Cheap and free things to do

Having fun with your family has to be one of the loveliest things about being a parent. However, as the summer holidays approach sometimes it is difficult to plan what to do so that everyone is catered for. This is made doubly difficult when lack of money is an issue. So here are some ideas for family outings, some free, some cheap and some that cost a little more but may serve as highlights for your children’s holiday if you can save up for them.

Why not look at the following suggestions and choose things that would be fun for your child? I have divided them into different age groups.

Babies aged 0-1

Free things to do

  •  Singing songs & nursery rhymes
  •  Play music
  •  Talk, face on, animatedly
  •  This little piggy/round & round the garden & other action rhymes
  •  Peek a boo games
  •  Park or garden
  •  Sit in a washing up bowl with warm water
  •  Dancing with baby in your arms
  •  Read simple baby books
  •  Baby massage
  •  Playing with paper
  •  Activity centre toy (baby gym)
  •  Put bells on wrist/rattles
  •  Swing
  •  Lay on front with mirror
  •  Bounce on ankles or knees
  •  Walk baby roundhouse or garden & tell them what you see
  •  Go round to a friend’s house
  •  Fly around in air
  •  Water play in bath
  •  Practice standing
  •  Go for a walk
  •  Prop up with cushions
  •  Imitate all their sounds
  •  Toss and bounce around
  •  Local library and Toy library

Cheap things to do

  •  Mother and toddler group
  •  Baby bouncer
  •  Do a photo session of the baby
  •  Build blocks to be knocked down
  •  Feed the ducks
  •  Playing with balls
  •  Sensory room

More Expensive

  •  Swimming pool
  •  Baby massage group
  •  Soft play area

Children aged 1-5

Free things to do

  •  Makeup stories with your child as the main character
  •  Playground
  •  Singing
  •  Dancing to music
  •  Visiting the library
  •  Reading books especially at bedtime
  •  Water play
  •  Bath time with toys
  •  Play hide and seek
  •  Pretend play
  •  Go for a walk
  •  Nature trail /collecting leaves /feathers.
  •  Throwing and catching balls
  •  Counting games
  •  Bring your child’s favourite storybook to life with props
  •  Go to Toy library to borrow toys, instruments or ‘story stacks’
  •  Toy shops
  •  Making a blanket tent or den in the trees
  •  Have fun cleaning (maybe while listening to lively music)
  •  Make up a scrapbook all about your child
  •  Hunt for mini-beasts
  •  Playing in the garden
  •  Spend 20 minutes a day watching them play and describing exactly what they do without making suggestions or taking over

Cheap things to do

  •  Make a book of all the little efforts, improvements and good things your child does and share it with them every evening
  •  Read books
  •  Get them to read books to you
  •  Adventure playground
  •  Paddling pool
  •  Sandpit
  •  Playdough –making it and playing with it
  •  Playing bells/ drums to music
  •  Picnic
  •  Trip out to buy a snack
  •  Drawing/colouring
  •  Painting
  •  Chalk drawing outside
  •  Have a teddy bears picnic/dolls tea party
  •  Simple cooking
  •  Making popcorn
  •  Play doctors and nurses
  •  Play with building bricks
  •  Train set
  •  Play with balloons
  •  Bubbles
  •  Playing with pets (yours or someone else’s)
  •  Jigsaws /posting toys
  •  Musical instruments
  •  Punch and Judy show
  •  Fly a kite
  •  Photo session
  •  Feed the ducks
  •  Treasure hunt / Easter egg hunt
  •  Family cycle ride
  • Sensory room
  • Make healthy smoothies, fruity cocktails and fruit kebabs

A bit more expensive

  •  Swimming pool–indoor and outdoor
  •  Inflatable toys
  •  Beach with bucket and spade
  •  Zoo
  •  Farm
  •  Train/bus ride
  •  Children’s farm
  •  Boat ride
  •  Dressing up
  •  Soft play area
  •  Trampoline
  •  Model railway
  •  Children’s rides
  •  Tractor ride
  •  Pony ride
  •  Maze
  •  Ride-on toys
  •  Hay bales
  •  Bouncy castle
  •  Gym class
  •  Dance class

