18 Free (Or Cheap) Things To Do With Kids In The School Holidays

Never mind trekking in the Himalayas, running a marathon or swimming the Channel. Surely the biggest achievement in modern day society is surviving the school summer holidays! For a start, there’s the logistical headache of trying to organise enough days off work and sort out childcare for the rest, then there’s the need for Marie Kondo-levels of organisational skills to keep kids happy and entertained during the holidays.

Yes, it’s good for kids to be bored. And yet…. it can be a bit stressful too. Because it usually results in:

“Muuum, I’m bored”

“What can I do Mum?”

“Mum, what are we doing today?”

“Muuuuuuuuuum!”

So as a gift from me to you, I’ve pulled together a bunch of ideas for free – or cheap – things to do with your children in the school holidays. Some of these are things we do and some are suggestions from friends. You’re welcome!

  1. Do the Summer Reading Challenge at your local library. Organised by The Reading Agency, you can pop along to the library, get a Reading Challenge card, choose six books that your child wants to read and then they collect rewards along the way. It’s such a good way to turn reading into a bit of a game, and in previous years, the 8-year-old has had a bit of a competition with her friends over who can finish their six books first. COST: FREE.
  2. If you live near to an Apple Store, they do free sessions for kids, all year round. We’ve been to a Sphero coding session and a Design Your Own Emoji session, and we’re booked to go to a Make Your Own Theme Music session soon – you just need to pre-book spaces on the Apple website. We were really impressed by the sessions we went to – the guy running the events was brilliant with the kids and kept them all engaged throughout. COST: FREE.
  3. Make a scrapbook – we do this every summer. We buy an A4 notebook from WHSmith, print off photos that we take throughout the holidays, on our home printer, which the 8-year-old cuts out, glues them in, decorates the page and writes about what she’s done. It’s a great, cheap, ongoing project over the holidays. It’s also really nice to look back on in years to come! COST: £1.99.
  4. I blooming love a good garden centre. If that makes me middle-aged then so be it! Our nearest one has fish to look at (free aquarium!), a free mini soft play, nice gifts to buy and a large cafe. Best day out ever! Dobbie’s Garden Centres offer a free Little Seedlings club – on the first Sunday of every month and during the summer holidays, you can book in for 60 minute workshops. Aimed at kids age 4-10 they have games, crafts, planting seeds and learning about a nature topic. COST: FREE.
  5. Head out on a woodland walk or a walk along the coast for a free adventure. Print off some nature challenges from the Woodland Trust website and you can spend the day tree spotting, collecting items on a scavenger hunt or – when you stop for a well-earned rest and cuppa – colouring animal masks. COST: FREE.
  6. Go to a Pets at Home workshop. Happening nationwide, Pets at Home offer free workshops which teach kids (age 5-11) about caring for animals and giving them a chance to handle some of the small pets in the store. COST: FREE.
  7. If you’re eating out, head to a restaurant with a ‘Kids eat free’ offer. We try to take packed lunches and picnics when we can, during the holidays, to keep the cost of a day out down. But when we do go to a restaurant, we aim for one with an offer. Recently, I’ve spotted offers at Yo! Sushi, Bella Italia, Carluccios, Cafe Rouge, Belgo and Las Iguanas. Have you seen an offer anywhere else? COST: Whatever you order for yourself, so you could get a meal for a family of four for £20.
  8. Book tickets for a cheap kids’ screenings at the cinema. Most of the main cinema chains offer one screening every morning, or at the weekends, in school holidays, at a reduced rate. This is one of our favourite things to do – it’s usually older movies that are on and we sometimes go to see films that we’ve already seen and loved, but you can justify it when it’s only a few quid, can’t you? Offers that I’ve spotted include: Empire £1.75, Odeon £2.50, Cineworld £2.50, Vue £2.49, Picturehouse £2.50. Take your own popcorn and drinks to save even more money (I like to take a flask of tea because I’m secretly 75). COST: Under £2.50 per person.
  9. Look for a free outdoor cinema screening near you. Local to me, we have a few free screenings in the park – some evening showings of films like Dirty Dancing but also some daytime screenings of kids’ films like 101 Dalmations. You can rent a deckchair or just take a picnic blanket to sit on. It’s worth having a Google to see if there are similar free screenings near you. COST: FREE.
  10. Make a stop motion video – one for any budding film makers out there, you can download a free app on your phone or tablet, get a few props and get creating. Here’s a helpful guide on getting started making a stop motion video with kids. COST: FREE.
  11. If you have a branch of The Entertainer, near you, check out the free sessions they offer in-store. Ranging from Hama bead workshops to kinetic sand sessions and meet & greets with characters like Lego Batman, they happen nationwide and you can check what’s happening when on their website! COST: FREE.
  12. Go Geocaching. This is something we haven’t done before but it’s always on my list of things to try. It’s basically the world’s biggest treasure hunt. You download the phone app from the Geocaching website and use it to find hidden ‘geocaches’ (containers) near you. There are over 3 million, worldwide. The rules appear to be, once you find the geocache, you open it and sign the log book inside. There might be items inside that you can swap for something else too. COST: FREE.
  13. Check out whether your local shopping centre is offering any free activities. Our local one – The Glades in Bromley – has a free 40 minute interactive activity called You, Me & The Sea, where kids can learn about oceans, the history of nautical travel, find out about plastic pollution and take a trip on a submarine. COST:FREE.
  14. Head to a city farm. As well as animals to feed, there are often play areas, walking trails, farm shops and sometimes a cafe. And they’re free! Some of the city farms around the UK include Gorgie City Farm in Edinburgh, Deen City Farm near Wimbledon, Stonebridge City Farm in Nottingham, Bath City Farm near Bath, Surrey Docks Farm in south east London and Vauxhall City Farm in south London. COST: FREE.
  15. Have a board game or card game championship. We play so many card games and board games during the school holidays – favourites are UNO, Monopoly, Monopoly Deal (a shorter card game version), Game of Life and Labyrinth. Providing you have some at home, already, COST: FREE.
  16. The Disney Store offer free sessions in-store, with activities like Create your own Forky and a Spider-Man Training Academy – check out times and locations on their website. COST: FREE.
  17. Go swimming! Lots of leisure centres offer cheap sessions during the holidays and many have inflatable assault courses that older kids can go on. A pool near us does sessions for £2.50 per child and it’s so much fun (and really tires them out, which is kind of the point, right?) COST: Varies but from £2.50
  18. Play Wizards Unite – the Harry Potter augmented reality game which seems to be a Potter version of Pokemon Go. It’s free to download the app and then you can find items in ‘the real world’, cast spells and fight creatures. COST: FREE.

Do you have anything else you’d add to this list? Comment below and share with us all! We’re all in this together and with each other’s help we CAN survive the school holidays!

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