30 affordable school holiday activities for kids


Six weeks of school holidays over summer is a long stretch to keep kids entertained, active and off screens.

Forward planning is the key. When I look back on my own long summer holidays, there was little, if no, spending involved. The lazy days, often with my cousins, were spent outside, playing in the backyard, going to a park or the river, reading books, or playing cards, board games and sport. I helped in the kitchen and the garden.

Big outings were rare, except for an extended family picnic.

Here are 30 child-friendly summer holiday activities that will entertain the kids and won't break the budget.

1. Go for a swim on the cheap

In the warmer weather it's easier to find activities that don't cost a fortune. You can go to the beach, the pool or river to cool down. You can meet up with other parents or take your kids' friends along. Search local council websites for beach details, how to get there and parking facilities.

2. Schedule downtime

Draw up a holiday timetable that includes plenty of free time, letting the kids wind down, sleep in - even spend the day at home in their pyjamas - as well as scheduling in activities such as bike riding, long walks, swimming and get-togethers.

3. Get your kids on board

Parents need a holiday too. Not everything has to revolve around what the kids want to do. You like exercising, take your kids. You love going out for a coffee, search for a cafe that caters for children. Search online for the best child-friendly pubs and catch up for a drink with friends.

4. Cooking

Plan a meal with them. Take them shopping for ingredients - check out colourful local markets with fresh produce. Prep the ingredients together and they can help clean up. Kids can cook from an early age, putting together pizzas, baking a packet cake mix or making cupcakes from scratch.

5. Go bush

Plan a digital detox day. Head to a national park, take a picnic and soak up the scenery. National Parks and Wildlife have a detailed website with walks graded from easy to moderate to steep.

6. Simple games

Playing hopscotch or jacks and building cubby houses from cardboard boxes are timeless games for young kids.

7. Learn to snorkel

If you live near the coast, buy a mask and snorkel - a perfect seasonal gift - and go to the beach and admire the many fish and shells around the rocks.

8. Make a change 

Take up a good cause. With koalas in danger of disappearing from NSW by 2050, it is time to help rescue them. Pick a cause with your kids and join a group. Help your kids write a letter to your local politician or council about something your family is passionate about.

9. Find the best playground

Some playgrounds are magic places while others are plain boring. Look online for reviews of playgrounds, for example: tothotornot.com/australia-best-playgrounds, and check them out, preferably early morning or late afternoon when it isn't so hot.

affordable vacation activities for children

10. Word games

Play classic games such as hangman, Boggle, Scrabble, all sorts of word quizzes and, for the older ones, even crosswords. Or enlist their help with your daily game of Wordle, Connections or Gubbins.

11. Play songs from your past 

Expand their taste in music by playing your favourite songs from the past. Tell them what was going on in your life at the time.

12. Podcasts and audio books

Listen to podcasts as a family. If you are going on a road trip, there is no better way to pass the time than to listen to free podcasts or audio books.

13. Get on your bike

Choose quiet bike trails to a scenic spot for a picnic and avoid the heat in the middle of the day. Most council websites provide cycling maps.

14. Museums and art galleries

Explore free museums and art galleries. As well as the big state institutions, there are many small specialist ones with child-friendly exhibitions and kids' activities. While the special exhibitions charge an entrance fee, permanent exhibits are free.

15. Make a short movie

With the right app, you can turn your phone into a video camera and shoot a movie. You can edit it and add graphics in Splice or iMovie.

16. Movie nights

Look up the best family movies on streaming platforms, make popcorn and watch with the kids - great fun on a rainy day. Parents and kids can take it in turn to pick. Or for warm summer nights, dig out the projector and show the film against a white sheet strung up in the backyard.

cheap school holiday activities for kids

17. Old-fashioned games

Bring out the board games and cards. There are board games for every age and temperament. Download the rules from the internet. Scour op shops for games.

18. Write stories

Every day write part of a story - one from your family or your childhood - and read it to your kids. That way they get to know more about you and your relatives. It could be part of recording your family history.

19. Do a jigsaw puzzle

Borrow jigsaw puzzles from friends and family. Start young kids on simple ones and then build up to ones with hundreds of pieces for older kids.

20. Volunteer

Encourage your kids to join a volunteer organisation. Not only will they learn to be more grateful for what they have, they will develop empathy for those who have less. Not all charities want kids to help out but there are some that do. They require parents to attend, too.

21. Art and crafts

Ask your kids to paint a picture of the family, their home or pets. Make your own playdough and gooey slime with simple ingredients. Cut a potato and carve out a shape, press onto paint and use it to stamp the design onto sheets of paper. You can also help them make bookmarks, or sock puppets, paint rocks or decorate an old T-shirt.

22. Books

It's worth helping your child find a genre they enjoy. If they don't like fantasy, try slice-of-life stories or classic fiction. Visit the local library and your kids can pick their own books. Librarians love to help and have lots of online resources. As well as books, libraries have toys, games, DVDs, CDs and holiday activities such as book readings. Don't forget to check out street libraries for free books.

free ways to entertain kids school holidays

23. Party time

Hold a themed party and invite a few of the kids' friends and their parents. The theme depends on the children's age group. You can spend a few days making food, decorating the party area, selecting music and organising party clothes.

24. Garden

Enlist your kids to sweep the leaves or water the garden on hot, dry days. Take them to a nursery and select some flower and vegetable seedlings they can plant, water and watch grow. Spout some seeds in egg cartons.

25. Put on a play

If your kids love performing, they can make up a dance routine or write a script, rehearse it, make costumes and put on a performance at home.

26. Play ball

Get out the cricket or badminton set, soccer ball, bocce, basketball, and other games. Ball sports develop so many skills in your kids and experts recommend engaging in ball play as early as possible.

27. Swimming lessons

How well can your kids swim? Get them used to the water when they are little and build up their confidence. Swimming lessons are essential to make them water safe. Check online for children's holiday activities at your local pool.

28. Pay the bills

Explain to kids that one of the reasons you work is to earn money to pay the bills. Discuss how much electricity, petrol and water cost. Get them to look at the price of groceries, fruits and vegetables. Can they find the cheapest brand of tinned tomatoes or frozen peas?

29. Music festivals

Summer is festival time and there are plenty of free performances, often held outdoors. If you go to a family-friendly music festival, there is usually a kids' festival with great activities. Look online for the best music festivals nearby.

30. Declutter

Bring out the organisational skills in your kids and introduce them to Marie Kondo and her mantra to only keep items that spark joy. Tell your kids that holidays are a good time to tidy cupboards and rooms. Cull old clothes and toys. Maybe they can clean out kitchen and bathroom drawers and cupboards for a little extra pocket money.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.