Nineteen ideas to keep the kids entertained that don't cost anything

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Baking with kids is so much fun. Photo: Unsplash/ Annie Spratt.
Baking with kids is so much fun. Photo: Unsplash/ Annie Spratt.

As the old saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun," so fill up the long hours of the weekends and spare holiday time with these cheap home-based activities.

Not only will they keep your kids happy and busy, but they'll keep you sane(r) too.

1. Pick up the phone, and call a friend

Often all a toddler needs to be happily entertained is someone else to play with. Kids – together – will think up all kinds of games that you couldn't possibly imagine.

And if their mom comes along too, then you have someone to have a natter with.

2. Build a fort

Build a fort (with old blankets) or pitch a tent (we're sure you have one lying around from your single camping days?). These bring such novelty to playing, and you'll see how new life is brought to all of your kids' toys once they're painstakingly taken – one by one – into their new "house".

And if the weather is not cold, consider pitching the tent in the garden.

3. Go for a walk, and stop to smell the roses

Toddlers love to dawdle, and if you let them, you'll have fewer hours to fill before bedtime. If you have a safe park nearby, pay a visit. Jungle gyms and other kids take the edge off any day.

4. On that note, work that imagination

Make-believe games are easy to invent, and you really can follow your little one's lead on this.

5. Hunt for toys

As long as you remember where you put them – especially that favourite toy – why not hide your kids' toys all over the house, and even the garden?

It's great practice for next year's Easter-egg hunt and should keep them busy for a while. When you're done – get them to hide the toys. 

Read: Managing the great leap from Primary to High school

6. Paint the house – with water!

This is a great game, especially for the younger toddler. Fill up a bucket with water and haul out an old painting roller.

Do it outside – and you might even land up with slightly cleaner walls.

7. Bake

Biscuit ingredients are cheap and simple, and your toddler will just love mixing them and rolling the dough.

If you have cookie cutters, get them to make the biscuits into fun characters too. Great for fine-motor-skill development.

8. Build a mattress fort

It's probably getting close to nap time now, so why not put a mattress and a duvet on the floor and make a reading ring?

Toddlers love books, and if you're short of new and exciting ones, it's still free to get these from the library – as long as you remember to return them and don’t run up a hefty fine.

Visit our Storytime Hub for free stories to read and download  

9. Playdough is also fantastic for keeping the kids entertained

And you don't have to buy those expensive tubs that don't last – make your own with half a cup of salt, half a cup water, one cup of flour and food dye, and you can have a fresh "batch" for every day of the holidays.

10. Hit the ball

If you ever had one of those ball ponds, with a bag of 100 balls in it, then now's the time to line them up and get your future golf pro hitting them.

Once they've gone through all 100, encourage the kids to collect the balls and line them up for their siblings. There's a reason why gold stars were invented.

11. Play hide and seek

Kids love the thrill of hiding and being found and can do it over, and over, and over again.

If you’re the one hiding, you can use the "quiet" time to catch up on your emails on your smartphone.

12. Dance

We're almost certain you have at least one playlist of nursery rhymes to jump around to, but the good news is, lots of babies love all kinds of music, which means you might even be able to crank up one of your playlists and get moving to it – just like the old days!

13. Dress up!

Kids love to dress up, and you don't need to buy fancy props. Fish out scarves, shoes, feather boas, sparkly handbags and cheap jewellery – you name it – and your child will have a field day. Old skirts work wonderfully as dresses.

They love playing pirates too. Make an eye-patch, and find an old roll of wrapping paper – believe it or not, these work great as "swords".

Also read: More families moving to the Cape than ever before - here's why, and what it's really like

14. Have a tea party under the trees

You can get those plastic tea sets at next to nothing from the Crazy Store or Pep. Otherwise, you can just pretend. Children love to sit on a picnic blanket and feed their babies tea and cake. 

15. Watch TV

While this is a contentious issue, there is only so much you can do. As long as the screen time is limited, it can be used as an exercise in concentration too.

A DVD swap with friends is a great idea, and also a check with your local library to see if it doesn't stock movies – many of them do.

16. Create a classroom

Get some glue, old magazines, paper and crayons – and we're sure you'll be able to come up with an arts and crafts centre. See what things you have in the house that can add to the fun – glitter, stickers, crinkle paper, foil and paint.

You can even download and print fun pictures off the internet to colour in – there are loads of sites dedicated to this.

Visit our Storytime Hub for free colouring pages to download 

17. Build a ramp

If you have an old piece of wood lying around, and an elevated area somewhere, your son will think you're the best thing ever if you make a ramp for cars. 

The kids can race them up and down and see how far they can go. Just make sure they don't try it out with a scooter! 

18. Make a sandpit

Find a spot where the grass isn't growing and make a sandpit just like the one at school. You can get cheap sand at various stores, just make sure it's chemical-free. 

19. Build a mud kitchen

Learn how to build a simple, free outdoor kitchen play area for your kids: Top toys for tots, that don't have to cost a cent


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