With 2012 proving to be a financially challenging year for many people, summer can leave moms with a feeling of dread. Many families wonder: How are we going to keep the kids entertained without breaking the bank?

If your kids are anything like mine, they are bored as soon as summer vacation begins. Within seconds of waking they demand to be taken to an astronomically expensive theme park, where they insist on buckets of poor quality food and toys that suck your bank account dry.

After several years of giving into to this extreme pressure, and visiting most of the ‘paid for’ attractions in my local area, I decided enough was enough. It was time to start researching fun activities that wouldn’t leave me for broke. I was completely surprised and overjoyed at variety of free, or low cost activities available, most of which I could do without stepping foot out the door.

Definitely take time to research free local activities in your area – but on a day when you just want to stay home, here is a list of fun and free activities that your whole family will enjoy, whatever the weather:

Camp Out in the Garden

Your kids will love this. It’s just like taking a vacation, but you get to use your own bathroom. Put up your family tent (if it fits in your backyard) and set up the camp stove to make proper camp food, otherwise known as sausages and beans.

Older kids might be trustworthy enough to sleep outside alone, and you could allow them to invite some friends for a sleepover. Not only will they love this slice of independence, you wont hear them giggling at 2AM.

Younger kids will enjoy sleeping out there with you. Join your sleeping bags together and tell each other funny stories to make it a night to remember.

Make Play-dough

All kids (and a fair few adults) love Play-dough.  Even though you’ll be picking bits of hardened paste from the carpet for several days afterwards, Play-dough is an easy kiddy crowd-pleaser that can be whipped up with ingredients from your store cupboard.  I find the following recipe best:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1.5 cups salt
  • 6 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 3 cups of water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Vanilla, peppermint or almond essence (optional – makes it smell divine)

Put all ingredients into a large saucepan.  Stir continuously over a medium heat until dough forms. Remove from the pan and knead until the consistency is play-dough like.  Leave to cool before giving it to the kids.

Start a New Family

Not literally of course! For anyone with a few leftover strips of wallpaper, you are about to put them to good use.

Lay a person-sized strip of paper on the floor (white side up) and ask your chosen family member to lie on the paper while you draw their outline onto the paper.

You can then add in the features of that person using paint, dried pasta, wool, or recycled materials – the garbage pan is your oyster.  Before long you’ll have an entirely new family that can be pinned to the walls with pride.

Have a bit of fun and swap paper-people before decorating them.  Your kids will love adding funny features to their paper mom, dad or sibling.

Theme a Week

Pick a theme and dedicate an entire week to it.  This summer my family and I are planning an ‘Olympic week’ during which we will be hosting our own Olympic games (sack race, relays, shot-put), heading to the library to research Olympic history, making our own sporty outfits, and eating different foods from around the world.

The choices are endless and your family will have bundles of fun as well as learning along the way.