Christmas is over, the long-awaited summer holidays are in full swing and the kids want to be entertained...
Yet it can be a hard time for some families who may have spent all their hard earned cash on making Christmas special. Australians like to spend A LOT at Christmas.
Days out during the holidays can be expensive, especially if you’ve got to keep the kids entertained for six weeks. But fear not, there are ways to have fun with your children without breaking the bank.
Our guide is packed with 30 free things to do with your children this summer and offers great ideas for days out and new ways to play, to make sure you all have fun over the summer break.
1. Explore your local park and wetlands
If a trip to the park or playground is a regular occurrence, step it up a notch. Instead of playing normally on all the play equipment, use it as an obstacle course and time the children on their way around.
If your local wetlands allow it, take a net and magnifying glass to do a spot of pond dipping: catch a net full of pond water, pour it into a tub and use a magnifying glass to inspect your catch.
2. Cycle the rail trails
Australia’s dormant rail network has provided kilometres of trails to explore by bike. No matter what state you’re in, pick up a map of the local rail trails and go cycling. In some regions, like the Yarra Valley in Victoria, there are harvest trails where you can stop off at selected cafes and wineries to sample the local produce, which should keep the whole family happy.
3. Go camping with friends
Most Australians love camping but it can be hard to get a place at a campground if you haven’t booked months before. Instead, set up tents in the back garden and invite some friends over to stay the night.
If you think the children are responsible enough, allow them to set up their own camp kitchen so they can prepare their own meals. You’ll be surprised how many children will love this freedom. And if you’re in the backyard, you know they’ll be safe.
4. Build a potions table out of scrap wood
It’s time to dig deep under the house and pull out your cobweb-covered scrap wood. There’s finally a use for it. Build a rudimentary table, child height, out of old wood lying around the garden. It doesn’t have to be perfect–the kids won’t care. In fact, the shoddier the better.
Let them go crazy painting and decorating in whatever way they like and then place it in the garden in a shady spot and declare it a potions table for making all sorts of concoctions. It’s a guaranteed winner no matter what their gender or age.
Dig out old tubs, plant pots, takeaway containers and a few spoons you don’t mind getting ruined. Show them what flowers they’re allowed to pick and what they are not allowed to use in the potions, and let them get creative. Potion tables are especially good if you need some time to yourself over the holidays. You won’t see them for hours.
5. Make your own stop animation movie
Channel your inner Aardman and dust off your camera tripod. (Finally, a use for the tripod you swore you’d use more when you bought it!) Get your kids to dig out the characters they want to use. Shopkins or Skylanders figurines, dinosaurs or farm animals, it doesn’t matter–they can use anything.
Get them to draw a background on a piece of cardboard–the back of a cereal box works well–and also do a foreground. Set up the camera on the tripod and take a series of pictures.
You can help stitch the photos together online to make a film using free software. Alternatively, use an iPad and download Stop Motion Studio or a similar app to make your movie direct from an iPad or phone.
6. Make mudpies in the garden
All children love to get elbow deep in mud to make pies and other equally messy creations. Give them a couple of tubs, play teacups and utensils to make the moment last longer.
Show them how to use plants and flowers to decorate the pies and cupcakes. Better still, use any kitchen play equipment you may have and get them to make whole mud meals. Have fun tasting them!
7. Visit the local art gallery or museum
We are incredibly lucky to live in a country where most museums have free entry, and put on amazing exhibitions during school holidays.
The National Gallery of Victoria runs a kids summer festival every year, where most activities laid on are free.
Zoos across Australia have free entry for children over the holidays, and museums like the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney or Museum of Central Australia offer opportunities for children to find out about their country’s past.
8. Build a giant in-house cubby
For the best cubbies, get a few kitchen chairs and a couple of doonas. Help the children make the basis of the cubby, then give them sheets and blankets to do the rest themselves.
Secure where you need to with clothes pegs. Add a few cushions and pillows to the cubby floor and it’s done.
Give the children torches and allow them to take toys and books into the cubby. If you’re brave offer a snack in there–perfect for days that are too hot or rainy.
