Please find below some suggestions of free or low cost activities to do with children of all ages.
Go to the park or the playground. Find out about local parks and playgrounds here.
Find your local Children’s Centre.They often provide free activities for under 5s, such as free play, cooking or painting. Ring up in advance or go there to ask them for their programme of free activities. Find your local Children’s Centre here.
If there isn’t a Children’s Centre in your neighbourhood, there may still be free activities for under 5s, run by local community groups.
Have you got a local Tourist Information Centre? They are not only there for visitors but can also help you to rediscover your local area. Museums and other local attractions often run free activities aimed at families and children.
Visit your local library. It will have a children’s section where you can borrow books, DVDs and CDs. Sometimes libraries also have toy libraries, where you can borrow toys for children under 5. They may also host free play sessions. Finally, there will be a display of leaflets and posters about local activities for children (ask your librarian for help if unsure). Find your local library here.
Go to your local swimming pool. Ring ahead and ask whether they have a children’s pool (they are warmer and shallower). Some pools run special sessions for toddlers and their carers. Take swimming nappies with you as these are usually compulsory for babies who are not potty-trained – swimming pools often sell them directly. Find your local swimming pool here.
Invite a little friend and their carer to come round for tea. Having two children is sometimes easier than having one as they entertain each other. It will also provide you with an opportunity for some adult chat.
Check church halls and other faith communities or places of worship. They often run activities for children that are open to all irrespective of their religion.
Visit a farm. Many farms are free to visit and organise exciting activities for young children, especially during the school holidays. You can find farms even in big cities. Find more information here.
Activites at home with under 5s
Painting, drawing and colouring: even very young children enjoy creating works of art and the messier the better! Put down newspaper and cover up clothes to protect them and cut down on tidying up.
Water: a washing up bowl of water and a couple of cups can keep a toddler busy for ages.
Home-made playdough is cheap and easy to make – you can use it again and again or bake it in the oven and paint it afterwards.
Ingredients: 3 cups flour , 1.5 cups salt , 6 teaspoons cream of tartar (available in supermarkets), 3 tablespoons oil ,3 cups water , food colouring as required (from the home baking section of the supermarket)
Method: Stir play dough continuously over a low heat until mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Let cool and play.
Junk modelling: empty cereal boxes, toilet rolls and yoghurt pots can be magically transformed into cars, binoculars and even toy boats to float in the bath with some string or sticky tape.
Imaginative play: get out some teddies and dolls and create a tea party or anything else your toddler might think of.
Dressing up: a box of old hats and clothes are great fun.
Never leave your toddler alone
with water – a few inches can be dangerous.
Keep an eye on children if they are playing with clothes with straps and belts which they could get tangled up in or catch on a door handle.
Other ideas for cheap and easy activities at home
Cutting up old magazines to make a collage picture.
Painting and threading raw pasta tubes to make a necklace.
Children love making their own musical instruments. A clean yoghurt pot filled with dried beans or pasta and paper lid stuck on makes a great shaker, and if you don’t mind the noise an upside down saucepan and wooden spoon makes a great drum for a toddler.
Keep it simple: If this all sounds too complicated and time consuming, try to keep a box of toys, crayons and play dough handy and make the most of bath time for playing with a couple of cups and a sponge.
Go to your local playground. The children will be able to use up all their energy before teatime, and best of all, it’s free! Some councils have free skate parks. A few councils also have adventure playgrounds with playworkers on hand. Find details of local parks and playground facilities here.
Make a trip to the library. Libraries today are making a huge effort to cater to children and often hold a range of free activities such as storytelling and crafts. If the children are not into reading, free internet access and on-line games may tempt them in.
Go to a museum together. Museums are often free. Many museums have free activities for children during the school holidays, ring ahead to find out. Some museums like science museums offer lots of interactive play. There is a list of free museums here.
Go and see a film. Many cinemas have special sessions that are cheaper for children.
Go bowling. It makes a great day out as it’s a relatively cheap and fun activity you can all take part in.
On a rainy day, play board games, watch a film or cartoon together, do some arts and crafts. If you have storage space, always have interesting objects on hand that could be transformed (empty egg boxes, cardboard boxes, plastic jars and containers etc). Find some ideas for arts and crafts activities here.
Share an activity you love like cooking, baking, gardening or sewing and pass on your skills. There are many books about cooking or gardening with children.
Enrol them in a sports activity, either after school or during the school holidays. Your council should have details of local sports clubs and activities.
Go on a bike ride together.
Try out your local nature trails. See here for more details.
Find out what your child’s school is offering, both after school and during school holidays
Most teenagers want the freedom to do their own thing, usually with their friends. They may have lots of activities already planned that do not involve you! Expect them to want a lot of independence and don’t be offended if they are reluctant to go out with you– it’s normal teenage behaviour.
Lots of teenagers still enjoy some of the activities that appeal to younger children like bowling, bike riding or playing sport, but they may be less keen to do it with you than when they were younger.
There are still things you can do together to have fun, but these may change as they get older. Here are some ideas:
Play cards or a favourite board game.
Listen to music together. They may surprise you and share a passion for 1960s sounds – but if they are into rap and you object to swearing, it may not be the best idea.
Go and see a film, concert, sports match or exhibition together.
Get them to plan and cook a meal for everyone – or for a treat go for a meal at a restaurant or cafe.
Going to the shops is a favourite for many teens, but if you plan on taking them decide beforehand how much money you are willing to spend – if any.
Can you switch roles and get them to help you with something they can do better than you – working out how to use a new computer, phone or gadget for example?
If you are on a shoestring, find some ideas here for activities you can do with teenagers.
If they are out and about with their friends, make sure they are clear about boundaries and expectations about where they are allowed to go and when they will be back home. It can be a good idea to discuss these issues with their friends’ parents.