Things to do with kids: 41 cheap activities to keep children entertained

Finding things to do with kids can be a tricky business at the best of times, and it's even more difficult during holidays. Hopefully, these cheap kids' activities should keep them entertained for a while.

We’ve put our thinking caps on and come up with things to do with kids to keep them entertained whatever the weather. 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!

Things to do with kids

1. Get messy with play dough

Get messy with play dough

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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.

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

Cooking is one of the best things to do with kids. 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 one of our  no-bake cake recipes, 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 a fun afternoon tea?

If you’re happy to get them baking, take a look at our easy baking recipes for kids. Everyone loves cakes and encouraging your kids to help you make one of their favourites should be lots of 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.
Age: 7+

4. Make paper planes

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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.
Age: 5+

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! For more inspiration take a look at story starters, which provide lots of creative writing prompts for children.
Age: 6+

6. Host a dance party

Invite around some of your daughter’s friends, get a bunch of their favourite CDs and let them dance till they drop. All you’ll have to do is provide drinks and snacks! This is one of the best things to do with kids to tire them out before bedtime. If they’re more into acting than dancing, hold a Hollywood party instead. for more
Age: 8+

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. This is one of the best things to do with kids to tire them out so you get an afternoon of peace and quiet.
For your nearest soft play centre, search at Ideas for the Kids.
Age: 4-12

8. Put a play on

things to do with kids

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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. If they’re feeling extra creative, they could have a go at making their own puppet theatre.
Age: 6+

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.
Age: 8+

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.
Age: 7+

11. Get them gardening

Gardening is one of our favourite things to do with kids. 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.
Age: 5+

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.
Age: 7+

13. Fruit picking

Things to do with kids

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For a cheap and fun way to entertain the kids during the summer months visit your local fruit picking farm and select your own juicy strawberries from late May or crunchy apples from August, plus other seasonal fruits. And, it’s one of the best things to do with kids to get them to eat their five portions of fruit and veg. After they’ve gathered their fruits, teach them to make fruit cakes, pudding and even jam.

Don’t forget to pack a picnic and make the most of your day – lots of the places on our list have plenty of other activities available, from tractor and pony rides through to cooking classes.

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.
Age: 7+

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.
Age: 8+

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
Age: 6+

17. Play a board game

Cracking out the games box is one of the best things to do with kids and gets the whole family involved. 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?!
Age: 7+

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, enter your location into the Woodland Trust website for lots of ideas.
Age: 6+

19. Visit a kids’ farm

Things to do with kids

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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.
Age: 4+

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 day. We have rounded up 50 family movies every child should watch before they turn 16.
Age: 7+

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.
Age: 5+

Best castles

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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.
Age: 6+

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.
Age: 7+

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.
Age: 9+

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!
Age: 5+

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.
Age: 6+

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.
Age: 9+

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!
Age: 8+

29. 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 one of our favourite things to do with kids to teach them a bit about history. You may unearth some really interesting stories about your own family that you never knew.
Age: 9+

30. Teach them to knit

Things to do with kids

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Test their skills with a pair of needles? Never done it yourself? Read our guide on how to knit.  And, for some fantastic knitting patterns, including cute and cuddly toys for kids, visit our sister site Women’s Weekly.
Age: 7+

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!
Age: 6+

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! Definitely one of our favourite things to do with kids. For more info go to the World Pooh Sticks site.
Age: 4+

33. Learn origami

The ancient Japanese art of paper-folding easy to do and is one of the cheapest things to do with kids. You can fold a sheet of paper into pretty much anything, as long as you’ve got a pattern – and making paper animals is one of the best ways to entertain your kids on a rainy afternoon. Origami-instructions.com is a great place to start.
Age: 8+

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.
Age: 6+

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.
Age: 8+

Things to do with kids

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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. Laughing at parents is of course one of the best ways to entertain your kids. Find your nearest rink on the National Ice Skating Association’s website.
Age: 6+

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 with kids, many of which are interactive. To find more places near you, search at Ideas for the kids.
Age: 7+

38. Build a den

Taking them out to the great outdoors is one of the best things to do with kids. 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 for hours.
Age: 5+

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.
Age: 7+

Things to do with kids

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40. Make a weather station

Making a weather station is one of the best things to do with kids to get them outdoors. 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

  • You just need an empty two-litre plastic bottle, which you cut two thirds of the way up. Then turn the top part of the bottle upside down and place it in the bottom part using sticky tape to secure.
  • 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.

41. Go swimming

Remember that most kids only swim during school lessons, so going to the local pool or leisure centre with mum and dad will be a fun activity in itself. Be prepared because you will probably get splashed!

Many pools also have wave machines, slides and fountains, so it’s not just about ploughing up and down lanes, and many sports centres have separate pools specially for kids and will provide floats, balls and other water toys to keep them out of danger.