Entertaining the kids over the school summer holidays can seem expensive, but it doesn’t have to break the bank, says Lisa Salmon
As the school summer holidays approach, many parents will be preparing for their children’s inevitable ‘I’m bored’ moans.
But for cash-strapped families, beating the boredom with expensive day trips may be out of the question, and cheaper home-made fun could be the best option.
Research suggests more than half (58%) of parents worry about how to finance entertainment for the kids and childcare over the holidays, with 25% having not planned how to pay for it.
A separate study found 69% of parents questioned were planning to take their kids on day trips to zoos or tourist attractions, and 34% were hoping to visit a theme park.
But a massive 86% said such activities were expensive, and only a quarter could afford them.
It’s not just less well-off families that are feeling the pinch. One-in-10 higher income parents (earning more than £60,000 a year) admitted expensive days out simply weren’t possible this year, with a quarter agreeing that their children expected lots of fun activities without realising the price tag.
Figures compiled by the national charity 4Children show how much prices have risen in recent years.
The charity say the cost of buying tickets on the day for a family of five to Alton Towers has increased by 57% over the last four years, from £126.50 in 2009 to £198 in 2013; by 42% at Legoland Windsor, from £141.90 in 2009 to £201 in 2013, and by 20% at Thorpe Park, from £115 to £138.
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, says: “Days out can strengthen bonds and build shared family experiences and memories that we know are so important.
“But the financial pressures facing families are already deeply concerning and, when combined with the escalating costs of attractions and transport, the traditional family day out is increasingly under threat.”
However, parents worried about how they’ll afford summer entertainment should remember kids are very good at entertaining themselves, and plenty of cheap and cheerful fun at home could be a great boredom-buster.
Instead of just leaving kids to their own devices, mums and dads looking for inspiration can get help from the new Sainsbury’s Bumper Book Of Summer.
Packed with activity ideas designed to ensure a fun summer without blowing the budget, it was written by family games author Josie Curran and features ideas from Sainsbury’s Active Kids ambassadors David Beckham and Ellie Simmonds, as well as Nickelodeon TV presenters Anna Williamson and Jamie Rickers.
Ideas include holding a Wacky Races competition in the garden, going on a Torch Treasure Hunt, making pictures from pasta, and creating a Human Fruit Machine with boxes and real fruit.
Rickers says: “Anna and I had lots of fun trying out the activities, and I’m thrilled that one of my favourite games when I was a kid, den building, made it into the book.
“It can be done indoors or outdoors with whatever you have lying around the house, and once you’ve built your own den, it’s great fun to play at being a secret agent.”
Williamson adds: “The book is full of inspiration for kids whatever their interests are.
“Summer is about more than taking time off school. It’s about having fun, using your imagination, and making new friends and memories.”
Author Josie Curran says that, as a parent herself, she understands the constant challenge of trying to come up with new games and activities to keep kids active over summer.
“I’ve made sure there’s a wide range of activities for kids of different ages and who have different interests,” she promises.
Many parents will be tempted to use the TV and computers as ‘babysitters’, but Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts warns that while that’s fine sometimes, parents should also try to get creative.
“Don’t sweat it though,” she says, “the kids know you’re not a Blue Peter presenter!
“Kids relish the chance to get creative and messy, indoors and out. Who says you can’t set up tents in the living room and throw a teddy bears’ picnic complete with dressing up?
“Sometimes the best family activities can be done on the cheap.”
She suggests making a packed lunch and taking younger children on the bus to try a different playground across town, and making the most of playdates for older children, as “sometimes all it takes is a friend over to keep them happy”.
Roberts also recommends annual membership to a local farm or adventure playground, which means parents can save money long-term by making multiple trips.
She adds: “The golden rule is to keep it simple.
“Sometimes the best days boil down to outdoor space and dry weather – or, if we’re realistic, outdoor space and wet weather! Above all it’s worth reminding yourself that summer holidays don’t last forever and you’ll miss them when they’re back at school.”