With finances tight after Christmas, many parents simply can’t afford to splash out on pricey indoor activities. Fortunately there are plenty of free and inexpensive ways to keep the kids busy, if you’re prepared to be a bit creative...
A lack of money is one the major reasons why one in five mums dreads the February half term, according to a study by website Netmums.com.
This is hardly surprising when you consider that, according to Co-Operative Investments, parents typically spend £16.29 on feeding and entertaining each of their children every day of the half-term break.
Parents who can’t take time off work have to fork out even more, with nearly one in five forced to pay an additional £103.73 in childcare for the week.
Start planning early
Filling a whole week can be daunting but spending a bit of time working out what you might do each day in advance can really help. Websites like Mumsnet.com and Netmums.com often list free activities and speak to other mums to get inspiration. Once you’ve got a few ideas in place, the week will quickly fill up.
There are lots of free activities available during the holidays, including themed afternoons at libraries, craft sessions at art galleries and educational sessions such as dinosaur days at museums. Many of which are completely free.
SureStart centres also run fun days for families, often aimed at younger children. Activity sessions like these are also an easy way of meeting up with other kids and parents. For details of what’s on in your area, see your local council website or your library and to find your nearest SureStart, see dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters.
When it’s pouring outside, younger children can pull on their wellies and splash in muddy puddles, or, for older children, you could arrange a scavenger hunt in the local park or woods.
There are forest groups in many local woods, giving children an educational fun way of exploring the outdoors. Some only run in term time but others offer holiday classes. See Forestschools.com for more information.
Other outdoor activities on rainy days include going on a bus trip (under fives often travel free) packing a picnic and taking the bus to the last stop, or a quick trip to the charity shop for older children.
This last one can incur a small cost but on the plus side, budding fashionistas can buy a cheap t-shirt at a charity shop and while away an hour at home customising it with fabric and ribbons. If the weather is a bit brighter, children can let off steam by having a ‘winter sports day’ with races in the park with friends.
For those who don’t fancy braving the elements, raiding the dressing up box is a great idea and it’s even better if they can invite a friend to join in.
Indoor ideas from Netmums.com include making pizzas with the kids; holding an afternoon tea party; pretending to hibernate (make a cosy den out of blankets and cushions so they can snuggle down and read books and eat crumpets); and if all else fails, younger children can play on the Cbeebies website or listen to stories on Cbeebies radio.
Arts and crafts
Other ideas include cutting out clothes from old catalogues so the kids can put together outfits and add people’s faces and arms and legs to them; building robots from odd egg cartons and cardboard boxes; drawing round your children on big pieces of paper and getting them to draw their portrait.
Give them a treat after their artistic endeavours by turning your sitting room into a cinema: get them to make some pretend tickets, then show them to their seats with a torch and serve popcorn.
When to spend
If you have money to spare for a day trip, make sure you’re getting a bargain. Sites such as Dayoutwiththekids.co.uk can tell you what’s in your local area. Once you’ve decided on a venue, look out for special offers including the vouchers on moneysupermarket.com.
There’s currently a two-for-one deal on admissions for Alton Towers and a kids-go-free voucher for Sealife centres , half price family tickets at Bristol Zoo and two for one admissions at the London Bridge Experience.
Make it pay
A family day out at a popular attraction, such as a theme park or a major zoo can easily set you back £100 but you can bring that cost down to next to nothing if you make use of discounts and loyalty card points.
In addition to getting vouchers and special offers, using a cashback credit card for everyday purchases such as groceries and petrol can give your bank balance a boost.
Loyalty cards such as Tesco Clubcard and Nectar cards allow you to build up points, some of which can be used to buy tickets for major attractions or events.