9. Bake a cake
No matter what age they are, all children love baking. It’s a great way to work on their maths and reading too, without them realising.
Let the children choose what they want to cook–within reason, of course–and encourage them to get the ingredients out of the cupboard and measure everything before you start.
If you have a couple of children, it’s a good idea to split the mixture in two so they have their own bowls. Or let them take turns at who’s doing what.
Remember, the decorating is the best bit so make sure you have lots of toppings once the cake cools.
10. Get your garden ready for the next season
You either love gardening or hate it, but chances are your kids will enjoy digging in the dirt no matter how you feel.
If they’re old enough, let your children have their own secateurs to trim back dead branches–although it’s probably best not to let them loose on your prized roses. Give them free rein on bushes and other greenery you plan to chop back anyway.
Get the children to prepare their own veggie patch for planting. Show them what they need to do and explain the type of soil you need.
Let them turn the soil over, dig out the weeds and apply new topsoil. This fosters a sense of ownership so when it’s time to plant the seeds and look after the veggies as they grow, they’ll want to be involved.
11. Make a book
There are often book making workshops on over the summer holidays, but you can do this with your child in the comfort of your own home.
All you need some A4 sheets of paper and pens. Fold the paper into book form in whatever way the children feel they should. Don’t stress if it’s not perfectly folded.
Then go through the basics of making a story–you need a character, a problem to solve and a solution. Throw in an antihero for good luck and you’ve got the basis of most children’s stories.
Get your child to write down a rough idea of the story on a spare piece of paper and ask how they will illustrate the book. Then make the real thing.
This can be as elaborate or as simple as the child wishes, and depends on how much input is required from the parents.
12. Devise a treasure hunt for your friends
This can be as easy or as elaborate as you’d like to make it. Younger kids can draw pictures to leave clues around the house or garden, while older children can write out clues and draw maps to lead the way to the treasure.
It’s perfect when other children come over for play dates or sleepovers–keeps a multitude of kids entertained at the same time.
13. Begin to teach your children financial skills/literacy
There are so many opportunities to teach your children about finances throughout the holidays. Monopoly is a good introduction to using money and getting used to currency.
Let your child be the banker and count the money out to each player. Playing with dice too is a good way of helping them understand the concept of numbers.
If your children are old enough, allow them to pay for the goods you buy at the shops. Use cash and get the receipts so you can go over the purchases afterwards.
Maybe give them some pocket money for chores they’ve done over the holidays so they can start to appreciate hard-earned money.
14. Learn how to skateboard
You will, of course, need a skateboard to do this so it’s not entirely free if you haven’t already got one. Put one on the Christmas list in preparation for the holidays if not!
It’s a good idea to get a full-size board even for kids, as there’s more surface area for them to get their balance. Don’t waste your money on a mini board.
Then hook them up with some YouTube videos for beginners and you’ll soon have your very own Tony Hawk skimming around the house.
15. Investigate the neighbourhood with a magnifying glass
Children really don’t need very much to keep them entertained, so while it may seem you’re copping out by giving them a magnifying glass and letting them loose on the neighbourhood, it can actually be hours of fun.
Go with them and encourage them to look at the little things. Lichen, moss and ants make good studies.
16. Make your own slime
If you haven’t already been pestered to distraction about making slime, don’t fret, the day will come. And if you’re the type of parent who likes to get their hands dirty, roll up your sleeves and pay attention.
There are multiple ways of making slime. You can use foam and glitter, nail varnish and cornflour, borax and glue; just check out some recipes online that use everyday household ingredients and get mixing.
17. Do science experiments with household items
Every child loves to dabble in science. It’s fun, exciting, intriguing and gets them thinking. You can either search online for science ideas to do in the home or buy a book to refer to.
A quick and easy experiment is to get a plate of milk (use a wide, flat plate), add some drops of different coloured food colouring, then squeeze some washing up liquid into the middle of the plate.
Stand back and watch the multi-coloured light show as the sciencey bit works its magic.
18. Make a puppet show
Dig out the dusty moving boxes from the garage and give them to your children to make their own puppet show. Once they’ve cut the stage area, get them to take the box outside to paint and decorate it.
