Entertaining your kids can be a tricky business at the best of times, and it's even more difficult during holidays.
We’ve put our thinking caps on and come up with 41 great ways to keep your kids busy, whatever the weather and their age. So if you’re desperate to drag them away from the TV and games console, you’ll find all the ideas you’ll need right here!
Almost a rite of passage, play dough is easy to make up and you can scent and colour it any way you fancy. We’ve got a fool proof play dough recipe plus lots of fun makes to do with it.
See our play dough recipe here and all the fun ideas, too!
Age: All ages love play dough, but perhaps just make sure they’re at an age where they understand it’s not the best thing to eat!
2. Get them in the kitchen
There are loads of simple recipes you can try out with your children. If you’re concerned about them getting things in and out of the oven, then why not try making chocolate crispy bars, which have to be chilled in the fridge. If they really love it, then why not challenge them to come up with different sandwich fillings for their tea? They many not particularly enjoy the results, but you’re teaching them about taste, as well as having fun!
See our cooking with kids recipes here
Age: As soon as they can reach the table or worktops
3. Teach them cross-stitch
Cross stitch is enjoying a new lease of life and is a great way to get kids involved in arts and craft. You can get special kits designed for younger children, so they won’t hurt themselves on the needles and the pattern will be easier to follow.
4. Make paper planes
Use up all that scrap paper that was destined for the recycling and build a fleet of paper airplanes. Then you can launch them from an upstairs window, or in the back garden. You could make different kinds and see which one flies the furthest.
Follow these simple steps for perfect planes
5. Write a story
Use your imaginations and write a story together. It doesn’t have to be original, the kids could write down their favourite fairy tale and just change the ending if they feel like it. Another great idea is to write chain stories with friends. Each person writes a paragraph and then shows the final line only to the next writer. Once the final person has written their section, read the whole story out loud – it’s usually pretty funny!
6. Host a dance party
Invite around some of your daughter’s friends, get a bunch of their
favourite CDs and let them dance til they drop. All you’ll have to do is provide drinks and snacks!
7. Tire them out
Indoor play centres are becoming more and more popular. They’re great fun, safe and allow you to relax while your kids run riot without fear of injury. Activities include bouncing on trampolines, go up foam staircases and then coming down slides, climbing rigging and jumping into ball pits.
For your nearest soft play centre, search at Ideas for the Kids
It may conjure up images of hippies, but tie-dyeing is a great way of jazzing up some of your kids old clothes and it’s fun to do. Basically, you gather up your t-shirt (or other item of clothing) and leave it to soak in fabric dye. When we spoke to Kirstie Allsopp, she told us clothes-dying was her favourite, fail-safe craft to do with her kids!
If you’re a dip-dye virgin, here are some simple instructions and fun ideas for what to make
9. Make a scavenger hunt
Come up with a list of odd and fun items for your kids to find. They can hunt around the house or your garden.
Suggested items can be: a cancelled stamp, a straw, a rubber band, a penny dated in a particular decade (before the kids were born, or perhaps have them find one in the year the birthday child was born), a toothpick. If you live in the country, or go to a park, some suggestions are a pine cone, a worm, a bug, a white rock, something red, a feather.
10. Make a sundial
Teach your kids how people used to tell the time before clocks and watches were invented. All you need is a compass to find out where north is and then put a stick in the ground and watch the shadow change position as the sun moves.
11. Get them gardening
Growing plants is great fun and it’s even more fun, if they can watch their work get bigger and flower in front of their eyes. There are lots of plants that even a young child can grow without too much trouble, from small trees to herbs and vegetables. If you don’t have a garden, then a window box or small pots are the answer and it won’t matter what time of year you plant them. Try growing herbs like basil, parsley or cress – that way they can eat them once they’ve grown.
Check out our 10 fun gardening ideas for kids
12. Play some sport
Most local leisure centres have loads of opportunities to learn new sports, from martial arts to badminton, football to trampolining, swimming to tennis. What’s more, they usually provide the equipment so you won’t have to shell out for lots of expensive kit, until they’re totally hooked! Cycling is another great activity for youngsters. Of course, this new pursuit might require the purchase of a kids’ bike, but there are some great models options out there.
13. Catch some water
If you’ve got them interested in gardening then you can make some
gardening accessories, like a rain catcher. Take a large jar and mark
lines half an inch apart going up the line jar. Leave it outside with
the lid off to collect water when it rains. Your child will also be able
to see how much rainfall there has been before watering his plants.
