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10 family activities on a budget
Mags Gargan offers some inexpensive options for keeping children entertained during the summer

The long summer school holidays are nearly upon us and it is time to start thinking of activities to keep children occupied. Summer camps and holidays away can only keep them busy for so long, and it’s far too easy to let children zone out in front of the TV or an electronic device. It is better for their health and creativity to fill their time with fun activities, especially if mum and dad are involved too. There are plenty of activities you can do as a family that don’t have to put pressure on the piggy banks, and very importantly, don’t have to be weather dependent.

1. Painting

Keep it simple and enjoy painting with your child. Children’s paint and plain paper are inexpensive and easily found in any bargain shop. You can start from when they are a baby by painting their hands and feet to make prints. Your baby will love the tickle of the paintbrush! Or put a blob of paint of different colours on a piece of card and let baby use her hands to mess them around (make sure to put a plastic apron on baby first).

For older children give them a selection of brushes or sponges to choose from. Get creative and add potato prints, old toothbrushes, rollers, string, straws, glitter or even shaving foam. Again put plenty of newspaper down and make sure both of you don aprons so that you don’t get splashed.

Drawing with crayons, markers, coloured pencils or chalk is also great fun and good for developing fine motor skills. Young children love the squidgy texture of play dough and moulding it in to different shapes. If you use the proper modelling clay, you can paint and glaze them, and they can make lovely gifts for grandparents.

 2. Beach day

Nothing beats a day at the beach in the summer heat to while away a few hours. As well as the beach towels, sun screen and, of course, traditional bucket and spade, maybe take a picnic. A  beach tent or sun shelter is a good idea for protection from the hot sun and wind, especially for babies, and can also offer privacy for changing in and out of swimwear. 

Even if you don’t have sunny weather, children are happy to get their feet dirty in the sand, watch the waves crash, collect shells and investigate rock pools. 

For added amusement bring a kite and watch it fly high.

You can bring the fun of the beach to your own garden with a sandpit. There’s nothing quite like the feel of sand running through tiny fingers and toes. In a similar way, water can also stimulate children’s imagination. An outdoor paddling pool will provide hours of entertainment as children love to pour water from one container into another, splash and play in the water.

 3. Treasure hunt

This one takes more preparation and creativity, but it’s worth the effort. Create a treasure hunt around your home (inside and out) and leave clues for your little ones to unravel. 

You could have a different theme each time – pirates, detectives, dinosaurs, princesses. You don’t have to buy anything for a treasure hunt – you really only need some slips of paper and a final prize. Or you could reward them with a treat for every clue solved, make the last prize an extra special one. Make sure your riddles are difficult enough so it provides a challenge but not so hard they give up and look for other diversions.

 4. Swimming

Swimming at the local public pool can be an inexpensive day out for the family. There are loads of family games you can play in the pool and all you need is a light ball. 

Even babies can enjoy a little splash about in the water. Just make sure to bring a suitable swimming nappy to prevent any unpleasant accidents. Also some public pools are not warm enough for babies, so a little wetsuit may be necessary. Don’t forget to bring a snack or packed lunch for afterwards, because swimming always makes children hungry.

 5. Family hike

Most children love being in nature and a hike up a mountain can really set their imaginations free. That fresh air and exercise will be sure to tire them out, but make sure everyone is wrapped up warm. 

A number of walking trails around Ireland are suitable for families with buggies (www.buggywalksireland.com). Of course a simple walk in the park can be enough to keep the little ones occupied, especially if there is a good playground or a pond for feeding the ducks and swans.

 6. Reading

Use this free time away from school to visit the local library. Most libraries have a set ‘Story Time’ where children can go to listen and participate. But even if you go by yourselves, this can be a good opportunity to teach children the joy of reading. Make storytelling a part of your everyday routine. Whether it is for sending your little ones off into dreamland at bedtime or an adventure brought alive while cuddling in your lap, children love to hear you tell a story.

 7. Baking

Children love to bake. It’s messy and they get to eat whatever delicious treat you create. Make some super tasty banana muffins or simple chocolate rice crispy cakes. 

You could even serve your creations at a princes tea party or a teddy bear’s picnic.

 8. Camping at home

You could go away camping as a family, but children will have just as much fun, and parents much less hassle, by pitching a tent in the garden. Light the barbecue and spend the day sitting and eating outside. Older kids could stay out a little after dark and exchange scary stories by torchlight.

You could always bring the camping indoors. Build a fort from old blankets and chairs or even set up a tent in the living room. Pack the tent full of sleeping bags and treats. 

Maybe make some popcorn and combine your camping with a movie night watched from the tent!

 9. Music

Let your child experience and celebrate sound, rhythm and melody by playing music often, whether on the radio or with your own instruments. There are many inexpensive child-friendly instruments available or you could simply bang along on an upside-down mixing bowl. Play along to some of your child’s favourite songs or make up your own songs. 

Dancing and jumping around to a good tune is always a winner and babies will enjoy being in their parents arms while they dance a rhythm.

10. Dressing up

Let your imagination run riot with this one. Never throw away cardboard boxes – instead build a house, a car or an aeroplane. Playing pretend games are vital to get your child thinking creatively, as well as challenging them to play along with you and their friends. 

Try acting out some of your child’s favourite stories or films. There is no limit to the amount of adventure you can have around the house when you let loose your imagination. Spending some quality time being creative or a little goofy with your child will show them that adults also have a fun side.

Have fun trying some of these ideas out together!