It can be super-hard coming up with free things to do in the school holidays. The thing is: there are plenty of things, really. Our kids have just brainwashed us into believing that only a theme park will do. Not true! Not everything on this list is free, but there are plenty of options that are free or low-cost. I snuck one or two more expensive things in there, because they are worthwhile things to do.
The best advice that I can offer to keep things ticking over in the school holidays without too much drama is this:
Have a plan
Kids are used to the very-regimented world of school, so they go totally off the rails when you remove all traces of a schedule. It’s the holidays, so we don’t want to structure the days too much, but do plot out a basic plan of what’s happening and when.
Step 1: Keep a calendar
That is not to say that you’ll be doing something on every single day. No way! Schedule plenty of ‘home’ days, where it’s up to the kids to find things to do. Again, it does help to put some structure into a home day too: even if it’s just ‘morning, noon, afternoon, evening’. That way you can allocate blocks of time for ‘screens‘ and blocks of time for ‘everything else that is good in life.’
Step 2: Divide days into blocks
Noon (presumably lunch time)
This is the fairest way I know to ensure the kids have time off screens. Morning might be screen time one day, with lunch out at a cafe, then outside at home in the afternoon, back to screens in the evening. Another day could be morning chores, lunch at home, screens in the afternoon, family outing in the evening, etc.
Some days will be ‘out all day’ kind of days, too.
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Step 3: Have lots of ideas ready
Okay, so you’ve planned out the days, now it’s time to have lots of ideas ready to go. At the beginning of each week I will get my kids to plot out a basic plan of what they are doing each day. I’ll go through and put in known outings, sleep overs, and screen time. Of course, it’s completely subject to change, but it will build an understanding that they aren’t spending the entire school hols on screens or roaming the streets with their friends.
Here’s my list of ideas to get them thinking. I’ve divided it into “home” and “away”. While I’ve tried to give you plenty of free, or not-very-expensive ideas, I’ve put an asterisk next to the more expensive ideas that I think are worth including anyway.
Free or almost-free things to do in the school holidays
1. Make a movie
This should keep them going for a good part of the summer: there’s a script to write, casting, costuming, filming, editing, the screening, etc. Entrepreneurial types might rope in friends and charge parents tickets for the premiere.
2. Weave some friendship bands
Image: Be A Fun Mum
3. Build something
Even older teens will appreciate the satisfaction that goes into building something from scratch. A birdhouse, a dollhouse, a brick letterbox, a garden bed – you get the idea. With an easy-to-follow tutorial, most kids can tackle a small project. It will certainly keep them busy.
4. Bake a fancy cake or loaf
5. Start a garden
There will be a neglected corner of the yard somewhere where you can task the kids with creating either a decorative or edible garden. This one should tire them out nicely. There’s a ton of resources here.
6. Turn the recycling box into something amazing
7. Make pinch pots out of clay
8. Read a book
9. Play Backgammon or cards
10. Get some mates together for Minute to Win It
Most kids love a tournament and Minute to Win It games are ridiculously good fun. The props are cheap, you can have any number of players (even one), and you can even invent your own games. Highly recommended.
11. Paint a picture
Image: Alice Achterhof
13. Collect something
The art of collecting anything but ‘likes’ seems to be lost to our kids. It’s time to revive the pleasure of finding the perfect rock, leaf, stamp, figurine, book, nest, etc, etc, etc to add to a cherished pile. Curating, organising and caring for a collection is a valuable skill.
14. Bake some bread
15. Go on a scavenger hunt
You might think that treasure / scavenger hunts are only for little kids, but that’s not true at all. We all enjoy gathering and ticking off lists. Make it a neighbourhood-wide quest for things that are a bit more obscure and you’ll keep the kids occupied for hours. We make our hunts ‘photo hunts’, so they are are not dragging a mass of
clutter artifacts into the house.
16. Bounce a ball (even better if there’s a nearby wall for wall ball or hoop for netball / basketball)
Image: Tamarcus Brown
17. Invent a new game
All the awesome games do not yet exist, so here’s a challenge: come up with something wonderful. It might be a board game, sports game or video game. From concept to plan, design it and, maybe, one day, you’ll get to play it.