14. Make a wormery
If you’re feeling really green-fingered, then you can also try helping them collect worms for their own wormery. Just after it rains is the best time to hunt for worms. Once you’ve collected five or so then put them in a large Tupperware box or old ice-cream tub with some soil. Make holes in the top so they can breathe. Then you’ll be able to feed the worms food scraps, including eggshells and vegetable peelings. The worms will make great compost, which you’ll be able to use in your garden.
15. Become a model maker
What kid doesn’t love getting his hands dirty? Get some modelling clay, a plastic knife and mould away. You can even buy self-hardening clay if you want them to become permanent.
16. Check out your local library
If you haven’t managed to create a bookworm, then this could be the
perfect place to start. There’s something for everyone here, regardless
of whether they’re a sports buff, adventure fan or prefer something more romantic and girly. Best of all, if they find some they like, it costs nothing to take them out!
Find your local library
Encourage your child’s competitive streak and break out a fast-paced board game like Connect 4, Cranium or Scattergories. You’ll be surprised how quickly they get into it. Beware of arguments, though, when either you or your daughter start losing?!
18. Take a walk
Whether you live in a city, town or the country, there will be places to go they’ve never been before. Think of somewhere with spectacular views, or a part of your local area that’s has lots of history attached to it – the local cemetery is often a great bet with kids. If you’re not sure where to go, your local library can help you with some ideas.
Get started with Walking Routes
19. Go down on the farm
Introduce your children to animals by taking them to a farm. Even if you live in a city, there are lots of city farms around the country, and many of them cost peanuts to get into. It’s also a great opportunity to get up close to wildlife, if your child’s only previous contact has been with a cat or dog.
Find your nearest free farm
20. Catch a movie
DVDs may be easier to get your hands on, but nothing beats the thrill of a trip to the local cinema. If you’re on a budget, many have a Saturday morning kids film. Alternatively, it’s always cheaper to go during the
21. Take them to the seaside
You’re never that far from the beach in the UK, and even if the sun’s not shining, it can be great fun, walking along the beach looking for ‘lost treasure’. You can find crabs and barnacles in rock pools, lots of shells and amazing coloured pebbles.
22. Find an old ruin
Castles are magical places and capture the imagination of most boys and girls, who love crossing moats, running up and down spiral staircases and looking at cannons.
Find the best value castles to visit
23. Visit a museum
We know they spell boredom to many people, but lots of museums are free
now and have made great efforts to be interesting for kids.
Try these brilliant free museums in the UK
24. Take them to your grandparents
Most kids love visiting gran and granddad and this time, why not get your son or daughter to ask them what it was like when they were kids. What did they do to pass the time? What were their favourite toys? Did they watch TV? They’ll be surprised by the answers.
25. Make a treasure hunt
OK, so this means a bit of work on your behalf, but why not write some clues and then hide some treats around your house and garden for your children to find. Solve the clues and they’ll get the prize!
26. Go bowling
Get your fancy shoes on and try and score a strike. There are loads of bowling alleys all round the country and, if your young ones find it a little too tough, they can put bumpers down the gutters to make it easier.
Find your nearest bowling alley
27. Get them to make a map
You draw the squares on a large sheet of paper and see how easy they find it to draw the local neighbourhood. Get them to imagine they’re a bird in the sky looking down. Not as easy as it sounds.
28. Have a karaoke competition
If you have a games console, then something like SingStar is fantastic. Alternatively, karaoke CDs cost very little from music stores. Make sure you sing along to some of the songs as well. There’s nothing like embarrassing yourself to entertain your kids!
29. Put a play on
Encourage your child’s creative side, by finding a box of dressing-up clothes and get them to come up with a story for a play. You might need to help them with some ideas (princess trapped in a castle; stranded on a desert island are two). Don’t forget you’ll also have to sit through the performance.
30. Teach them to knit
OK, so this one’s probably for the girls, although some boys might be interested. Never done it yourself? Here are some handy beginner’s tips plus we’ve got plenty of free knitting patterns, here, to keep you busy
31. Go pond dipping
Get your kids to discover a bit about nature just by visiting your local pond: all you need is a net or plastic carton and a local pond. Sweep the net or carton firmly through the water and then transfer the creatures using a plastic spoon into a separate carton filled with clean water. You’ll be amazed at what’s in there!
32. Play Poohsticks
This came from the famously Winnie The Pooh books and has now become a
worldwide activity. All you need are some sticks and a running stream or river with a bridge over it. Just throw your sticks in one side and then rush to the other to see whose comes through first. There’s even an annual world championships held every year at the end of March in Oxfordshire – anyone can enter!
