Free or cheap things to do with your kids this summer (that are genuinely good)

Game Of Tug Of War At Summer Garden Fete
These free and cheap activities will make August fly by. (Getty Images)

August is a busy month for most mums and dads. There’s such a pressure to keep the kids busy but also to make magical memories with them.

This year, more parents than ever will also be feeling the financial pressure as energy bills and the rising cost of living hit so many people hard.

But there’s loads of amazing free stuff you can find and access for your children. You can create an amazing summer for them - and a full photo album that doesn’t mean an empty bank account.

Here are our top picks:

The Summer Reading Challenge

Not only is this really fun but it will also keep your kids brains busy so when they go back to school they haven’t slipped behind where they were at the end of term.

Loads of local libraries are running the challenge, aimed at children aged between and 11. If you sign up you’ll get free packs to help you plan a summer of reading. There’s even an award at the end, which they can take to show school.

Read more: Save 20% on summer holiday childcare with this top tip

This year’s theme is ‘Gadgeteers’ and is designed to spark their curiosity about the world around them.

The Summer Reading Challenge is a great option for book lover children. (Getty Images)
The Summer Reading Challenge is a great option for book lover children. (Getty Images)

Kids eat for £1

Lots of restaurants and supermarkets offer some sort of children’s meal deal over the holidays but this year there’s so much on.

Morrisons offers a free kids meal of an adult spends £4.99 or more, Tesco Clubcard holders can order one free children’s meal with any café purchase, Ikea is offering a children’s meal – including jelly! – for £1.50.

And there are loads of others. One that really stands out is Asda, where kids aged 16 and under can eat a hot or cold meal for just £1 at any time, seven days a week – and with no minimum spend for adults.

Read more: True cost of a child: How expensive are your kids?

Get free toys

All kids like a few new playthings to get them through the summer – novelty is definitely a big thing for children.

But that doesn’t mean toys have to be new. Get on sites and local groups like Freecycle or Freegle and see what might be available.

Then you could try local Facebook freebies and swap groups – offer up some out-of-favour toys in exchange for something new. There are always parents with older kids trying to declutter.

Make for your museums

Across the UK there are hundreds of museums that offer free entry, which in itself is a good day out – think of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland or even smaller town offerings like Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.

Over summer, many of these will also offer additional entertainment. Some of that will be paid-for exhibitions but many will also have free displays, arts and crafts events and more.

For example, Northampton Museum & Art Gallery has an exhibition all summer looking at the life and work of Judith Kerr, who created The Tiger Who Came To Tea.

London’s Natural History Museum has Dippy Returns – a free chance to spend time with everyone’s favourite dinosaur. You do need to book free tickets in advance.

Read more: 22 easy ways to save money

Free fun for free school meals

Your council is probably running a ‘HAF’ programme - Holiday and Activities Food. It’s not just a way to get food for kids who usually have free school meals, many will also be providing activities.

And some will be providing free access to paid-for events. For example, the Coventry Transport Museum’s MicLab workshop is £10 or available for free with a packed lunch if you’re part of the HAF scheme.

Some are running youth club sessions, holiday clubs, there’s all sorts going on. If you qualify, make sure you know what’s on offer.

Learning fun for free

Lots of parents will want their children to keep learning during summer so their minds are ready for September.

BBC Bitesize is a free online resource that will help your family revise what they learned last year or even get on top of next year’s curriculum. It is super simple to navigate, it shows you what the age-appropriate stuff is.

And best of all, there are really fun online games like Karate Cats that will help them learn without feeling like it’s a chore. Sin-free screen time.

BBC Bitesize offers parents guilt-free screen time. (Getty Images)
BBC Bitesize offers parents guilt-free screen time. (Getty Images)

Make free fun

A playdate is a single cheapest and easiest way to keep your child entertained this summer. Arrange for a mate to come round and watch them vanish into a bedroom or garden for hours without wanting you to do more than bring some biscuits.

And if the parents of the other child return the favour then that’s more free fun – and time off for you.

Historic days out that cost nothing

It can feel like all the castles and old ruins in the UK are expensive to visit but actually there are loads of free places to see.

Check out these English Heritage free-to-enter sites, like Waverley Abbey in Surrey or the Iron Bridge in Shropshire.

Read more: Can you leave children home alone during the school holidays?

Free festivals

Leave Glasto to people who want to spend a fortune to sleep in a tent! Summer in the UK is packed with free festivals to enjoy with all the family.

There’s the obvious stuff like the Notting Hill Carnival at the end of the month, but also less well-known gems like the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta where you can watch hundreds of hot air balloons taking off.

Get online and get looking for what’s available near you. And maybe explain to the kids in advance that you’re not planning to spend a fortune on stalls but you’re going to enjoy the spectacle – that way you can try to stop any nagging in advance!

There are plenty of free festivals to enjoy with your family. (Getty Images)
There are plenty of free festivals to enjoy with your family. (Getty Images)

Get on Facebook

This list is just a taste of what’s out there – you will be able to research your local area in far more detail and find the fun that’s available to you.

Local Facebook groups are a godsend for parents looking for local fun. You’ll find communities of parents swapping tips on the best beaches, the best exhibitions, the best fun for free in your area.

And you can share your favourite places and tips with them. Because every child in the UK deserves some summer memories.

Create occasions at home

With just a little bit of thought and planning, you can stage genuinely exciting summer activities without spending any money (or maybe just buying some sweets). Think about what we all did during lockdowns to make excitement for the kids.

Read more: Save 20% with this top summer holiday tip

For example, going to the cinema can cost a lot just for the tickets, before you get nagged into a £5 slushie or massive bucket of popcorn too. But you can create a sense of occasion and fun at home with a cinema night. It will take some effort, you have to go beyond the usual ‘stick a film on’.

Get them dressed up, move the chairs into the centre of the room, warm the popcorn, even hold a curtain over the TV and then whip it back. If you feel up to it then you could even make up some funny adverts and perform them before the film starts.

Or you could stage your own commonwealth games in the garden or the park. You could even hold a spa day in your bathroom with some sliced cucumbers for them while they sit in the bath.

There are loads of possibilities – if you show some imagination then your children will follow.