Family Fun for Free

Family Fun for Free (and playdough recipe)

Family Fun for FreeWell, at long last the sun is shining! And doesn’t it raise your spirits?

Those you with children or grandchildren will know that facing a half term week of rain is a pretty daunting task! Those little people need a couple of hours’ physical activity every day – something difficult to achieve indoors – otherwise you are faced with some serious strops/hyperactivity. So, it makes life much easier when we wake up to blue skies. This week, the world is our oyster!

I have a couple of days in work and then I am free to enjoy every day with my little ones. And the littlest two celebrate their second birthday on Thursday, so we have lots to look forward to. We have so much planned (inspired by the Dairy Diary Family Fun feature) I am not sure how we will fit it all in!

Be inspired to enjoy every
minute with your small
people and check out our
ideas for half term.

Most are free or cost very
little. Have a great time.

All ages

Visit your council office or library, and look in the local newspaper, for details of local events and places to go. Pick up leaflets at places you visit – they sometimes have discount vouchers. Many local amenities are free or inexpensive: art galleries and/or museums often have scheduled events and workshops for children; your local library may offer reading groups; English Heritage properties offer great-value and intriguing days out (see the ‘days out on a shoestring’ page on their website); the park is perfect for ball games; country parks and local sites are good for picnics; the playground and beach are always favourites; many local leisure centres offer swimming for free and plenty of other sporting activities for children of all ages.

Under 5s

  • Create a very simple treasure hunt at home with one word cards to follow, such as table, chair and toybox.
  • Food packets and tubes can be used for plenty of activities: your child can sort them into different shapes and sizes; the tubes and packaging can be used as building bricks, and painted in different colours.
  • Make a themed collage (by colour, season or transport, for example) with pictures cut from magazines. If the children are very young, cut the pictures out yourself and allow them to stick.
  • Make pasta necklaces by painting individual pasta shapes, such as penne. Allow to dry, thread on to string and tie.
  • Imprint rubbing can be intriguing for little ones. Place a piece of paper over a patterned object, such as a coin, leaf or shell, and then rub over the top with a crayon.
  • Cut a potato in half and carve a simple pattern into the flesh. Make several of these for your child to cover in paint and print the shapes on a piece of paper.
  • Paint can be used in all sorts of ways. Cut a butterfly shape from a piece of paper. Ask your child to paint a pattern on one side then fold in half while still wet to see the pattern mirrored. n With paint, you can also create butterflies from two children’s hand prints with a blob of paint in the middle. Sponge painting is also great fun, or try drawing patterns with wax crayon and painting over the top.
  • Use the playdough recipe (below) to create models, make patterns and cut into shapes. Baking equipment is ideal for use with playdough.
  • Encourage an interest in food at an early age by making chocolate and rice crispy cakes together, or simple flapjacks with butter, oats and syrup.
  • Play some lively music and dance with your child. Get him/ her to mirror your movements, count or clap to the beat, or waltz with your child standing on your feet.
  • Let’s pretend – choose an animal and make the relevant noises and movements. Choose contrasting animals, such as a tiny mouse and huge elephant.
  • Ask your child to clap out the rhythm of his/her name and clap along, or clap to the beat of a song. Make a simple shaker by sealing dried rice or pasta in a tub to shake along to the music.
  • At the start of the day choose one letter from the alphabet and see how many things beginning with that letter your child can spot throughout the day. Paint a picture or create a picture collage of some of those things at the end of the day.
  • Go for a short walk and collect natural objects, such as pinecones, pebbles and feathers. With glue, paint and paper, make little creatures from your finds. You could also try a ‘colour walk’ and ask your child to point out all the yellow items he or she sees, for example.

5-12 year olds

  • Make a calendar or clock. For a clock, decorate a paper plate then paint on numbers and secure cardboard hands with a paper fastener. To create a calendar, choose month-appropriate pictures from a magazine and stick them on to 12 sheets of card or paper. Print out dates from the computer or write them down. Hole-punch each sheet and secure together with string. Both these craft projects will encourage your child to learn about time, days and months.
  • Use food packets to play shop. Your child can use scales to weigh items, stickers for pricing and change to learn about money and counting. Or your child could make a money box, and learn how to save. Create a model village by painting windows, doors and flowers onto packets.
  • To make an impressive mosaic picture, draw a large, simple design (such as flowers) on a piece of paper, cut small squares from coloured paper or magazines and use one colour to fill each section of the design.
  • Fingerprint characters are fun. Simply make lots of fingerprint marks with paint on a sheet of paper and allow to dry. Then make faces, monsters, animals and bugs by adding features/hair/legs/arms/tails with a black pen.
  • Create finger puppets – ask your child to draw animal or people characters on a piece of paper. Cut them out and glue a loop of paper to the back.
  • For paper weaving, cut long thin strips from coloured paper or magazines. Then take a larger piece of paper and cut strips almost but not quite to the top so it’s fringed. Weave each complete paper strip horizontally under and over the fringed strips. Trim the sides and secure at the back with tape.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in all (safe) food preparation to foster his/her interest in food. Choose a simple recipe and follow it together.
  • Throw a dice and draw a funny animal. Each number represents a body part (write these down first), take it in turns to throw and draw part of the beast. See what bizarre creatures you can create together.
  • Using either your clothes or jumble-sale finds, play dressing up and role play. You could pretend to be pop stars, play their music and sing with a hairbrush ‘microphone’ while dressed up. Face paints or make-up are good for this activity, too.
  • Hold a treasure hunt throughout the house and garden. Make around ten simple clues, such as ‘Your next clue is very cold’ (the clue’s hidden in the fridge) and hide them in appropriate places. The treasure can be a small toy or a home-made cake. The fun is in the hunt, not the prize. You could also encourage your child to write clues for you to hunt.
  • Make a family photo album. When you go out, take photos of teddy, or a favourite soft toy, in various places. Then put the photos in an album with other family members for your child to keep. You could also create a family tree together.
  • Children often get bored while out walking. Make a countryside stroll more fun with a ‘spotter’s list’. Write a list of plants, birds and creatures with tick boxes and a small reward. For example, blackbird 2p, kingfisher 50p. Your child will then have something for his/her moneybox at the end of the walk.
  • Poetic artwork – go for a walk and jot down things you do, see, smell, touch and hear. For example, bees buzzing, the scent of lavender, warm sunshine, green grass, a thrush singing, steep hill. When you get home, encourage your child to write them all down in different coloured pens/crayons on a piece of paper.


Teenagers are much more independent and less likely to want to take part in structured activities. They may still enjoy crafts (card making, drawing, painting, sculpture), cooking or reading but it is important to treat them as young adults when suggesting these ideas. Out-of-home activities may be more successful, such as ball games, swimming, skating and visiting local attractions.

Useful websites

Useful materials

It’s a good idea to keep some, or all, of the following to hand. They are cheap and can be used for many different activities.

  • Apron
  • Ball
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Cereal packets
  • Child-safe scissors
  • Crayons

Safety first

For all these activities, stay with the children to ensure they are safe. Pay particular attention to choking hazards with very young children. If you are doing any craft activities, it’s a good idea to wear aprons and cover surfaces with newspaper.

Playdough recipe

  • Plain flour 1 cup
  • Water 1 cup
  • Vegetable oil 1tbsp
  • Cream of tartar 2tsp
  • Salt ½ cup
  • Food colouring a few drops

Place all ingredients in a pan on a low heat. Stir continuously until mixture thickens to a firm dough texture. Store in an airtight container and keep away from pets.

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