Children 5-12

Free things to do

  • Check-in your local paper or internet all the free activities planned in parks, shopping centres, playgrounds and nearby towns and cities
  • Go to the local park. Make full use of the swings and slide.
  • Set up a blanket on the grass,
  • Play ball games with the children
  • Play with a Frisbee
  • Plan a project to find out all about a holiday destination, history of your local town, family tree or country where your parents or grandparents were born
  • Go to a local beauty spot near your home (beach, meadow, woods, walk with amazing views) and take full advantage of exploring the area. Consider doing something special such as having a barbecue (if allowed) building a den, or playing outdoor games.
  • Do a treasure trail -give the children a picture of small things that they should be able to find (feather, pebble, leaf, etc) and see who can find the most.
  • If you have a nearby beach, paddling in the waves (or swimming if you are brave) is great fun. If not set up a water sprinkler.
  • A sheet of plastic and a hose makes a great water slide
  • Lie on the grass. Look at the clouds and say what you think they look like.
  • Get great books out of the library and read them with your child
  • Play games such as ‘Top threes’ here you take turns to think of a category such as colours, animals, songs, Disney movies and you choose your top three.
  • Play ‘Happy Memories’ with conversations beginning ‘Do you remember when….’
  • Take turns to tell a made-up story with each of you adding to the adventure
  • Go and kiss your child good night and have a little chat about all the things you liked that they did that day.
  • Plan a family meeting to plan holidays, discuss important family issues or to problem solve. Make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak if they are holding the ‘talking stick’, ‘magic pen’ or similar object. Have a nice family treat planned at the end

Cheap things to do

  • Sit down with your child and make birthday cards for forthcoming birthdays. If you can, find ideas on the internet, and make it as creative as you can
  • Buy an ice cream, Sometimes this has the ability to turn a walk into a treat
  • Go swimming at your local pool –indoors or outdoors
  • Train or bus ride
  • Board games & card games
  • Talk about when they were little or when you were younger
  • Plan a family party or outdoor family games day, with races and events
  • Picnic where everyone chooses their favourite picnic foods

More expensive

  •  Theme parks
  •  Active ventures such as rock climbing, trampolining, abseiling, sailing and canoeing
  • Cinema / Fair / Bowling


Free things to do

  •  Plan to just listen when they talk about their interests, their day or their plans, without offering ANY advice or judgements. If you can just try to see if you can reflect the emotion they may be feeling.
  •  Going out for walks
  •  Cycling
  •  Plan and cook meals or choose healthy snacks to make together
  •  Watch favourite TV shows or shows on interesting teen topics and discuss them afterwards
  •  Volunteer as a family to help out at a homeless centre or soup kitchen
  •  Tell them what you like about them, using descriptive praise
  •  Teach your child a skill such as knitting, sewing, cooking, doing a barbecue and car maintenance
  •  Wake them up occasionally with a friendly chat and cup of tea. Breakfast in bed could be an extra special treat
  •  Get your teen to write a quiz for you to complete all of their favourite things. See how well you do.
  •  Ball games and Frisbee
  •  Charades (possibly with titles of books or films downloaded from the internet)
  •  Play ‘Top Fives’, choosing topics such as ‘Words I would use to describe myself, top films, foods, books, things I want to do before I’m 30, or people I would most like to meet (from the past or present).

Cheap things to do

  • Card games
  • Board games (E.g. Scrabble, Backgammon)
  • Museums, Exhibitions and galleries
  • Make a memory box
  • Have a pamper session -Give each-other a manicure or facial
  • DVD and popcorn
  • Ice creams
  • Have a family meal with candles (If arguments are likely to be an issue agree with everyone beforehand that all conversations should be conflict-free)
  • Plan with your teen a fun day out for under £10
  • Play your own version of TV quiz games such as ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ or ‘Family Fortunes’)

More Expensive

  • Adventure Activities (white water rafting, horse riding, bowling, sailing, water sports, scuba diving or snorkelling
  • Going out to a coffee shop
  • Meals out
  • Guided walks around cities
  • Really nice picnics with home-cooked food
  •  Concerts
  •  Theatre
  • With girls, going to a salon for a manicure or facial
  • Going to a creative class together –painting, pottery, photography or jewellery-making
  • Booking a session of badminton, tennis, table tennis or golf
  • Booking a family session on a dry ski slope, archery, ice skating or Go-karting
  • Going to the cinema to see a family movie
  • Shopping (but make sure you set the budget beforehand)

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here