Budget-friendly activities for kids
While children eagerly anticipate the school holidays, parents can find it challenging to occupy little ones – especially if they’re on a tight budget.
Here are eight ways to keep your kids entertained without breaking the bank - or your back.
All of these are either super cheap or free. And the best part? They shouldn’t require too much adult input or supervision once the kids get stuck in.
1. Doh you want a minute to yourself?
Every kid loves Play-Doh, but there’s no need to shell out the cash to stock up your supply of the modelling clay – you can make your own from ingredients that you already have stored in your baking cupboard. The recipe below makes a generous amount and even if you had to make a trip to the supermarket to get your ingredients, it would only set you back about £5 at Sainsbury’s, for instance.
Plus, the bits can be used time and again to replenish your stocks.
What’s more, this recipe is so quick and easy that even those who can’t cook (I’m looking at me here!) can do it without trashing the kitchen.
Ingredients for home-made clay:
- Cream of tartar
- Vegetable oil
- Food colouring
Mix two cups plain flour, two tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 cup salt and two tablespoons cream of tartar.
In a measuring cup, mix a few drops of food colouring into 1.5 cups boiling water and add it to the dry mixture in increments, until the texture feels just right.
Allow it to cool and then knead vigorously until it loses its stickiness. If necessary, add a bit of flour.
Then pop the blob on the table and let the kids get cracking.
2. See it, believe it
Looking for an activity that will get your teen off TikTok? Get them to make a vision board.
Put simply, it's a visual representation of something your tween or teen is trying to accomplish, such as a goal or a feeling.
Or, if that seems a bit too wishy-washy an idea for your kid to get on board with, make it hypothetical and all about their dreams - whether it’s planning a new bedroom, discovering their personal style or what they would do if they won the lottery.
Then get out your magazines, give your kid some (age-appropriate scissors) and get them to cut out images and photos of what they envision.
And if you don’t have any magazines or catalogues to hand, you can always print images you see on Pinterest.
3. Rustle up some Rainbow Toast
Want an activity that requires very little prep and clean up, that will also double up as a school holiday morning snack?
Look no further than “Rainbow Toast”.
Just pop some milk into ramekins, add some food colouring and let your little one loose on the bread with a clean paintbrush. Toss the slice in the toaster... and boom! You’ll end up with multi-coloured toast that’s Instagram-worthy.
4. Scavenger hunts made simples
One way to get the kids out of the house and into some fresh air is with an Outdoor Nature Scavenger Hunt.
All you need is an area of park or woodland, a piece of paper, a printer and a pencil.
I often turn to the Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives for free printable scavenger hunts, or Pinterest for tons of free downloadable options for different age groups.
But if you don’t have time for a walk in the woods, and simply need to swing to the shops, don’t despair, particularly if you have toddlers - there’s a trick to making your errands an educational activity for your kids.
Download our guide, then once you get to the supermarket, challenge your kids to look for all of the items on the list (whether you need them or not) then cross them off while you’re in-store.
Want to make these scavenger hunts even easier? Get your kids to use a chunky crayon to tick off each item, as these are unlikely to snap, won’t stain their clothes or damage the store shelves.
Kids can play physical board games together on Facetime or Zoom.
5. Junk model like a pro
Have a quick look around the house and you’ll discover you’re sitting on a gold mine of goodies that your kids will love to use to create junk modelling creations.
Personally, I always keep boxes, ribbons, tissue paper, odd bits of tin foil, packing shells, string and tubes from loo roll, paper towel or gift wrap.
Throw in some glue, tape, scissors, markers, Blue Tac, zip ties and any other bits you can find lying around the house and you'll be good to go.
The best bit? It doesn’t cost a penny, keeps the kids busy for ages – and all those bits out of the bins to boot.
The only problem now is all the “inventions” cluttering up the place, but feels like a small price to pay for an hour of peace and quiet.
6. Create a boredom jar
Ask any parent for the two most annoying words to hear coming from your kids and I bet we'd all agree: “I’m bored!”
While I think there are times when it’s good for kids to be bored, there are also moments when you want to shake things up a bit.
So, a few years ago, my daughter Audrey and I made a “boredom jar”. We filled it up with fun activities for when she feels like there is nothing to do. What’s more, all the suggestions had to be FREE!
Whenever Audrey complains that she’s bored, she can pull a good idea out of a hat - or a jar, for that matter - and she’ll have something fun to do.
All you need is a glass jar, some stickers and a few pieces of coloured paper.
Brainstorm together, write down the ideas on the small strips of paper – yellow for sunny weather and blue for rainy days – then tuck them away for a day when you need a little extra creativity.
A word of warning: Think carefully about what activities you suggest if you want the kids to play independently while you get on with work or chores.
7. Online gaming - but not as you know it
Believe it or not, kids can happily play physical board games together on Facetime or Zoom.
During lockdown, my daughter regularly played Guess Who, Bingo and Battleship with friends in both the UK and Canada – and even though things have opened up over time, it’s still a firm favourite for kids who find concentrating for catching up online a challenge.
8. Competitive fairy gardening
If you want to get the kids outdoors (and off their tablets), why not challenge them with a Fairy Garden competition?
Tell them they can only use bits from the garden (or green waste bin) and use leaves, pine needles and stones to fashion a kingdom fit for fairies.
Set a timer for 60 minutes and tell them they will be scored on creativity, innovation and planning/resource. The winner gets a prize of your choosing.
I’m not saying that they will play with it once after it’s built, but this activity is all about the short-term win for the parents indoors.
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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.