The long summer holiday can be an expensive time to keep the kids entertained, so here's my top five free activities which are heavy on fun and easy on the purse.
Visit the Forest
A trip to the wood is our favourite thing to do for free any time of the year, but in the summer it's perfect. The tree canopy will protect you from scorching sun on hot days, or offer a little shelter from the rain if you're not so lucky with the weather.
There's loads to do in the forest from bird and wildlife spotting, to den building. Take a picnic and make a day of it, but remember to take all your rubbish home with you.
This year, the Forestry Commission are hosting Superworm trails after the success of the Gruffalo and Gruffalo's Child trails last year. Based on Julia Donaldson's popular book, follow the markers, complete the activities and have a super day out. The trails are free to do, although you may need to pay a local parking charge if you take your car. You can buy special activity packs but they're not necessary to complete the trails, and you can download some free activity sheets from the Forestry Commission site instead. You'll find a full list of participating forests on the website.
In both Grizedale and Whinlatter in the Lake District, they're also hosting 'Wormy Wednesdays' on Wednesdays throughout the summer holidays. There will be additional art and craft activities and sessions, see local sites for more information.
Splash at your local play fountain
Hours of free fun can be had in splash parks and municipal fountains. My favourite in London are at Granary Square in Kings Cross where they have loads of deckchairs, live music and street food, and also at the impressive backdrop of Somerset House. You can find more London play fountains here and many large towns and cities now have their own too. Take a towel and a change of clothes!
Canals and Rivers
I always remember summer holidays used to include trips to the river to feed the ducks - the perfect free afternoon of fun. The Canal and Rivers Trust have a free booklet and sticker pack crammed with loads of activities, things to spot and things to make. Send off for your 'What Shall We Do Today' pack and make the most of our waterways.
Watching the barges drift by, playing pooh sticks, collecting feathers are all childhood memories I have, and the website has a great interactive map with downloadable guides for local days out and details of events and festivals.
Incidentally, they're also on a mission to encourage us to feed the ducks more healthily. We shouldn't be feeding them bread, but corn, peas, oats and fruit instead.
Visit the beach
It wouldn't be the summer holidays without a trip to the seaside. From rock-pooling to building sand-castles there's plenty of free fun to be had on the beach. Build a moat around your castles and fill it with buckets of sea water, beach-comb for shells, driftwood and pretty pebbles, bury each other's legs in the sand, fly a kite...the list goes on.
Crabbing is a firm favourite, but remember to do it responsibly. Here are a list of dos and don'ts to prevent causing distress to the crabs:
- Don't put too many crabs in one bucket - four or five at the most
- Do add some rocks and seaweed to the bucket to make them feel more at home and reduce their stress
- Don't keep them out of the sea for too long - return them after an hour at most
- Do keep them in sea water and change the water often to avoid asphyxiation
- Don't keep your bucket in the sun
- Don't use a line with a hook. A net to hold the bait is kinder
- Do hold your crab correctly to avoid damaging it (and avoid you getting bitten!). Hold it either side of it's shell towards the back, or finer and thumb top and bottom of the shell
- Do separate any crabs which are fighting by returning them to the water straight away
- Do take all your rubbish and equipment home with you - lines and nets can damage birds and marine life
- Do go crabbing - it's a great way to introduce kids to marine ecology.
Remember to stay safe at the beach. The RNLI are again this year sending out Beach Smart kits free of charge, with fun stickers and safety guides. Their motto for staying safe in the water, is to remember - hold tight, hands up if you get into any difficulty.
Visit the library
The library is always a great place to enjoy books and magazines for free. But over the summer they always host a reading challenge too. If you haven't already, encourage your kids to sign up. This year the theme is Record Breakers, and children are rewarded with stickers and certificates for the amount of books they read.
Check out your local library for summer holiday activities and craft events too, many of which will be offered free of charge.
What are your favourite free things to do in the holidays?