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Cheap Activities to Keep Children Entertained


I find that everyone is in a far better mood if we have a focus for each day, even if it’s just painting or making collages. During the school holidays this is even more important, as is finding cheaper activities to entertain.

Arts and crafts activities

We’ve had an arts and crafts box for ages. It’s invaluable as it alleviates boredom in almost an instant. I clear it out every couple of months; throw out anything tatty and then add a few new bits and bobs such as ribbons, foil, lolly sticks, corks, paper plates and some cheap purpose bought stuff.

I recently discovered that big Sainsbury’s stores stock loads of really affordable arts and crafts items and sets. Stickers, sticky shapes for collages, paintbrushes, foam paint brushes and fancy pipe cleaners are all perfect fodder. You can also pick up a pack of 500 sheets of A4 printer paper for a very modest £2.50.

The girls actually love to just draw, so the cheap paper is great as they’re free to scribble to their hearts’ content. They love sticking too. However, sometimes it’s nice to have a bit more structure and to vary things a bit.

1) Pasta pictures – Great for young toddlers and older children alike. All that’s required is PVA glue, a variety of pasta shapes, paper and imagination. We create landscapes and faces.

2) Foot prints and painting on lining paper/old wrapping paper 

Best reserved for outdoors as it can be rather messy. I rolled out a long piece of wrapping paper (white side up) and then filled several plates with poster paint. They all stood in the paint and made footprint trails all along it as well as doing more conventional painting on it. I think there was something about the scale of it as well as ‘the naughtiness’ of getting paint all over their feet, which made it such fun and so appealing.

3) The cardboard box – it’s not a myth: kids really do love cardboard boxes. They’re great for developing imagination. The twins immediately jumped inside the box that I gave them. One insisted it was a pirate ship, the other that it was a rocket. I attached a paper plate with a paper fastener to make a steering wheel; it then became a car. Not only did they love playing in it, they also spent ages decorating it.

Other indoor activities

4) Tent/den building – very similar to the above in terms of ease, enjoyment and imagination development. Obviously works indoors and outdoors. A few chairs, a large sheet/s and a few clothes pegs to hold in place is all that’s required. Their usual toys and usual meals suddenly became far more exciting when used/eaten within the den.


5)  Baking – we keep it simple with biscuits and fairy cakes. Grandma’s biscuits are the easier ever and consist of juts four ingredients. Biscuit baking is well suited to the younger ones (aged two) as they are able to cream, mix and knead, and can use cookie cutters independently. After they’ve cooled we use squeezy tubes of coloured icing to decorate them. This is easier than creamy icing for cakes as it’s a lot less messy and they have much more control.

I find baking fairy cakes is far better suited to my five-year-old.

Outdoor activities

We go to lots of outdoor venues (weather permitting), but the most cost-effective thing we have done on this front is join the National Trust. With membership, we just jump in the car and go without worrying about admission prices or parking tariffs. There are almost always craft activities to do indoors and there are usually family tours of the houses with dressing up etc, but aside from that it’s all about being outdoors, spotting things, doing nature trails, running, jumping, picnicking… Check out their 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ for more inspiration.

Specifically for the toddlers

Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of Sure Start centres. The one we attend has had some inspired sensory activities set up; things I wouldn’t have thought of!

Here are some of our favourites:

1) Cold baked beans in a massive tray – Squelching their fingers in the sticky mess. Toddlers love it and are fascinated by the sensation.


2) Cloud Dough (sometimes called moon dough) – Made of flour and baby oil. Has a great texture, which again the kids absolutely love. Additional bonus being that your hands will be silky smooth.

3) Flat perspex shapes submerged in jelly – very messy, very fun, (who isn’t amused by wobbly jelly?) and can be eaten!

4) Cornflour, water and food colouring – This makes a wonderful gloopy mixture in a tray. It feels like plastic when you run your fingers through it. Some farmyard animals were put inside and a minty flavour was added for extra interest. The girls were a little unsure about the texture to begin with but then loved it and played for ages.

5) Hay bales – Great for imaginative play, but also great for physical play. My girls loved ripping it apart and jumping on it as well as using it creatively with toy animals. The benefits of playing with hay have recently been documented.


6) Food colouring on paper towels – A really simple idea, but literally had them engrossed for a good 45 minutes. The centre had set up a number of beakers filled up with water and different colours of food colouring alongside pipettes. The children simply used the pipettes to suck up some of the coloured liquid and squirt it onto the towel. It blotted and made great patterns. They were fascinated.

What activities would you recommend? I’d love to hear some more suggestions.


About Author

I’m Fran: wife, mother-of-three and freelance publicist. My love for communicating and writing mirrors my passion for trying to be the best mum I can be. I love good food & wine, Italian culture and football and have a keen interest in personal finance. I also blog over on Epsom & Ewell Families and Habyts, and write sporadically for a number of other sites.

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