I worked out recently, my average visit (with two children in tow) to the local soft play costs me on average £40 per visit. Add this to the odd £10 activity here and there and before you know it, you’ve spent enough to bankroll a mini break!
However, it is possible to keep the kids happy and occupied without any cost at all.
Here are 10 free & easy activities to help keep the kids entertained…
1. Treasure Hunt
Treasure hunts are a firm favourite in our house! You need to make sure your treasure hunt is relevant for the age of your child. Younger children will require picture clues, whilst older children can work with written clues. Decide on your treasure – ours is usually something yummy. Then work backwards in writing out your clues. Once written, place your clues around the house and set your little treasure hunters on their way to find their treasure!
If you want to make it more complicated, you can write the clues in riddle form. On our last treasure hunt, I gave the kids a sheet of paper with a missing word. Each clue they found gave a letter that when put together spelled out the password. They needed to work out the password in order to gain their prize. It meant they had to work together and stretched it out that bit longer.
Top Tip: Be sure to put the clues in different rooms on different floors. This makes the hunt last longer and involves a lot of energy burning running around. For example, place the first clue downstairs, the second clue upstairs, the third clue downstairs etc. Or if you only have one floor, place the clues as far apart as possible.
2. Make a movie
This is a great excuse to get the kids doing something productive on the electronics for a change. There are two ways to make a movie. Your traditional video filmed on your phone/tablet or a stop-motion movie created with a free app.
If you opt for the traditional movie making, spend time planning out what your movie’s plot will be, who the characters are, create a script, gather together props. Have a few practices and then action! If you have an iPhone or iPad you can edit the movie on iMovie and add titles etc. You can even make a screening or ‘premiere’ of your movie – grab some popcorn and enjoy.
Alternatively, if you decide to make a stop motion animation you just need to download a free app. We use Stop Motion. It’s really easy to use. You just select your props, work out what you want to happen, set up your first frame and take a picture. Then you move everything in the direction you want ever so slightly, before taking another picture. You repeat this process multiple times until your animation is complete. Afterwards you can easily add on sound effects and titles etc.
Here is the first stop-motion movie my son ever made:
3. Spot & Find Bingo
In my opinion the most awesome of all activities. It elevates a walk around the neighbourhood and turns a shopping trip from boring to fun. It’s completely adaptable and employable anywhere. All you need to do is think about where you’re going, come up with a number of things for your children to spot and then list them on a sheet of paper with a tick box next to them.
If the children are very young, draw or paste a picture instead of writing the word (or if you want your child to start to read the word, why not put both?) Additionally consider putting less things to spot if your child is too young to retain interest. I used to give mine stickers to place on the sheet next to the image when they saw it. Kids just love an opportunity to use stickers. It heightened the engagement level.
We’ve used them at the local woods, the garden centre, walking around streets where we live, on a plane, everywhere. You just need to think about items they are likely to see wherever you are going. For example, if you are walking around the streets near your home, how about adding – a red car, a blue front door, a bird, a street lamp, a postbox etc.
You can provide a reward for spotting everything on the list, it’s really up to you.
Time to play shops! Get everyone to choose a room in your house to create their own shop. Everyone has to pick things they want to sell. Gather your ‘stock’ together and lay it all out to create your store. Cut up small pieces of paper to write price tags on the items. Give out play money (or create some) to each shopkeeper for their till. Then when everyone is ready, visit everyone’s store in turn. You can give out shopping bags to keep your purchases in.
To stretch this activity out further, you can spend some time creating store signs. Give your shop a name and draw a cool logo, to display at the front of your store.
It doesn’t have to be ‘shops’ either – how about other services you would find in a town/city, such as restaurants, doctors, vets, police. Anything that sparks your child’s imagination and interest.
5. Garden Olympics
Gather round for the annual (or whatever frequency you can stand!) family garden olympics. Lay out different obstacles or activities around the garden for the children to participate in. What you do really depends on what you have, but here are a few ideas:
- Skipping rope jumps – how many skips can you do before you falter on the rope?
