50+ Fun Cheap and Free School Holiday Activities to Keep the Boredom at Bay (Free Printable)

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Are you looking for cheap and free school holiday activities to keep the kids busy this holiday? Here are over 50 kids’ activities to keep boredom at bay.

Christmas time also means Summer school holidays, nearly 50 consecutive days with the kids out of school.

If you work and the kids go to vacation care, the carers can do some of the entertaining for you. But if you’re a stay-at-home parent or you work from home as I do, then coming up with ideas for keeping the kids out of your hair is good for everyone’s sanity.

Entertaining kids can be expensive. Take just going to the movies, for example. Tickets alone can cost a family around $50; add popcorn and drinks, and you’re looking at nearly $100 just for a couple of hours of entertainment.

I don’t believe children need to be entertained 24/7. In fact, I think it’s better if they’re not, that they have downtime to use their imaginations and take responsibility for their own entertainment. Psychologists also argue that boredom is good for kids.

But when they are at a loose end, it can help to have some ideas up your sleeve for inspiration.

In my experience, ‘I’m bored’ often translates as ‘I’m lonely.’ As we don’t live in a family-friendly neighbourhood, have other kids around us, or even have a backyard, I try to make sure the kids have plenty of social time with friends (aka playdates) and family (aka quality time with mum and dad).

Inspire Play Ideas at a Distance

If you’re looking to take a step back from mission control but still want to make sure the kids aren’t spending six weeks on screens, here’s how we roll in our household.

Most days, we go out somewhere early in the morning (because it’s like the fires of Mordor after 9 am in the summer in Queensland). That way, we get some fresh air, sunshine, and exercise without heatstroke and sunburn.

It might be a trip to the beach, the river, the park, or the library. Some days to the coffee shop because it’s not all about the kids – sometimes mum needs a treat too.

We mostly limit screen time to after 2 pm, so the kids have to entertain themselves until then without screens. The exception is if they are doing something creative, like coding, following a drawing tutorial on YouTube, or editing a video etc.

For inspiration, I keep a list of activities taped to the inside of the pantry door. When the kids are bored, they can check the list and find inspiration for themselves.

I’ve created a free printable to download if you would like to use our activity inspiration list in your home. It covers a fairly wide age range. Click the image below to download.

holidays activity list printable

I also use a tip I got from unschoolers called strewing. Strewing is when you leave stuff lying around the house for kids to discover, maybe sparking their imagination and creativity. In our house, ‘stuff’ usually means library books, fiction and non-fiction, and maybe some recycled craft materials or other open-ended things that could be used in a variety of ways.

I now have a teen, so I might also do virtual strewing. That might involve sharing a Pinterest pin I’ve come across, a website, a screenshot of a brain teaser etc.

When strewing, it’s important not to have expectations but let the kids decide whether it sparks their interest or not.

Tips for Finding Free School Holiday Activities for Kids

Adding some free and low-cost activities to your calendar adds some variety and breaks up the holiday. Here are some tips for finding cheap or free school holiday activities:

  • sign up to Eventbrite
  • check out Facebook events for your local area
  • Look at your local council website events for what’s on
  • sign up to your local library and browse their what’s on page
  • sign up for your local shopping centre(s) newsletter – they often have free events
  • ask friends to pass on any activities they hear of
  • ask in local community Facebook groups

50+ Cheap and Free School Holiday Ideas for Kids

Here are fifty activities to help inspire fun during the holidays.

Outdoor activities

frugal school holiday ideas

Have a play date – taking turns having friends over and your kids going over to friends’ houses gives all parents a bit of a break.

Hang out with the neighbourhood kids – if you’re fortunate enough to live in a family-friendly area with other kids around, then letting them hang out together is one of the easiest ways to keep the kids entertained.

Swimming – While the days of running under the sprinkler for hours may be long gone thanks to water restrictions, there’s still the local pool, beach, swimming dam, lake or river.

Sports – Nothing says summer like backyard cricket. But there’s also handball, basketball, frisbee, croquet, catch, tag, backyard Olympics, Red Rover, elastics and all the other great games we used to play as kids.

Old-school Games – old-school games have seen a revival with Minute-to-Win-It (exactly what it says on the box – you have one minute to play and win the game). Think egg and spoon races, sack races, transferring M&M’s with chopsticks, etc. There are heaps of ideas on Pinterest.

Camping – If you’ve got a tent, then camping can be a great family holiday or weekend away, but a campout in the yard can be just as fun without the cost.

