Free (or very cheap) things to do with your children

This post was inspired by a discussion on a friend’s facebook status.  I have been meaning to write something like this for a while, so having posted a rather long comment, I thought I should turn it into a blog post, which is probably what it should have been in the first place.

For home educators, and any parents particularly in the summer holidays, here are a random selection of things to do with the children that don’t cost a lot of money.  Obviously the list is endless, so please comment if you have other ideas, and let’s see how many we can do this summer!

  1. Digging and playing in the mud keeps most children happy for a good long time.  You can use garden tools if you have them, otherwise spoons or hands will do; dig tunnels; make mud pies; bring some toy dinosaurs to live in your mud pit; plant old potatoes and any seeds you can find (some will grow and some won’t but it’s fun to do either way); yoghurt pots and egg cartons make good plant pots.
  2. Playing with flour is a very popular activity in our house (or rather in our garden if the weather is okay!) Add a handful of rice if you want, just for the fun of mixing; you don’t need much else, maybe a couple of plastic spoons and yoghurt pots, and some toy cars to drive around in it!
  3. Painting with water is simple and satisfying.  A bucket of water and an old decorating paint brush (larger the better) is all that is needed, and the kids can “paint” the outside of the house, ground, fence, trees, etc. No clearing up required!
  4. Chalk drawing (and writing) can be done on all the outdoor surfaces you can find.  Make road markings for your scooters and bikes and road signs/ traffic lights on the walls; draw a snail race track, find some snails and set up a race; draw targets and throw beanbags at them.
  5. Making a rock collection is good fun, and happens by default if I remember to empty the kids’ pockets before putting clothes in the washing machine.  Instead of trying to stop children doing this, you might as well help them to find interesting ones.  Sort and organise them, compare them, study them and find out about different types of rock; display them (perhaps outside so they don’t take up houseroom)…. we also have a stick collection (maybe that’s strange, but it’s outside the front door and it came about because I didn’t want all their precious sticks in the house, so they made a “stick house” outside!)
  6. Playing with lentils, chick peas, dried beans and rice is a very versatile activity.  Make mountains and valleys, roads and railways, then add toy cars and trains; make collage pictures; fill containers and pour into a measuring jug (just for fun or estimate and check the capacity of the containers.)
  7. Making pasta necklaces and pasta pictures is a variation on the above.  For the pictures, you could make flour and water paste to stick the pasta on, which is a fun activity in itself.
  8. Mixing cornflour and water and playing with it is good old hands on messy play and a Science lesson into the bargain.  Try it if you haven’t done it before, it’s amazing! (You could also use custard powder…)
  9. Cooking is fun to do with all ages, and sharing a meal is all the more enjoyable for the children if they have prepared it together.  This is not technically a free activity, but cooking main meals rather than baking treats means there is no extra cost and it’s a more useful life skill.  (There’s a time for baking too, of course!)  My children have been experimenting recently to make breakfast mixtures out of a selection of oats, yoghurt, fruit, and cinnamon – it’s  delicious and healthy, and as far as they are concerned they are cooking. Making fruit salad and jelly are also very easy.
  10. Bug hunting  has been keeping the children (our own and their friends) busy in our garden a lot recently.  Bug viewers are fun if you have them, but there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned jam jar, margarine tub or yoghurt pot.  A plastic spoon can be used to lift some creatures, but an old paintbrush is useful for transferring the more delicate ones gently.  Identifying them is fun too, and if you don’t have a book there are plenty of insect identification sites on the internet.
  11. Playing with water is hard to beat.  A washing up bowl or two of water in the garden can provide a lot of entertainment.  The children can paddle in it (feet only perhaps if it’s not sunny, though my little ones can’t resist sitting in it whatever the weather!); pouring water from one container to another is very satisfying for the younger children; older ones could have a measuring jug and try to estimate the capacity of various containers then check them; you can turn it into a fish pond by cutting out lots of fish and adding them – paper ones will do, or fabric if you want them to last longer.  We spent a long time doing this with a pack of cheap scouring cloths one summer and it was great fun.
  12. Making a den is fun, either in the bushes or using branches (go for a walk in the park or woods to find them); put an old blanket over the top if you like; take another blanket inside and have a picnic (real or pretend) with friends, siblings, toys..

I could go on but it’s getting late so I’ll stop.  What have I missed?

2 hours ago · Like · 3
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