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Cheap and fun activities to keep your children entertained over the summer holidays

We spoke to expert Jo Thurston at Action for Children about cheap activities which will keep your kids entertained over the summer holidays.

The summer holidays are here and children across the country are enjoying weeks of sunshine and play. It can be a wonderful time for families, but it’s also stressful as parents struggle to entertain their children all summer long. 

It can be costly too, with our bank accounts bearing the brunt of activities and days out. The Big Issue’s Summer Survival Guide is here to help, bringing you top tips from experts for cheap and free activities to do with your kids. 

We spoke to Jo Thurston at Action for Children’s Parent Talk, a platform which offers down-to-earth parenting advice, for some fun ideas on low-cost activities for children this summer.

Find a local toy library or arrange a toy swap with friends

Are you feeling the pressure to keep your child’s toy box full this summer? Parents, you know the drill. Kids spend weeks begging for the popular new gadget before you finally cave, and then they are bored of it within hours of play. Instead of forking out the cash on new toys, Thurston suggests you should seek out your local toy library. 

There are more than 1,000 toy libraries across the UK, and they can usually be found by googling. The concept is simple – instead of borrowing books, you can pick and choose a toy to borrow from the library. They typically offer toys for all age groups and many run ‘stay and play’ sessions so children can spend time with a variety of toys. You’ll have to pay a small registration fee to become a member and borrow toys, but it’s much cheaper than buying new. 

Another option is to arrange a toy swap with friends and family. If your child has been eyeing up their friends’ toys (and vice versa), why not swap for a few days? Many children are bound to have toys sitting at the back of cupboards which others would love to use, so be sure to share around and help each other out this summer. 

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Look for second-hand toys and clothes in charity shops, on eBay and Facebook Marketplace

Why splurge on new toys when you can get great quality options from second-hand stores? Plenty of charity shops will stock a big selection of kids’ toys and activities. There are also second-hand shops across specifically for children. 

FARA charity shops have special kids’ shops. You can find these around London, but they also have an online range and will ship to you. 

The Toy store in Archway, north London, recycles unwanted toys and gives them to children who need them. It also funds Lego workshops, art workshops and storytelling. If you know a family who needs toys, they take referrals from professionals including teachers, youth workers and social workers. 

Thurston also suggests checking out Facebook Marketplace or eBay for any good deals on toys and gadgets for kids. 

Create your own toys or do junk modelling

Creating your own toys is also a fun activity to do with the kids. You don’t need anything more than things you already have around the house. At The Big Issue, we collaborated with science teacher and writer Alom Shaha for some cheap and fun creations for kids as part of our Summer Survival Guide. Why not try to make his marvellous mini mangonel?

Thurston also tells us that there are simple recipes for making slime, playdough and salt dough. Your kids will love making a little bit of a mess and having fun, and they’re easy and cheap activities which will fill an afternoon. 

You could also do junk modelling. It’s a fun idea to challenge your children to create something from a cardboard box or items you have around the house. You could decide you’re going to build Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, or make an alien out of recycled junk. Kitchen rolls, egg cartons, milk cartons and cardboard boxes are all great for junk modelling. 

Create a nature trail for your children

Thurston’s next tip is to create a nature trail for your child. It’s as simple as plotting out a walk in your local area (somewhere with lots of green space is ideal). Then, see if your kids can identify flowers and leaves while you’re out. You could also pick up some free paint swatch cards from home stores and paint shops and see if your child can find colour matches in nature to each one. 

You can find local woodland walks in your area through Forestry England. Your local park or playground can be found on the government’s website

Have a games or film night with your children

A games night is a great way to keep the kids entertained and busy. Dig out your favourite family games and puzzles from the back of the cupboard and get into the competitive spirit! You can swap games with a neighbour or friend for ‘new’ games that don’t cost you anything.

You could also have a film night, making the room cosy with duvets and pillows. You could make your favourite film snacks with your kids beforehand, and get them to create paper tickets to the film so it becomes a home cinema. 

There are usually plenty of kids films running on TV throughout the summer holidays, so keep an eye out for your favourites and any of the classics! Your local library should also have a selection of DVDs you can borrow if you’ve got a DVD player. 

While you’re at the library, give your kids a chance to hunt for any books they might want to read. Most libraries run reading challenges and activities over the summer. 

Go to a museum for free or adventure online

Thurston reminds parents that many museums have free entry for some of their exhibits and can be a fantastic day out for kids. They include the Science Museum and Tate Modern in London, House of Marbles games factory in Devon, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Money Saving Expert has a full list of free museums covering the whole of the UK. 

You could also take your kids on a virtual day out. You can watch animals in zoos across the world in Houston or San Diego or visit aquariums in Baltimore and Monterey Bay online. You can also take virtual tours or look at exhibits from museums around the world such as the National History Museum, The Metropolitan, The Smithsonian or The Louvre

And here’s our Summer Survival Guide, which we will update regularly with new articles and tips on making sure your kids have a fun summer without breaking the bank

Get involved with the conversation on social media and share all your tips and advice for families using the #SummerSurvivalGuide

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