After a global pandemic, rising inflation and a rise in the cost of living, most families are feeling the pinch and may struggle to afford foreign holidays, or even a summer staycation this year.
But the fact remains that however tight your budget, children still need entertaining – and how do you do it if you simply can’t afford to take them to expensive visitor attractions?
Quite easily, promises Paul Leitch, creator of the Kids Days Out website (kidsdaysout.co.uk).
“People haven’t got much money at the moment, and visitor attractions are finding it tough. But in spite of the pressure on the cost of living, there are still lots of things to do with kids, especially in the great outdoors, such as visiting parks, canal walks, fossil hunting on beaches, rock pooling, museums and much more. So, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good time with your kids.
“Quite honestly, stopping on a hillside with a picnic – and then looking for wildflowers and butterflies – would give kids just as much enjoyment as an expensive day out – my kids would much rather build sandcastles than have a ride on a go-cart.”
And Joy Wood, early years expert at Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries (monkeypuzzledaynurseries.com), adds:
“Money’s tight for so many at the moment, but parents can still create magical moments with their little ones, as well as plan activities to encourage their cognitive and intellectual development.
“Learning about and interacting with nature from a young age will build on children’s understanding and acceptance of everyone and everything around them. And exploring practical activities as a family can help our children learn about the impact we have on the Earth, and how we can make it a better place.”
Here are a few cheap or free ways to keep the kids busy this summer…
1. Go on a nature scavenger hunt
For this simple activity, all you have to do is create a list of seasonal plants and insects for kids to spot – think bees, dandelions, ants, flowers, pine cones and trees. Or even give them the task of finding things A-Z.
“Young children enjoy being able to identify things they see around them and a scavenger hunt will stimulate their senses, inviting them to pay attention to different sights, sounds, smells and textures,” says Wood.
“And don’t worry if you don’t have much of a garden, you can go hunting in public green spaces, parks and nature reserves.”
2. Look for meal deals
Meals out with the family can be expensive, but there are plenty of meal deals around that can substantially reduce the price and make the family feel like they’re getting a real treat. The personal finance experts at Ocean Finance (oceanfinance.co.uk) suggest heading to one of the many eateries – from restaurants to supermarkets – offering free child meals if parents buy a meal.
Examples include Asda cafes, where one child can eat free if an adult spends £4 more after 3pm, Monday to Friday; Morrisons cafes, where one child can eat free if an adult spends £4.50 or more after 3pm; Bella Italia, where kids eat for £1 with the purchase of every adult main course between 4pm–6pm Monday to Thursday; and Sizzling Pubs, where kids can enjoy a meal for £1 when an adult main meal is ordered between 3pm-7pm, Monday to Friday.
3. Cheap days out by rail
If the kids are clamouring to go to an expensive attraction, travelling there by train might actually make it more affordable (after the strikes of course), as National Rail runs a two for one promotion all year round, where if you buy a train ticket, you get two entry tickets for the price of one at a huge number of attractions around the UK, such as Madame Tussauds London and Blackpool, Legoland Windsor, and SEA LIFE centres.
4. Watch cut-price movies
If the summer weather’s rubbish on certain days, a trip to the cinema with the kids could be a great way to keep them happy – but if the cost of a cinema visit is a problem, Ocean Finance points out that there are cheaper showings available, such as Cineworld’s Movies for Juniors, which cost £2.50 for a child; Odeon Kids, where adults pay the same price as a child, with the deal running every day during the school holidays as well as every Saturday and Sunday; and Vue’s Mini Mornings, where screenings run from 10am during school holidays, and both adult and child tickets cost just £2.49 each.
5. Paint rocks
Go to the park or a local nature reserve to find rocks to paint on.
“Tell your kids they can paint on something other than paper and watch their faces light up and their imaginations take over,” says Wood.
“They can collect their own rocks from the garden or park, choosing their favourites to get arty with. Once they’re finished, you can keep them as decorations around the home, showing your little ones how much you value their creations.”
You can even buy special art varnish and preserve their masterpieces for an eternity.
6. Join the National Trust
National Trust properties across the country, ranging from castles and stately homes to gardens and beaches, run many family-friendly events that are free for members, and family membership with one adult, plus their children or grandchildren, costs just £83.40 a year, or £6.95 a month. You can also pay on the day and per attraction.