Picnics, Parks and Gardens – Visit your local park or garden or have a picnic in the backyard. Or eat on a mat on the loungeroom floor on rainy days. Eating picnics breaks the lunchtime routine without breaking the budget. Public parks with play sets while away many hours and give kids a chance to socialise with other kids.

Gardening – Kids love digging in the dirt and tending to their very own plants. Plant some seeds and watch them grow over the holidays. The kids will love looking after them, and it’s teaching them responsibility. Even better if they can pick and eat the harvest.

Walking/ hiking – Discover the local area, local wildlife, and maybe feed some ducks, all while getting plenty of exercise.

Bike riding/Skateboarding/Scootering – Getting out on the bikes as a family is a great free way to spend the morning getting exercise. When kids are older, they can go on a bike ride themselves. Scootering and roller skating are great alternatives, or you could visit a skate park.

Fishing – Drop in a line and come home for dinner. An early morning trip to the river for a spot of fishing is a great summer bonding activity.

Christmas Activities – Summer holidays mean Christmas in Australia, so there are plenty of Christmas activities to keep the kids occupied. Think carols in the park, driving around looking at Christmas lights, or visiting Santa. We do an Advent calendar with a whole bunch of fun activities, which I’ve shared in the link.

Berry picking – depending on where you live, strawberries are in season in summer. And after picking and eating, there is baking and preserving.

Free Play – Kids should get plenty of time for free play. Not only is it fun, but it’s also important for healthy development.

Geocaching – Not quite screen-free, but geocaching is using GPS to find ‘caches’ in your local area. Here’s the Australian geocaching website.

Catch the train/bus into the city – There are always plenty of things to do and see on a city day trip, and catching the train is fun. Many cities have free public transport around the CBD, and/or kids can ride for free during set times.

Kayak/Standup Paddleboard/Surf – While a standup paddleboard or kayak includes an initial cost, it can be a great investment if used often. Alternatively, you can hire a kayak for the day for some fun on the water.

Have a water fight – unless there are water restrictions.

Watch the clouds

Fun Indoor Holiday Activities

indoor activities for kids

Read a book
– this was my all-time favourite pass time. For young kids, read a book together. Make sure to visit your local library, so you have plenty of reading material around the house. If reading isn’t your thing, audiobooks can also be borrowed for free from the library.

Storytime – related to reading but can also be ‘bookless’ storytime where children and adults take turns making up the story.

Do a jigsaw puzzle – check out your local library for puzzles, games and other toys.

Board games, cards and other games – other games might include something like charades. For ideas and resources, see below.

Have a movie night/day.

Baking and Cooking – Getting children in the kitchen teaches them life skills and can be a lot of fun, albeit messy. You could try baking and freezing slices and muffins etc., together for back-to-school lunch boxes. Older kids can cook dinner to give you a break.

Put on a play – this can take hours of preparation, and as you’re the audience, it gives kids something to do and you a break If you’ve got a video camera, you can record them for posterity.

Do some dancing – a dance-off is not only fun, but it also provides plenty of exercise.

Learn a new skill or hobby – From knitting to stamp collecting, a new hobby now could become a lifelong love. Check your local op-shop (charity store) for craft supplies. If ours is anything to go by, they will have 375 knitting needles plus wool to get you started.

Write a story – Get budding young novelists to put their imaginations to work and write a story or two. Of course, you don’t have to stop at stories; what about a letter to a friend or starting a blog – kids can make money from writing about what they love.

Drawing – Why not illustrate that story you’ve written? Or make a cartoon. Or just draw the dog. For drawing tutorials, see the resources below.

Playdough – Get a no-cook playdough recipe here. Even my older kids will play with playdough.

Revisit old toys – It’s amazing how forgotten toys can take on a new appeal. Plan ahead and put toys away in the cupboard so they can come out new and exciting during the holidays. 

Dress-ups and Make-believe/Role play – Kids love dressing up. It doesn’t have to be with expensive costumes from the shop. Old clothes, hats, gloves, scarves and accessories contribute to some great imaginative play.

Build a sheet fort or indoor cubby.

Create a scavenger hunt – This is a good activity for older kids to organise for the younger ones and can be heaps of fun. For a simple scavenger hunt, take photos of random objects around the house (or parts of objects to make it harder) and then let the kids find them.

Breakfast in Bed – Our variation when we were a little older was to take turns at sleepovers to write up a menu and serve breakfast to each other restaurant-style with napkins and the whole shebang. It was one of my favourite games as a kid. Now we can get the kids to make us breakfast in bed!

Science activities – Remember Julius Sumner Miller and The Curiosity Show (see it on YouTube)? Combine fun with learning by doing some backyard science experiments. For science ideas and resources, see below.

