10 free activities to keep the kids entertained during the school holidays

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Children sat on lawn playing

Encourage your children to learn new skills and have fun during the school holidays without breaking the bank with these activities suggested by Mrs Mummypenny

Boundless membership gives you unlimited entry to Kew Gardens and nine WWT centres, with Boundless Plus adding National Trust for Scotland and Historic Royal Palaces places to that list. If you’re not already a member, you can find out more here.  

The summer holidays were a joy to behold as a child, with six long weeks of friends, sunshine and play time to embrace – but now, as a parent, it’s a vastly different feeling. How do I balance work with keeping the children entertained, and how do I afford the extra cost?

I have three boys, aged 16, 14 and 11, and it gets more expensive as they get older with constant demands for pocket money. American Express recently conducted research that found parents spend an average of £3,045 per child outside of term time on costs including holiday clubs, technology, days out, meals out and pocket money. This is a huge cost for families – however, it is possible to have fun in the school holidays without spending a fortune and here’s my pick of 10 ways to keep the kids entertained for free.


Visit a free museum or art gallery

Family walking on the South Bank

A firm favourite at all ages is a museum or art gallery visit. A trip to the South Bank in London, taking a packed lunch, walking along the Thames, and visiting the sometimes surreal exhibitions at Tate Modern for free is one of the best ways to fill a day.

A great many museums in the UK offer free entry, from the Science Museum or Natural History Museum in London to smaller ones that will be more local to you. Use Money Saving Expert to search by location for free museums. 

Visit a free roof garden

Another London-centric idea with a difference is to visit one of the sky gardens of London’s tall city buildings. The Garden at 120 and The Sky Garden are both free to visit, you just need to pre-book your ticket. Take a packed lunch and enjoy the panoramic views of London and the beautiful gardens. 

Enjoy countryside walks in the sunshine

We all have a form of nature near us, even if you live in the middle of a city. Find your nearest green space, such as your local park, river, off-road cycle track or city farm and get outside. Encourage your kids to be active by taking their bikes or scooters and let them roam free in safety. I love to get the children to focus on all the senses when we are out exploring. Ask them what can they smell and hear, and how do these leaves feel compared to these flowers? The best conversations happen when you’re walking and not looking at each other.

Go geocaching

Child exploring in a forest

Geocaching is a fun extension to the country walk, a free treasure hunt with locations everywhere. Geocaching is a modern take on a treasure hunt using a GPS and a map. 
After doing a quick search I was surprised to discover that there are 10 geocache spots within one mile of my house alone. I can see how recently they’ve been visited and how easy they are to find. Some geocaches have a stamp so you can take an ink pad and collect stamps in a notebook, or you’ll need to take some small item of treasure with you to replace the treasure that you find. I’m sure most kids can find a small toy that they no longer want to put in the treasure chest.

Get active by taking part in an assault course or junior parkrun

Check out your local park assault course/exercise course. Fairlands Valley lake is local to me and has a course of apparatus running through the fields and trees, so the boys (and me) can do balance beams, monkey bars, chin-ups and other exercises. Another bonus is the beautiful lakes and wildlife. 

This park is also used for the weekly parkrun, a free weekly 5k run or walk around your local area. Simply register and download or print a scannable barcode and join in the fun. Alongside the adult event, a shorter junior parkrun takes place weekly. Find your local parkrun.

Discover free community activities

Check out the free classes at your local church, library, shopping centre or Sure Start children’s centre. All these organisations offer free entertainment in the holidays, particularly for younger children. Joining local Facebook groups will give you a lot of information. Have a look at the community program offered by local shops, too – for example, Dobbies the garden centre provides limited places at Little Seedlings gardening workshops for children aged between four and 10, and selected branches of Waterstones, Hobbycraft and John Lewis often offer free activities too.

Enjoy free days out and entry to attractions using vouchers

Boy balancing in a park

Saving up supermarket loyalty points such as Clubcard vouchers or Nectar points is a great way to pay for entry to anything from your local zoo to a theme park for the family. 
Another recent find is vouchers for free entry to National Trust Estates. For example, the new Octopus Energy rewards scheme gives free National Trust Passes.

Go fruit picking

Children blackberry picking

Holidays are a fun time to visit ‘pick your own’ fruit farms and go fruit picking. Near me, I have them all: strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and blackberries. Towards late summer is an ideal time to revisit the childhood delight of blackberry picking, too.  I know a couple of good local spots where we can go blackberry foraging for free. Make sure that you know your berries, and avoid fruit growing near a road or below a metre off the ground.

Get crafty! Cardboard box creativity

This is a great activity to do on a rainy day. Save up your clean bottle for recycling, and your boxes from deliveries. Give the children felt tips and sticky tape and see what they can create – maybe a castle, a home for the cat or a theatre for a puppet show. There are also excellent free colouring-in printables online.

Join free city tours

I love discovering new places – or even getting to know my local area better – by joining a free city tour. Check out your local library or tourist information to find these free walking tours, available in many towns and cities – a simple internet search is an easy way to find details of a meeting point and a description of the tour. I’ve done this in London, Edinburgh and locally in Hertfordshire. You’re under no obligation to pay, but there’s often encouragement to pay a tip at the end of the tour.

Do more with Boundless

If you're working in or retired from the public sector or civil service, Boundless has two great membership options to choose from: Boundless and Boundless Plus.

With Boundless, you get unlimited access or discounted entry to many of the UK’s top attractions including Kew Gardens and Wakehurst and WWT centres across the UK, as well as year-round deals on restaurants, holidays, shopping and much more. With Boundless Plus, you can enjoy additional benefits including unlimited access to Historic Royal Palaces sites, National Trust for Scotland places, access to the Ramblers' extensive group walks and routes, and peace of mind with roadside assistance and local recovery by LV= Britannia Rescue.

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