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Low budget fun activities for children

Family playing together at home
Credit: iStock.com/Merlas

If you’re constantly looking for different weekend or holiday activities for your children to enjoy then, like most parents, you’ll be prioritising activities that won’t break your budget.

And as we start to see the reopening of public spaces and loosening of restrictions on public pools, galleries, libraries, zoos, cinemas and other cultural institutions it’s important to remind yourself that having fun both inside and outside of your home with children doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune. There are plenty of things you can do that are either low-cost or totally free.

And, once you realise there’s a huge variety of things you can enjoy with your family that won’t make a dent in your wallet, you’ll most likely return to those activities time and time again.

Here’s how two mums entertain their kids with low budget activities:

With a three-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter, Louisa, who lives in Perth, believes she’s now an expert in entertaining her children on a small budget.

“My husband is a FIFO worker so I’ve had to come up with some easy fun activities to do on the weekends when he’s not around. Sometimes the simple things are the best. We love painting and drawing together, spreading everything on the kitchen table. Here are some of my other suggestions,” Louisa says.

  1. Create a fort or cubby house in the lounge room using blankets, pillows or cardboard boxes: This never gets old! We have a little tea party inside the fort once it’s fully set up. I also include whatever soft toys are around as “guests” for the kids. Sometimes we invite neighbourhood kids over to join in. This is especially great to do on rainy days.
  2. Bushwalking: we’re lucky to live close to the bush but you can always take the kids to a park that has bush tracks and take them for a long walk. Ask them to collect bits and pieces for a craft project, leaves, flowers, interesting stones etc. It’s also great exercise and doesn’t need to be too strenuous. I always use our bush walks to talk about our surroundings and point out particular trees, so it’s an educational activity too.
  3. Board games: age appropriate games are always fun and it’s a good way to get your kids off any screens.  We love ‘Guess Who’ and the good old-fashioned ones like ‘Snakes and Ladders’.
  4. Picnic: we like to get up early and pack a bag filled with brunch. Depending on the weather, near the beach is always good but I love going to one of our favourite parks so the kids can ride scooters on one of the paths. Picnics are a great way to use up half a day and if you set up your picnic blanket near a playground that makes for a more relaxing time for you as you can sit and watch the kids play while you do very little!
  5. Hide and Seek: no matter where you are, this game never gets old. My five-year-old is an expert at hiding, much to the frustration of her younger brother. We also love treasure hunts; the treasure can be as simple or as lucrative as you like. I often hide toy cars but you can also hide shells, a bag of lollies or whatever you think will make your child happy to find. Make a little map for yourself with clues for the kids.
  6. Bike riding/scootering:  My three year old can’t quite ride his bike yet but I put him on the back of my bike in a baby seat so he is riding around, usually watching his big sister on her scooter.  I try to take them to a different location each week but their favourite place to ride is around the Swan River as there is so much to see.
  7. Gardening: we’ve started making a little vegetable patch. I have one child in charge of tomatoes and lettuce, the other in charge of parsley and silverbeet. It’s a lot of fun, they love watering the garden and checking up on their plants’ progress. It gets nice and messy too, which they love.

Building sandcastles:  another activity that never gets old!  We’ve got some old-fashioned little beach buckets with spades. Sandcastles can be as simple or as complicated as you can manage.

Anthea is a Sydney chef and mother of three children under five.  One of her favourite weekend/holiday activities involves plenty of time in the kitchen.

“My kids have been helping me bake cookies for a while now. I begin the activity by looking at recipe books and working out what we’re going to cook. My kids are predictable – it’s either choc chip cookies or chocolate mud cake but, recently I found my grandmother’s cheesecake recipe so that was a hit too. A pavlova is always fun and time consuming, especially when it comes to decorating it!” Anthea says.

Other ideas: 

  1. A trip to the zoo: Perfect for all the family, we always take a picnic with us and usually stay for half a day. I always say that watching the monkeys is enough entertainment for the week.
  2. The library: There are always activities at the library so I suggest popping in and grabbing a program of the week’s events. For the little ones there’s often storytelling and my local library often puts on a movie and book special, which encourages the kids to read the book (or have mum or dad read it to you) then watch the movie version. My kids never get tired of the library. It’s also fun for them to choose their own books and take them through the whole procedure of loaning the books and returning the ones you’ve finished with.
  3. Shop at a thrift shop: I’ve always loved thrift shops and also weekend markets.  Sometimes I give my four and five-year-old a couple of dollars each and ask them to choose something special. My daughter found a china unicorn for 50 cents and spent the rest of her money on second hand books.  It’s also another way to teach the kids about money, so they know it doesn’t just “grow on trees” and there’s not an endless supply of cash in my wallet.