- Hula Hoop – how long can you hula hoop for before the hoop falls to the floor?
- Penalty shoot out – How many penalties can you score?
- Tennis racket and ball keep ups – how many times can you keep the ball bouncing on the tennis racket before it drops to the floor
- Circuits – include star jumps, hopping, running, jumping over low obstacles, forward rolls, running holding a football between your legs. Anything that gets them moving and that energy burning.
If the weather is rubbish you can still do activities like circuits inside. Although you might want to consider adapting the activities! There are some great ‘get moving’ activities to be found on the Change4Life website – find out more here.
6. Make a story
There are multiple ways to complete this activity. From the traditional picture book creation, to the more crazy and giggle inducing fold-over stories.
Allow your child’s imagination to run wild as you build your little story together. You can draw, cut out pictures, paint, stick anything really – all with just a few sheets of A4 and whatever arts and crafts materials you already have at home.
Recently we tried the fold-over stories, it was a lot of fun. You each start by having a piece of paper and pen. At the top you each write the name of a character. The character can be someone you know, someone famous or completely made up with a really silly name. Then you fold that section over (so no-one else can see it) and pass the paper to the person next to you. The next person then writes the ‘where’ before folding it over and passing it on. You continue on for the ‘when’, ‘what happened’ and ‘how it ended’ before unfolding each of the papers and reading the stories in their entirety with some really funny results.
You can also get the kids to set up the teddies and dolly’s to enjoy a special reading of the story or stories you’ve created.
7. Put on a performance
Whether it’s a play, talent show or dance, lots of fun can be had becoming the star of your own show.
Work on your acts, pick out costumes, props, select your music & decide where your performance will be. Make programmes, posters and tickets.
Then curtain up, it’s time for the show.
8. Teddy Bears Picnic
An oldie but a goldie! Get the picnic blanket out, set up the food – not forgetting the play food for the teddies – and enjoy a really fun lunch or afternoon snack.
If the weather is rubbish, how about setting up the picnic blanket on the floor of your living room?
If you want to extend the activity, consider creating invites for the teddies!
Don’t forget to include some party games for after the food.
Ages can be spent creating imaginative masterpieces from a box of would-be recycling. Gather together any boxes, tubes, cartons, tubs etc. Put out card, glue, glitter, stickers, feathers, pom poms, paints, colouring pens – any arts and craft materials you have lying around and let them create!
Remember to cover any surfaces they’re making on and also their clothes, the floor – anything you want to protect really.
10. Hidden in plain sight
Whenever I explain this game, people look at me like I’m bonkers. But it gets the kids every time. It also seems to keep them engaged for a reasonable period too. All you need to do is select an object – something like a relatively small teddy or a rubber duck and place it in a room. But not hidden, it needs to be in plain sight. You then send the kids into the room to look for it.
It sounds really easy, but it’s not. It can take awhile for the item to be spotted. And before anyone judges the mental capacity of my kids, I’ve played this game during a lot of play dates and no-one has found it instantly.
I wouldn’t place the item right in the middle of an empty floor, rather place it next to something quite busy. They get really excited when they spot the object. You can go as many times as you want, or you can make it a ‘first to score 5 finds’ type of game. It’s completely up to you.
A lot of these activities are included within my School Holidays Hack: Activity Selection Bag article. It’s a great way to fairly decide which activity to do, especially if you have more than one child!
Need to keep the kids happy & occupied on a long haul flight? (or any flight for that matter) Read: Tips for travelling long haul with children
So there you have them. I’ve tried to pick activities that can be conducted with things you would commonly have in the house, making them free to carry out. Not only are these activities adaptable to what you do have, they are also flexible to the age of your child and the amount of children in your household.
I really hope you enjoy some of these activities as much as my kids and I have. Let me know whether you’ve had fun with them. Are there any other free activities you can recommend? I’m always looking for new ideas! I would love you to get in touch via the comments box below.