For more info go to the World Pooh Sticks site
33. Learn origami
The ancient Japanese art of paper-folding easy to do and is also dead
cheap. You can fold a sheet of paper into pretty much anything, as long
as you’ve got a pattern.
Origami-instructions.com is a great place to start.
34. Do some junk modelling
Get together a load of things like egg boxes, cereal cartons, plastic milk bottles and let their imaginations run riot. If you get some friends round and ask them to bring their own junk, it becomes even more fun. You just need to provide the sticky tape, scissors, glue and paint and keep an eye on them.
If you do need some inspiration, give these home-made skittles a go.
35. Go star spotting
Gazing at the clear night sky can be an amazing experience and, if you can tell your son which constellations are which, it’ll be even cooler for him.
Do some research beforehand, if you want, otherwise just get him to see
if he can spot any interesting shapes in the patterns of the stars.
For a beginner’s guide, check out Astrocentral or buy Philip’s Stargazing 2008
36. Take them ice-skating
Dancing On Ice has inspired a boom and indoor rinks are a great place to learn. And it’s unlikely that you’ll be up to Torvill & Dean standard, so your kids will enjoy watching you fall over as much as they do.
Find your nearest rink on the National Ice Skating Association’s website
37. Get into painting
In the same way that museums are far cooler now than they used to be, art galleries have woken up to making painting fun. Many of them have workshops that kids can take part in and quizzes they can answer as they go round.
Better still, government-sponsored places are free, so even if your
child gets bored after 30 minutes, it won’t have cost you anything.
Falmouth Art Gallery in Cornwall has won a family-friendly award for its noisy workshops
Tate Britain and Modern in London are both great fun for kids. There’s also one in Liverpool!
Manchester Art Gallery has stacks of things to do for families, many of which are interactive.
To find more places near you, search at Ideas for the kids
38. Build a den
All you need is a large blanket or sheet and some cushions and let them
pretend they’re in a tropical rainforest or somewhere similar. A large
box is also a great idea for a cave – this is likely to entertain them
39. Make a miniature garden
Don’t ditch the foil trays that ready meals come in. They make great containers for a mini garden. You’ll just need a bit of tack to stick the rocks and twigs in. Add some toy figures to make it more lifelike. You could also use sand to make it a beach scene.
40. Make a family tree
How much do your kids know about their family? Do they know anything about your parents’ parents? Not only is drawing family trees fun, but it also teaches them a bit about history. You may unearth some really interesting stories about your own family that you never knew.
Here’s how to make this cute family tree craft (including family pet!)
41. Make a weather station
Get the kids learning science at home by setting up a homemade weather station in the garden. A rain gauge will measure how much rain falls (perfect for the weather we get here!), a wind vane will let you know which direction the wind is blowing and a barometer will help the kids learn about air pressure.
They can keep a weather diary and write down all their findings.
How to make a rain gauge
- Use a ruler to make a scale in centimetres on a piece of tape and stick it on the bottle.
- Find an open space in the garden away from any shelter and dig a hole to bury the gauge so that around 5cm of it is sticking out of the ground.
- Then simply check your rain gauge every day at the same time, measure the amount of rain it has collected and empty the bottle.
How to make a wind vane
- Draw a 25cm arrow on a piece of card and cut it out, then draw around the arrow to make another one and cut it out.
- Place a pen top between the two arrows and glue together. Get four matchsticks and a cork and push the matchsticks into the long side of
the cork at right angles to each other.
- Label four pieces of card with N, S, E, W and attach these to the ends of the matchsticks with Blu-tack.
- Fill a bottle with sand and push a knitting needle into the cork and then push into the sand. Balance the arrow on top of the needle and place the
wind vane in an open area using a compass to point the N label North.
The arrow will show you the direction the wind is blowing from.
How to make a barometer
- Pour a few inches of water into a plastic cup and add a few drops of food colouring.
- Place an empty plastic bottle upside down inside the cup. It shouldn’t be too tight in the cup but should fit snugly. The top of the bottle must be below the waterline but not touching the bottom of the cup.
- Use a marker to note the water level on the side if the cup. Put the barometer outside with the rest of the weather station on a rainy day and check it after a couple of days.
- If the weather is clearer the water level in the cup should have fallen and the level in the bottle risen – it’s the air pressure that causes the change in water level. When the weather’s clear, air pressure is high and when it rains, air pressure drops.