With the school summer holidays looming, knowing how to keep the kids occupied without having to spend a fortune isn't always easy.
Like many hundreds of thousands of others, I’ve been to Alton Towers with the kids, bought a games console, and spent far too much on cinema visits. I’ve done lots of other things that have cost an arm and a leg too, but all that was a long time ago and during a period where I, for reasons that I no longer understand, thought that they had to have and do the things that other kids had or were doing. It's that old 'keeping up with the Jones's' syndrome.
I was wrong. Those things haven’t played any part in shaping them into the adults they are today. Sure, they were fun at the time, but they haven’t given them any lasting memories or taught them much worth knowing. Those things have come through the simple things we’ve enjoyed together - the things that hardly cost much at all.
If you’re looking for ways of entertaining the kids on a budget, here are a few ideas.
1. Take a walk in the countryside. My kids used to love picking wild flowers that they'd later press, and collect twigs, cones, leaves and such to make into things or stick on cards. They'd try to spot wildlife, whether birds, mammals, reptiles or insects, and look for berries and wild fruit. This opens up for another opportunity - you can go to the library together and find out more about what you’ve picked or seen.
2. Use your local park. Most towns have one but if they aren’t used often enough by enough people, they’ll eventually disappear. They’re often inhabited by squirrels and even though grey squirrels are classed as vermin, kids love feeding them and park squirrels are often bold enough to approach us two-legged giants.
3. Play board games or cards. As well as bringing the family together, these teach children how to be gracious winners and accepting losers, something they often miss out on otherwise.
4. Go camping. It’s cheap, it’s fun and everybody learns to pull together for it to be successful. My kids had more fun camping than on any other type of holiday and just a night in a tent can be lots of fun.
5. Visit a beach that isn’t attached to a tourist hot-spot. That way you won’t be seduced into buying all sorts of useless rubbish and there will be a better chance of spotting wildlife, finding shells and bits of driftwood, not to mention burying Mum or Dad in the sand.
6. Go fishing. You don’t need fancy, expensive equipment - just a simple rod, reel, line, hooks and suitable bait will generally do the trick. You’ll need a license but unless you’re after salmon or trout, a full season’s license costs £24.50 for an adult and £5 for juniors (12-16). Under 12s won’t need one. More information can be found here. My girls learned to gut and prepare fish as well as how to kill them humanely, things that are far more useful than knowing how to press the right button on a computer console so that they can blow up a human enemy.
7. Visit museums. Your kids may think this sounds pretty boring but there are a lot of fun museums around. Science museums usually have special areas for children where they can try things hands on (this was one of my children’s favourites), and some history based museums are a lot of fun too as some give kids a real feel for what it was like to go to school, work and play in ‘the old days’. Follow this link for a list of UK museums.
8. Use the library. Local libraries often arrange a variety of events that appeal to all ages so next time you’re passing by, pop in and pick up their events leaflet. Most are either free or cost no more than a few pounds.
9. Visit your local swimming pool. If you’re lucky to have one nearby, swimming is good fun and exercise for all the family.
10. Arrange local get-togethers. Just think of how the old street parties used to bring communities together. Talk to neighbours and/or other parents at the school gates and ask whether they’d like to get together for a picnic in the park, a barbeque evening, or whatever else you can think up. The children get to spend more time with other kids and you get to know other parents better.
11. Make something. Crafts help children develop their creativity and imaginations whilst teaching them that you make things yourself instead of buying everything. Teaching them how to cook is always fun and useful too.
12. And once the kids are tucked up for the night, have sex. Why give your hard earned money to babysitters and pub landlords when you can enjoy a glass of wine with your partner in bed, instead?
While the occasional visit to the cinema, a theme park or, better still, the zoo, are all fine in small doses and as long as your purse can take the strain, it’s perfectly possible to keep a family entertained without having to throw large amounts of money around and the results will probably be far more valuable.
We're off on a picnic in Delamere Forest today. My kids may be adults now but they're my guests at the moment and I still have to keep them happy without breaking the bank.