Low-cost play ideas for the summer holidays

During school holidays, parents can feel under pressure to entertain their children with costly activities or far-off trips… but playing and having fun needn’t be expensive. Often the simplest everyday ideas can provide the most carefree enjoyment for your child and make their break from school memorable.

We’ve collected our favourite low-cost or no-cost all-weather play ideas for children of all ages and families to enjoy.

Budget-friendly outdoor play

Whether you live near a country park, a coastline or in an urban environment, there are outdoor ideas to suit all…

  • Scavenger hunts – from collecting leaves and twigs in a forest, spotting birds, or counting different colour cars in your local area – a family walk can turn into a fun challenge and a great way to motivate children to spend time outdoors.
  • Water play ­– water fights, slip ’n slides, running through sprinklers, painting with wet brushes/sponges, making perfumes, outdoor kitchen play and even washing the car… children are drawn to water–based activities that are also great for cooling down on a hot summer’s day.
  • Mini Olympics – making obstacle courses and having races with friends is a great way to hang out and stay active. You can use play equipment like hula hoops and skipping ropes, or everyday objects like cardboard boxes, brushes or chairs. 
  • Den building – household items such as old blankets, chairs and laundry rails can make the perfect hiding place for play. Supermarkets and hardware shops are also good places to gather up free items such as cardboard boxes for your child to expand their den building.

Playing indoors 

Weather and busy schedules mean sometimes play must move indoors, but there are plenty of ideas your child can enjoy at home.

  • Making music – household objects like pots, pans, tins, wooden spoons or plastic bottles filled with rice can be the perfect kit for starting a musical rock band.
  • Floor is lava – a great way for children of all ages to stay physically active indoors. Gather up your cushions and pillows and let your child’s imagination go wild as they hop, jump and climb their way around your home.
  • Host a talent show – Choreographing a dance routine to a favourite song, becoming a teddy ventriloquist, performing a magic trick… hosting a talent show can be a great way to interact as a family, boost children’s confidence and have fun.
  • Make use of everyday items – children have such rich imaginations – a box of everyday household items can unlock a whole world of play. A kitchen roll tube can become a telescope for gazing at the stars, a bedsheet can become a tent. Letting children play freely with household objects is a great way to encourage their creativity… Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most fun! Check out our Playing on a Shoestring video for more inspiration.

For plenty more playful, low-cost ways to have fun at home or in your local area, check out our 30 play ideas. 

Make use of free destinations and activity programmes

Playgrounds, parks and green spaces, beaches, canal ways and country footpaths can provide a rich source of places to play and explore time and time again.

Community services such as libraries and museums often run free events for children during school holidays. Community play teams also provide opportunities for children to take part in fun activities and workshops throughout the holidays. Take a look at your local authority play services pages for more information.

Autumn – the season for play

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