18. Go for a bike ride
19. Learn to play an instrument
Most families have an instrument hanging around that nobody has ever learned to play. Be that person. At our place there is a random trombone, clarinet, piano, drums and guitar. None of us can play any of them. It’s not right, is it!?
20. Interview a sibling or a friend (here are 21 questions you might like to ask)
21. Stream a movie
22. Give yourself / a sibling a facial
23. Make dinner
24. Have a room cleaning competition
Okay, so I’m dreaming, but it would still be nice to keep your room clean. Especially if you want screen time later…
25. Fold some origami
26. Learn another language
27. Play chess
28. Make homemade candles*
It’s actually pretty simple to make your own candles. You need beeswax, pretty jars and a candle wick, plus scissors and masking tape. You can add a few drops of essential oils to make luxe scented candles. There’s a great tutorial over on A Beautiful Mess.
1. Go on a bushwalk with a couple of mates
Remember to go in threes, just in case something happens to one of you. Someone needs to go for help while the other stays with the injured person. Take lots of water, a snack or lunch, a mobile phone with plenty of battery life, a phone battery charger, just in case, and don’t forget to let your mum know where you are going.
Image: Will Langenberg
2. Take a train ride to the city*
If the city is too far away, visit your next town.
3. Find a free gig happening somewhere
There is often free music happening in cities and regional centres. Even if it’s just the preferred busker spot. Ask at the Council to see if they are putting any gigs on over summer.
4. Visit the zoo*
Smaller zoos and animal parks are often well-worth a visit for not many bucks. The zoologists at these parks generally have more time for questions too.
5. Walk every street in your suburb
6. Visit a museum*
While teens may scoff at the very thought, I guarantee there is something at one museum or another for every kind of kid. Get fascinated about something obscure!
7. Go to the movies*
8. Go shopping at the mall (only free if you are a contented window shopper!)
9. Try go-karting make your own go-kart (free if you make it out of found materials)
10. Ziplining is awesome*
There will be a Treetops kind of place in most major cities and regions. It’s pretty much my daughter’s favourite place in the world. You spend the day up in the trees, overcoming obstacles and ziplining along like Tarzan and Jane. Kids under 16 need a brave grown up to go with them.
11. Visit the botanical gardens
12. Feed the ducks
You are never too old to enjoy the duck park. That’s what I tell my kids, anyway.
13. Spend some time at a community garden
There are many community gardens that you can pop in to visit. There will usually be a blackboard with a list of jobs you can do to help out.
Image: Eco Warrior Princess
14. Hit the skate park
15. Visit the library
Ask about the courses and workshops being held in the holidays, too. Libraries often have the coolest stuff going on: weaving, macrame, candle-making, play writing and robotics are just some.
16. Browse in a bookshop
You don’t have to buy to appreciate a bookshop. They often have comfy chairs and encourage you to ‘browse’. My son read an entire book over the course of a few weeks by popping into our local bookshop. I don’t think that’s to be encouraged…
17. Walk along the beach, river, harbour, creek
18. Skip rocks at the river or pond
19. Go surfing
There are learn to surf classes for those that aren’t lucky enough to have their own board, or at least a mate willing to teach you. If you live in-land, a good alternative is water-skiing on the river or motorbike riding on a farm.
Image: Rutger Geleijnse
20. Ride your bike, skateboard or scooter somewhere new
21. Go kayaking (free if you can borrow a kayak from a mate)
22. Browse the markets
A lovely way to spend a weekend day. Many markets have entertainment as well as cute stalls to browse.
23. Try a cuisine you’ve never had before at a restaurant*
24. Head to the local pool*
25. Go camping locally
You don’t have to venture far to get the camping experience. If you don’t go far from home, you might even be able to go with your mates, sans family. Show grounds are often open for camping, national parks, local camp grounds. Ask around. There’s always the backyard if all else fails.
26. Try a free tour of a local landmark
Call your tourist office to ask about tours in your area. Most council areas hold tours and they are much more interesting that you might think.
27. Improve your photography
28. Play board games at a cafe*
For the cost of a cuppa or hot chocolate, you can spend an hour or so playing a board game with a friend. Soak up the cafe atmosphere and enjoy being out and about.
Which things to do in the holidays crop up most at your place?