Use dolls, soft toys or their favourite toy characters as puppets. If you’re feeling extra creative, help them make their own hand puppets to round off the show.
19. Do some life drawing
Sketching is perfect for whiling away the hours, and it’s easy to please most kids. If you don’t have an easel, use a chopping board or large tray and clip a piece of paper to it.
Choose who’s going to be the model and take turns trying to draw each other. Use a timer so the model doesn’t get bored posing.
Fun tip: try drawing with closed eyes–the results always raise a laugh from budding artists.
20. Create story stones
This can be a two-step process. Take the children out to the beach, a local park or somewhere you know you’ll be able to procure a bunch of large stones big enough for small hands to paint on.
Come up with a list of 15–20 objects and paint each object on a stone. You can use these stones to tell a hundred different stories. Take turns to tell your story and shuffle the stones in between goes.
21. Have a sleepover party
If you’re ready for excitement at level 11, help organise a sleepover party for your little cherubs. However, don’t expect things to stay angelic for too long.
A gaggle of children conspiring to stay up all night can be a challenge, but there’s no doubt a sleepover with your besties or cousins is sure to provide lifelong memories.
22. Do face painting
Not all children like to have their face painted, but most children like to paint faces. This is especially good for you to do with them as a parent–let them go wild on your face, they’ll love it.
Make sure to use face paints that are safe for all ages, and check they’re easily removed from clothes and surfaces. If you want to get serious, show the children examples online and get them to copy them.
23. Make your own play dough
This can fill up half the day and is perfect for children of any age. There are numerous recipes for making play dough, but the easiest is a non-cook dough using flour, salt, water, food colouring and a dash of oil.
It takes a while to make and provides hours of fun. If it’s stored in an airtight container it can be used and reused for weeks.
24. Go digging for bugs
Back out in the garden, give your child a glass jar and small hand-held spade. Pop some greenery into the jar then get digging.
Overturn stones and soil, and lift up pot plants to find lots of juicy creepy crawlies. Scoop then into the jar and try and identify what you’ve caught.
Let the kids take pictures of each bug so they can find out more information about them. Older children might like to draw them too.
25. Take a hike
Head for the hills and get reconnected with nature. It’s one of the best ways for a family to bond, and while some children may moan at the outset, if you keep the hike interesting they’ll be skipping along before you know it.
Stop and look at the small things, try to spot wildlife, and always remember to look up–you never know what you’ll see in the treetops.
26. Visit the local library
We’re lucky to live in a society that revels in reading and makes books available to all. Take your kids to the library for the day and relax.
Find a comfortable spot and read to them or with them. Some libraries run activities over the school holidays so check your local council’s website to see what’s on.
27. Stage a play/dance/music performance
When children put on a performance, laughs are guaranteed. Encourage them to write a play, choreograph a dance routine or put on a musical show.
If they’ve been learning an instrument or attending dance classes throughout the year, this is their time to shine with just you as the audience. No pressure, guaranteed smiles.
28. Go to the beach
How could you possibly get through school summer holidays without a trip or two to the beach?
You might have a favourite spot you go to all the time, but why not mix it up a little over the holidays and check out a few new beaches you’ve never been to?
Take a boogie board and buckets and spades and you’re sorted for the day.
29. Picnic in a new location
Australia is a big place and no matter where you live there’s bound to be a few places you haven’t explored yet. Get out a map, have a chat with the kids and pick a new place to visit.
There are amazing National Parks and reserves in every state with areas for picnicking and trails to explore.
30. Go volunteering
When you’re a child it’s easy to think the world revolves around you. Help open their minds to new experiences and people by signing up to volunteer for a good cause over the summer.
It could be something as simple as helping pick up the rubbish from the beach every day, helping to maintain the local community gardens or feeding the chickens at school.
Anything that helps instil a sense of responsibility in everyday life will have an effect on other areas of their life too.
Remember, children will find their own fun. Let them get bored. Left to their own devices, not long after crying boredom they’ll find something exciting to do.
When you do need to step in, rest assured there are more than 30 ways to entertain your children for free. You just need to get imaginative and utilise the free resources on offer within your community and around town.
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