Indoor sports with socks – Like wastepaper bin basketball. Or you could draw a circle on an old cardboard box to use as a nerf gun target practice.

Declutter – Discover forgotten toys by getting the kids to declutter their rooms.

Chores – chores around the house not only take up time but take the pressure off you and teach kids responsibility. Young kids love chores, and older kids get long-term benefits from household chores.

Make sushi – sushi is fun to make for lunch, and the kids will enjoy rolling their own…it’s better than it sounds. We also like making gyoza.

Sewing – making a small quilt (I know, summer) is an easy beginner project because it’s joining squares. You can make a cushion cover, simple skirt, or oven pad instead.

Practice an Instrument – if your kids play a musical instrument, they can practice during the holidays. One year we bought a cheap guitar second-hand from Cash Converters, and the kids used YouTube to learn (until their left-handed mother broke a string).

Nap Time – you’re never too old for nap time. *I* often take a nap and tell the kids they (I) need an hour of quiet time.

Holiday Craft Activities

Indoor Activities for School Holidays

[Read further: 13 Essential Kid’s Craft Supplies]

Make Christmas Cards and Gifts like these salt dough ornaments.

Check out local art and craft classes.

Create a scrapbook or album – digital cameras and editing make this task a lot easier and cheaper, but my daughter has really gotten into real scrapbooking her memories.

Learn to Draw (or just draw) – Drawing is a favourite in our house. For inspiration, we watch YouTube drawing tutorials, books on Manga drawing from the library, and this beautiful book we bought about keeping a drawing journal.

Do Some Painting.

Draw chalk drawings on cement – we used charcoal from the BBQ once. Whilst effective (and it washes out), my grandma was not impressed.

Have a craft session – see below for ideas and resources. Pinterest is also great for ideas. I like to keep a craft box of items to spark creativity. You could do what we did and make puppets and put on a puppet show.

Do Nature Art – Art created from nature is almost free

Make some jewellery. There are lots of ideas for making free and cheap jewellery. For example, you can make beads from old magazines.

Colour-in – for free resources, see below.

Make and fly paper aeroplanes or a kite – And watch Paper Planes for inspiration.

Local Attractions

frugal local attractions

Visit the museum, art gallery, or other free attractions.

Celebrate Australia Day – Often, the council or other organisations host live entertainment and BBQs for Australia day.

Visit the library – not only is it a place for free books, ideas and resources, toys, DVDs and magazines, libraries often run vacation programmes, including storytime.

Community events and programmes – check Facebook and your local PCYC website for local events and workshops run through the school holidays.

Go bowling –  or mini golf. Not so free, but keep an eye out for discounts or cheap days/times.

Go op-shopping – Op shopping is fun, inexpensive (or free if you’re just window shopping) and good for the environment.

And a few Other Holiday Activity Ideas

Start a family tradition – Any one of the above could become a family tradition. It’s these traditions and special moments that we remember in our adulthood.

Child swap – You mind my kids this weekend; I’ll mind yours next weekend.

Hang out with friends. A backyard BBQ is great for adults and kids alike.

Throw a slumber party.

Plan ahead – some of these activities take a little organisation and planning or a little research into what’s on in your local area. Having a well-stocked craft box and a few games at the ready will make wet weather a lot easier.

Get the kids involved. As the article on boredom suggests, let the kids make their own list of activities so that they take responsibility for their own entertainment and they are more invested in the ideas.

You might also like 101 ideas for spending more time in nature.

Holiday Activity Resources

Craft Resources

Other Kids Craft and Activity Websites:

Kids craft blogs:

Colouring-in Resources

Activities and Other Resources

  • The Idea Box – Lots of ideas for kids’ activities.
  • Look Learn Do – Craft resources and science projects
  • Families with Purpose – activity resources as well as other family resources
  • Jan Brett – famous children’s book illustrator; this site has lots of resources, including colouring activities, games and awesome how-to-draw videos.

Plan Ahead for the Next School Holidays

I put aside a couple of dollars each week during the school term so that we can enjoy a few special outings, like a trip to the movies or ice creams on the beach, during the holidays.

It only takes a few dollars a week to allow you to say Yes! to a school holiday request (unless the kids are requesting a 3-day pass to Movie World, which is beyond our budget).

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  1. Your local pool isnt free, but a family pass for the season costs $85, includes the visiting grandparents, so we only need to go 15 times to have it pay itself off (and then theres the free barbie to cook on saving gas in cooking at home).
    Last summer we deffently got our moneys worth.