When our beautiful children graciously enter our lives, we often think that the greatest cost will be their education. Or perhaps food, especially when they’re ravenous teenage boys. Or maybe it will be those few precious times we decide to throw caution to the wind and take two tantrum-prone toddlers on an overseas holiday.
Yet as any mum would know, the actual biggest costs are often not the one-off costs, but the small ones that really add up. And as we have to entertain our children in some way, shape or form for the best part of at least a decade, entertainment is definitely one of those costs. $20 for a Playcentre here, $50 for the trampoline park there can certainly add up – and quickly,
So how do we entertain them – for free?
While we all use it sometimes, we also all know that TV or our iPhones certainly aren’t the solution. And as much as we all love the local park or our local beach, these solutions can sometimes get tiresome too. But what’s the alternative? Turns out there are quite a few. Here are five ways you can creatively entertain your kids, all weekend, for free:
Immerse yourself in your local gardens
While gardens can often be seen as the realm of senior citizens or exercise fanatics, they are, in truth, anything but. Local botanical gardens, forests or woods provide the perfect blank canvas for children of any age to have the most wonderful time – for $0.
If you’ve got younger children, take your stroller and point out everything you see, from the sky to the grass underfoot. Immersing children in nature from a young age can help them learn to appreciate it.
If you’ve got older children, there’s no limit to what you can do! Read the signs you see, and then try and spot the local fauna or flora the signs describe.
To make more of a day of it, try taking your own picnic. You’ll be surprised at how much more fun eating a sandwich can be when you’re surrounded by beautiful trees!
Build a stick or mud hut and throw a nature party
If there’s one thing most kids love, it’s getting messy. And where better to do it than outside, where you don’t even have to clean up the mess! Kids love creating things, too, and what better way to encourage them to do so than to create, outside, with natural materials. And one of the best things to create is a little lodging for your little ones. If you’ve got a large backyard, or even if you visit your local wood or forest, challenge your children to create a house from what they can find. You’ll be amazed at what they can create with sticks, leaves and perhaps a bit of mud. And once they’ve built themselves a teepee or little hut, the fun doesn’t need to stop there! You can easily create a little party by, for example, bringing a hole puncher and punching it through some leaves. You’ll have instant, natural confetti – all for free!
Make a cardboard cubby house
Most parents dread, or at the very least, feel frustrated, by having to spend days inside when it’s cold or rainy out. But in reality, these days can be our kids’ best days – we just need to get creative! Kids love playing make-believe, so there’s nothing better for them than to have a little cubby house. But any of us who have gone to purchase one of the said cubby houses knows that they’re not exactly cheap.
And let’s be honest – it’s better to create your own.
Creating a cubby house is yet another great, free activity for your children that really gets their creative juices flowing. It’s also entirely possible for them to make one from whatever you have lying around the house. Do you have cardboard or a cardboard box lying around? Great! Your kids will have the cubby house structure all sorted. Do you have any old clothes that just aren’t good enough to be donated? Great! The cubby will instantly get curtains. And what about if they want some faux binoculars to spy on the outside world? Surely you’ve got an old toilet paper roll they can use? Cubby houses represent hours of fun, both throughout the building process and afterwards. And in even better news, they can be created for $0.
Immerse yourself in history
Understanding history is so important for children. It helps them understand not just events of the past, but why things have changed and how they’ve evolved. They’re never too young to start appreciating this. Usually, though, history doesn’t come cheap – you need to visit (often) expensive museums, which, although interesting, sometimes aren’t that appropriate for kids anyway.
But it’s possible to give your kids a history lesson, and a fun one at that.
Every city has a heritage register of some sort – a list of places and buildings that are considered historically significant. With a bit of Googling, you can discover these yourself and plan your own day trip to see them, with explanations to boot. While you’re doing it, why not dress up? If you’ve got dress-ups at home, there’s nothing better than visiting an old boat dressed as a pirate, or an old, possibly haunted house dressed as a ghost!
Have you ever heard of geocaching? Most people haven’t, but that’s a crying shame. It’s literally one of the most fun free activities you can do with your kids. Coined ‘the world’s biggest treasure hunt,’ for good reason, geocaching is where you go just about anywhere in the world, and attempt to discover tiny hidden messages in containers. Yes, that’s right, a whole group of people have hidden tiny messages in incredible locations all over the world and using an app on your phone, you can find them via a set of coordinates and often cryptic clues. When you find the tiny morsel of joy, you sign a logbook to show you’ve officially joined an elite group of people in discovering these amazing secrets. And they sure are amazing – some of the world’s most incredible geocaches are in the most dreamy locations – from near the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the world’s most logged geocache, which is somewhere on the famous Charles Bridge in Prague.
Read, read and read
Not feeling adventurous? Not even feeling creative? That’s ok. Because the absolute best activity you can do with your children doesn’t require you to be that adventurous or even creative. All you need to do is get cosy on your couch – something that every mum loves to do! When our own mums or school teachers told us ‘those who read, lead,’ they were damn right. The list of benefits that reading kids books’ provides to our children is endless, but in case you aren’t familiar, it includes: children who are read to or read become better at it, reading exercises their brain (and ours), it improves their concentration and vocabulary and it ignites their imagination and teaches them about the world around them. There are also multiple studies that demonstrate those who read numerous children’s books achieve better grades at school! So mama, get cosy on that couch and enjoy the special moments that reading can bring.
Cut your activities budget – but still, have fun
With the myriad children’s activities available these days, it can be hard to not feel like you need to spend money (and lots of it) to entertain your children. But rest assured, there are just as many ways you can entertain them, for $0, while saving your money for whatever else it is you need!
Teigan Margetts is the co-founder of Ethicool, a kids’ book publisher focused on titles that change the world. She’s also mum to two gorgeous preschool-aged boys, and a ballerina, yogi, keen traveller and nature lover.