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Free fun: 35 school holiday activities that won't break the bank

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There are activities to suit all interests and ages - and they're free

Our children's summer holidays stretch over at least 50 days, and more if they are at private schools.

How do you keep them busy - and away from the mobile, iPad and computer - without breaking the bank?

Luckily it's easy in summer to find activities that don't cost a fortune. Schedule in plenty of downtime as well as energetic outings.

Talk to relatives, school parents and friends about pooling resources so that you can share the load when you are working. It is always easier to send the kids to football, swimming or drama camp if they have a friend.

Here are 35 free summer activities to consider:

1. Swim Visit the beach, ocean baths or river. Meet up with other parents or take your kids' friends.

2. Walk Find the best walks in your city and do them before or after the heat in the middle of the day.

3. Go local Check with your council for free community and holiday activities.

4. Read Visit the library and let your kids select the books they like. If they are young, read to them.

5. Play ball Get out the cricket set, basketball, petanque and other games.

6. Picnics Pack a healthy lunch and head for your local park, beach or gardens.

7. Market day Browse all the markets selling fresh local produce, handmade crafts, secondhand treasures or food.

8. Cook Play MasterChef. Find a simple recipe, get your kids to make a shopping list, buy the ingredients, prepare the food and clean up.

9. Camp Keep your holiday costs low by using your tent or borrowing one.

10. Game on Forget the screen variety, and encourage them to play hide-and-seek, hopscotch and cubbyhouses.

11. Cards Teach your kids games that have instructions online.

12. Movie marathons When the weather is poor, invite their friends over, make a big bowl of popcorn and draw the curtains.

13. Jigsaw puzzle Libraries often keep a stack of puzzles.

14. Art Let your kids go wild with paint, brushes and paper. Take sketchbooks on your walks.

15. Watch buskers Check out the various skilled jugglers, fire-eaters, monocycle riders in malls and tourist spots.

16. Dance Let kids make up a dance routine to their favourite music.

17. Board games Teach them Monopoly, Scrabble, chess or newer board games.

18. Write a script Put on a play: rehearse, make costumes and perform it.

19. Go bush Get out in the fresh air, walk and take a picnic.

20. People-watch Get out and about at popular spots.

21. Spot wildlife Visit national parks, research what animals and birds are plentiful, and then try to spot them.

22. Free transport Cities often offer free city travel, such as the Melbourne city circle tram.

23. Art galleries At the main state art galleries the permanent collections are typically free. Some boutique galleries, such as White Rabbit in Sydney and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, are free as well and so are plenty of small galleries.

24. Museums The permanent exhibitions are typically free but the special ones are likely to charge for entry.

25. Radio Choose a radio station that your kids like or podcast fascinating programs.

26. Science Ignite your kids' scientific imagination with experiments, books and museum visits.

27. Scrapbook or album Pick a theme that is meaningful to your kids, get them to find images and paste into a scrapbook.

28. Festival time Attend free events put on as part of the many summer festivals such as the new year's eve fireworks, public art, concerts and plays.

29. Mural art tour There's some interesting art in city laneways and on buildings.

30. Cycle Get on your bike and explore the many paths and converted rail trails.

31. Free films Often at art galleries.

32. Go fishing Relax with a line dangling in the sea, lake or river.

33. Play dough Look up an easy recipe for making coloured modelling dough.

34. Volunteer Teach your kids about the importance of giving their time to help the less fortunate.

35. Craft Make Christmas gifts instead of buying them.

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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.
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