for free (whatever the weather)

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 the kids some map skills and try a bit of orienteering?

The Walking Britain and National Trails websites have plenty of free walks and trails to explore. And you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep if you manage to wear the kids out enough.

If cycling is more your thing, get on your bikes and head to sustrans.org for detailed local cycling routes for all ages and abilities.

But if you fancy less greenery, you could search TripAdvisor for activities, tours and free attractions. Loads of the top idea are free, including museums, walking tours, historic sites and fun things to do for the family.

Before you set off, be sure to check Parkopedia for free or cheap parking in the area. Not only could it save you money, it could also prevent you driving around in circles and save your sanity!

Explore your local area

If you want to keep costs down and stay local, there are plenty of sites that list nearby events and attractions – and some are free of charge. Start your search at thingstodowithkids.co.uk and then Google for local sites like Leeds List, Visit London and Visit Manchester.

Tourist information websites and local council sites are also a great place to search out fun things to do.

Arrange a date with the telly

If the kids don’t fancy the outdoors, or the British weather is doing its best to dampen your spirits, why not settle indoors with a good box set or catch up with any TV you’ve missed over the last few weeks?

If they’ve already seen everything, take a trip to the local library instead. You could do a fact-finding mission or just let them get on with it if they’re happy to be bookworms.

Go wild camping

Did you know that camping in the wild is totally free in Scotland? (Provided you’re well away from private property and roads). But, if you want to camp in England or Wales, you’ll need permission from the landowner before pitching your tent. And you might need to pay for it. They don’t usually mind as long as you respect the land and don’t litter.

For details of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, visit Outdoor Access Scotland or Mountaineering Scotland.

Visit a museum or art gallery

The vast amount of fascinating museums and art galleries across the country gives us the chance to teach the kids about history, industry, nature, fashion, science and the universe. You’ll probably learn a lot yourself 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 a few) all totally free of charge.

Visit the Culture24 website for  information about museums and exhibitions across the UK.

Make a homemade ‘bug hotel’ in your garden

Teach the kids all about animals and nature by building a little space for bugs and critters to relax in your garden. Bug hotels give frogs, bees and creepy crawlies a safe hideaway and can be used to show the children what types of animal live in their garden.

Made from scraps of material and natural resources like pine cones, twigs and leaves, you can find a step-by-step guide on making a bug hotel on the RSPB website.

Teach them something new

Have you always wanted the kids to learn another language, or do you have an old violin or recorder collecting dust in the loft? Lessons can be costly but there’s a wealth of free information available on the web. This tip is for the older ones and may take a while to get the hang of, but it could be the start of a new hobby. You could even learn together!

Music not your thing? Try the BBC online language centre, which offers a 12-week free course for beginners.

Have a rainy day games challenge

Chucking it down outside? 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? You can also get the kids involved to make homemade snacks so it’s an even more fun and cost-free day.

If board games are too ‘old school’ for them, why not have an Xbox or PlayStation tournament instead?

Take a trip to a city farm or animal sanctuary

If you’re animal lovers on a small budget, a visit to a city farm or open day at an animal sanctuary can be a lovely experience for all ages.

For example, Devon’s Donkey Sanctuary cares for sick and neglected donkeys and is free to visit. There’s also Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital outside Aylesbury, which has a nursery area where you can watch staff hand-rearing the orphaned birds and mammals during the spring and summer months.

There are plenty of urban farms throughout the UK too. You can find a list of them on the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens website.

Visit churches, cathedrals and castles

If the kids are interested in history and buildings that are thousands of years old, there are many churches, cathedrals and castles you can visit throughout the UK.

A brilliant example is Durham Cathedral, which was founded in 995 and is thought to be the greatest Norman building in England.  And Exeter Cathedral, which was built in the early 12th century, has the longest uninterrupted medieval Gothic vaulting in the world.

You can visit many of these amazing places for free throughout the year. Check websites like English Heritage for more ideas on places to go.

Plan ahead, take a picnic

If you’re heading out, always research before you travel to see where you can save money – like free car parks or attractions on the way. Keep an eye out for vouchers on MoneySavingExpert.com and plan your activities or trips around them (but remember to read the small print).

Another great idea is to always try and pack snacks or a picnic, so you’re not spending a fortune on food if you’re out and about. Those little tips can keep costs low.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you keep your kids entertained over the holidays. Leave us a comment and let us know what you do.

Rory Marshall joined the MoneyAware team in July 2014 after working for our Web Helpline as a debt advisor. In his spare time Rory is a self-confessed technology geek and spends far too much of his spare time on his phone.

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