There’s only been one payday since Christmas and yet we’re already at half term.
For parents, taking a week off work or finding childcare can be expensive, but that’s nothing to the cost of keeping the children busy for an extra five days.
But whether you’re in charge of keeping your own kids occupied (and/or their friends), or you’re looking after the grandchildren over the break, the good news is that with a little careful planning (we recommend sitting down with a cup of tea and dedicating half an hour to ‘Making a Plan’), you can fill half term with fun without breaking the bank.
Here’s our quick guide to surviving half term for less.
Look for museum activities
Given so many museums are now free, the chances are you’re already a regular at your nearest attraction. However, it’s worth seeing what else is on for half term.
Many will have cheap or free activities taking place during the break. In Manchester, for example, the Museum of Science and Industry has free engine demonstrations and weaving workshops for kids, while the Natural History Museum has free natural history-based puppet shows.
Check out the ‘What’s On’ section of your local museum website to see what extra activities have been laid on. Even small local museums probably have extra events on, so it's worth investigating.
Cook and bake at home
There are very few children who don’t love the chance to roll up their sleeves and get busy in the kitchen, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or unhealthy.
The CBeebies ‘I Can Cook’ website, for example, is packed full of ideas for easy, nutritious and inexpensive meals that little ones can cook themselves – with some adult help of course.
Instead of spending money on expensive art and craft kits, why not go online and find cheap but brilliant things you can make and do at home with minimal supplies?
Check out Pinterest, dedicated Facebook groups and general internet searches for ideas. Here are a few good places to start:
Take advantage of half term deals
As well as fun at home, and events in your area, there are some fantastic offers and activities from national companies, retailers and the bigger attractions. Here are a few of the best:
1. Cheap cinema tickets
Going to the cinema can cost a fortune once you’ve bought tickets for everyone, but there is an alternative.
Tickets at Odeon are just £2.50 and Vue’s Mini Mornings means you can see films like The Good Dinosaur for just £1.99 each.
2. Theme park savings
Not all attractions are open yet but many are flinging open their gates for the February half term, even if it’s just for the child-friendly areas rather than the big rollercoasters, which can mean cheaper tickets.
And if you’re planning a trip to a Merlin destination then stop and pick up some cereal first; some Kellogg’s packets have ‘grown-ups go free’ vouchers on them, which could save you some cash.
3. National Trust events
If you've joined the National Trust, make the most of your membership by taking part in some of the different activities being held up and down the country over the break - such as planting snowdrops and painting wooden decorations. Many of these are free for members and some are free for all.
If you're not a member and you don't want to pay to take part in these activities, take a look at the Trust’s ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ area which lists 50 activities for children to focus their energy on – including everything from making a mud pie to going stargazing and building a den.
4. Restaurant deals
If preparing three meals a day for your children is getting you down by the end of the week, there are plenty of good deals for eating out.
Check out the MoneySuperMarket.com vouchers page for deals including 2 for 1 at Ask, and deals at Pizza Hut, Zizzi and other family-friendly chains.
5. Free animal fun
Most children already think of the pet shop as a free zoo, but this half term you can go one better with Pets At Home.
A number of their stores are running free ‘scales and fins’ workshops where kids can learn more about reptiles and fish, including a chance to meet some.
6. Free football with the FA
The Football Association offers free coaching sessions during the school holidays, for boys and girls aged between 5 and 11, no matter what their ability or experience.
It’s a great way to improve their keepy-uppy skills, burn off some energy and just have fun during the break, and gives you a chance to relax too.
Each session lasts for a full morning or afternoon and costs nothing.
A bit of boredom goes a long way
One thing to bear in mind is that children don’t need to be entertained every minute of every day. In fact, it’s actually a good idea to give them some space to get bored and creative.
There has been no shortage of experts arguing that kids need a degree of boredom so they can learn to entertain themselves, to think up new ways to have fun and to learn to cope without endless stimulation.
So don’t feel too bad if you don’t cram wonder into every minute of the break. It could be the best thing for them and it’s certainly very affordable.