fun frugal summer holiday ideas


Does this sound familiar: no school for six weeks and three days in you’re already hearing the dreaded “I’m bored!”

Ok, so the little fella is too young for this yet, but I remember those words coming out of my own mouth not so long ago.

I’m discovering that the best children’s activities are the ones that hold their attention for the longest and these activities often involve the simplest of things. Mess and noise I can deal with as long as it gives me a few minutes of tuning out time without resorting to turning on the TV. I’m also discovering that a little planning and preparation means a lot of fun with the little fella (or a lot of mummy time to herself).

Below are a few inexpensive activity ideas to help keep the kids entertained during the summer holidays.

Fun in the water

While the times of spending hours running around under the sprinkler are over, summer time the time to splash around in the water. If you have a pool then you’ve got hours of entertainment already. For the rest of us, a blow up kiddie pool can be an inexpensive alternative (and if you’ve sat in a kiddie pool drinking beer on a hot summer night you will appreciate that the kiddie pool can be enjoyable for all ages).

In the pool – Ideas for pool games include swimming competitions, water tug-o-war marco polo, handstands and dive for the coin.

Spray bottle water fight – Don’t have super soakers or water bombs? Use household spray bottles to conduct water fights.

Bowl of water – A good one for smaller children. Place items in a bowl of water that they can splash around in. Maybe they can ‘help’ you wash up. I do this with the little fella and he enjoys tipping the bowl of water over his head.

Bucket relay – Divide into teams. Each team has two buckets at either end of the yard (one with water and one empty) and a cup. The teams race each other to get the water from one bucket to the other with the cup…by holding it over their head. The team with the most water in the second bucket wins.

Paint with water – For smaller kids. This used to be my all time favourite activity when I was in preschool (I can still remember painting the cubby house, so it must have been good). You need a bucket and a paint brush and something to ‘paint’.

Fun in the backyard

Pavement art – Chalk and cement is all that is needed for pavement art. We used to do this at my grandmother’s. After taking an art class and discovering charcoal, I raided the BBQ and drew all over the pavement with lumps of charcoaled wood – that didn’t go down very well actually, but it washes off just fine.

French cricket – derived from cricket, there is only one batsman who stands with their feet together the bat held in front of the legs. ‘Bowling’ is underarm and you get out by being caught out or by being bowled in the legs. For more details see the Wikipedia entry.

Make believe – Cops and robbers, playing shop in the cubby house, playing house, doctors and nurses – the options are limited only by kid’s imaginations which of course are limitless. You provide the sunscreen and the cordial (and maybe a few props) and the kids do the rest.

Hide and seek – An old favourite, no explanation needed.

Scavenger hunt – There are two versions of this game, one that takes a little more preparation than the other. In the first version, you write a list of things that can be commonly found in the backyard like a leaves, feathers etc. The first person or team to find everything on that list is the winner. The other version involves you hiding things in the yard and writing clues as to what these things are and their whereabouts. Alternatively, you write clues to places in the yard and the answer has to be written down. Again the first person with everything on the list wins.

Spotlight – This is a game to be played at night. One person is the ‘spotter’ and they hold the torch. Everyone else goes to the end of the yard. They must make it back to home base before being ‘spotted’. I played this when I was about 14 in a huge open paddock in the pitch black darkness. The bonfire was the home base. I have never had so much fun. Just as well the snakes were asleep. A variation of this game is Ghost in the Graveyard.

Mini Olympics – I’d almost forgotten playing this one when I was a kid. Host the event with a variety of games like timed wheelbarrow races, obstacle courses, tossing games like toss the ball in the bucket or quoits, jumping games, egg and spoon races etc. Don’t forget the opening and closing ceremony, medals and certificates and the after party.

Fun Out and about

There are lots of free activities to do out and about. Visit your local library for free holiday activities. Our library has cartoon drawing workshops and young writers workshops as well as story time. Other free activities include:

Playgrounds – Meet other parents and relax under the trees with a book while the kids play with other kids on the equipment.

At the beach or river – build sandcastles, the more elaborate the more time consuming, play beach bowling (make the pins out of sand and throw a ball to ‘knock’ them over) build dams (and then knock them down), wade in the rock pool looking for crabs.

At the park – play cricket, Frisbee hacky sack, soccer, football or whatever other sport you like. Build fairy villages. Go on a nature walk. Borrow a local guide book from the library and use it to identify the birds, insects, lizards, and plants at your local park then create your own nature book with drawings, cuttings and descriptions.

Around town – Explore your local town or suburb. Look at new shops, walk down new streets. If your suburb is old, find out about the history of certain buildings as you explore.

Fun indoors

While outdoor play is great during summer, it isn’t always possible. It might be raining. Here in Queensland, to be ‘sun-smart’ we are told to stay out of the sun between 10am and 3pm. That’s a lot of indoor time over six weeks.

Dress ups – a perennial favourite.

Board games – There are plenty of games to play without having to buy expensive board games, charades is the best example. For other games ideas see the Party Games website.

Write and perform a play – Kids will have to write the script, make the props, practice the performance and then perform the play – an all afternoon activity.

High tea – Sit down to a formal high tea. Bake some lovely cakes, dress up, use a tea pot and nice tablecloth and napkins and enjoy a formal morning tea.

Craft activities – For great craft activities visit the Family Fun website or the Frugal Family Fun blog.


For more holiday ideas see 50 free and almost free activities for kids. For games ideas check out the Fun and Games website and Kid’s Games website.

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  1. Kate says

    I have a list of jobs I want done, that I keep in my pocket. Every time I hear the words “I’m bored” I pull out the list and say “Well, then, you can weed the garden / vacuum the carpet / wash the dishes / tidy your room”

    Not surprisingly, I very rarely hear complaints of boredom, and the kids have learned to entertain themselves. We do have some fun activities planned for these holidays, too – I’m not a total ogre!

  2. says

    Good one Kate! Sometimes works here as well.

    For outside water fun, a bucket and a small watering can. A 2yo will be kept busy for ages “watering” the garden.

    Trampolines are also good for chalk drawing. The mat is a very large canvas and it washes off with the next rain.

    Our local hardware store has extra kids activities on during the week, must remember to combine those shopping trips with those days and times.

  3. says

    Hi Kate, that’s a great idea! I’ll have to remember that one. My mother has been visiting and I mentioned your idea and she said that she should have used that on us (we were little angels though ;) )

    Hi Astrid, thanks, they’re some great ideas. Good to keep the hardware store in mind. With all this rain we’ve had over the last week, indoor activities are certainly the go at the moment.

  4. Andrea says

    Astrid!!! We tried the trampoline as a canvas activity – and it is MAGNIFICENT!!!!!!!!!!!! – thanks so much for the idea – brilliant!