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Free things to do in the school holidays

Parents definitely fall into two camps when it comes to school holidays: they either love them or loathe them.  I love the school holidays, especially being able to sleep in a bit longer and not having to nag my tots to get out the door in time for kindy.

Filling in the time over the holidays can be tricky.  It can be an expensive exercise to keep your tots entertained for two weeks if you want to give your kids all the bells and whistles, but it’s perfectly possible to have lots of holiday fun for free.

tea party

Here are some ideas for free things to do during the school holidays:

  1. Get into the great outdoors.  Weather permitting, visit your local playgrounds, parks, and hiking trails.  The beauty of small children is they can turn a 20 minute walking trail into a two-hour odyssey where every rock is overturned on the hunt for slugs and slaters, leaves are used for fans, fairy umbrellas and swords, and new pathways will be created where no pathway has been before.
  2. While you’re outside, go on a scavenger hunt.  Some great tot-friendly printables can be found here, here and here.  If the weather is rubbish, as it frequently is during the school holidays, take your scavenger hunt indoors.  You can find a printable for a colour scavenger hunt here, a shape hunt here, and for kiddos who can read, a genius make-and-find hunt here.
  3. Make a craft from your existing supplies or from things in your recycling bin.  Pinterest is your friend!
    A fun way to make an egg carton dragon craft. Great Chinese New Year craft for kids and fun way to craft with recycled materials.

    make this here 

     

    Marble Run game made for elementary students. Could be used for classroom management or as a reward.

    make this here

    Build a mini city for your child's toys and figurines with this recycled paper towel roll craft.

    make this here

  • Play dates with friends and family.  This is by far my favourite way to pass the time during the holidays.  I get to catch up with my mates while my kids get to play with their friends (and their toys!  Other people’s toys are way more exciting than your own) or just be with their family members who love them to pieces.  Win win.
  • Check out the free programmes run by your local library, museum or art gallery.  Heck, even our local shopping mall runs free kids events. In my town over the holidays kids can build robots, build a cardboard maze, make bug-related things, learn printmaking, bookbinding and more!
  • Check out your local library, museum or art gallery.  Even if they don’t have a kids programme, they are always well worth a visit.  Ditto any other free tourist attraction in your town. Full Length of Man Sitting on Floor
  • Create an obstacle course in the backyard.  If your kids are older, make it into a competition for the fastest time.  Again, if the weather is rubbish, take the fun indoors.  My kids LOVE jumping from seat squab to seat squab as we pretend the floor is ‘lava’.
  • Make a movie together.  If your kids are older, have them come up with the storyline and script.  If they really get into it, this project could take several days.  With little ones, film them doing their favourite things, get them to sing and dance for you, or simply film them throughout the day and play it back to them.  They will soon get hooked at seeing themselves on the big screen.
  • Bake.  If your tots are under three, assemble the ingredients before you begin.  Trust me on this one, they cannot wait.baking tots in tawhero
  • Go to the beach.  Even in the middle of winter, my tots love the beach.  They love getting mucky, building structures out of driftwood (one of our local beaches seems to attract driftwood like you wouldn’t believe), and making sandcastles.  Take spare clothes, towels and a thermos of hot chocolate.
  • Visit a farm.  If you are lucky enough to have farming friends, ask if they would mind a visit from you and your tots.  My tots like nothing more than being put to work feeding the animals or ‘helping’ around the farm.
  • Have a dance party.  Put on your favourite tunes or dance along with GoNoodle on Youtube.
  • Go for a walk/scooter/skate/ bike ride.
  • If your kids are bored with your local playgrounds, go to a school playground instead.  My nearest school is locked up like Fort Knox, but there are many schools in my town that welcome families to use their grounds outside of school hours.  Our favourite school playground has fake roads, a long bike track, plenty of asphalt for scootering, lots of picnic tables and shade, a sandpit and several climbing structures.
  • Have a picnic somewhere unexpected: your bed, under the kitchen table or trampoline, or at a local spot you’ve never visited before.
  • PJs and movie day.
  • If you have the ingredients lying around, make an ice cream sundae buffet.  
  • Give 2s and under paint brushes and a bucket of water and invite them to ‘paint’ the footpath/outside of the house.
  • Have a fancy tea party for your kids and their favourite toys.  Dress up to the nines and play waiter.  Even better, play at being a terrible waiter who spills/drops/forgets everything.  bright, cloth, drink
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Dollar Diet Week 9: Of Plums and Pancakes

After our extravagant holiday to Great Barrier Island, D and I recommitted to tightening our wallets.  Our holiday was two years in the planning, but even so, holidays have a way of making money slip through your fingers like water.

We have some short-term goals, like a possible wedding in Australia to attend (I have my fascinator at the ready, R…), saving for further studies/possibly moving towns, and a long-term goal of, well,  just saving as much as we can.

Despite a dentist bill, we had a pretty frugal week.

  • I made plum jam, which we enjoyed on pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.  Easter is a big deal in our house, and it was a fun way to signal the beginning of Lent with my tots.  I keep seeing pancake mix on special at my local supermarket, and throw my hands up in despair that such a product is even required (okay, so my hand-throwing is metaphorical, lest I be known as the crazy supermarket lady).  I mean, come on, pancakes are almost as easy as making toast.

plum panccakes tots in tawhero

  • I went pine cone gathering at a local pine-treed spot for us to use as kindling this winter.  The pine cones are an excellent source of fuel for our wood burner, and are absolutely free.  For 15 minutes worth of effort (which including scrabbling up a steep bank) I netted two bags of cones.  I’ll be going back for more.

pinecones tots in tawhero

  • We packed our lunches and snacks when out and about, and entertainment was our weekly whanau night, and an impromptu BBQ (with the same friends) at the Bason Botanic Gardens which have free gas BBQ’s for the public.                                                   Bason gardens tots in tawhero

 

  • I attended my local free gym a.k.a. the great outdoors.  At the moment I am relishing my kid-free mornings, and after I’ve dropped Sausage off at kindy I take the top track at Virginia Lake.  It takes me 30 minutes and is just like doing a HIIT workout as the track has very steep sections, undulating sections and quite flat sections too.  I come home in quite a sweat.  I don’t meet a lot of people on the track – which suits me fine as I like peace and quiet when I’m exercising – but I’ve been stunned by the number of elderly people who are on the track too.  I hope to be as sprightly when I’m their age!  The only downer is my faithful running shoes finally gave up the ghost after long service, and now I have the task of finding some that are actually decent.  Quality shoes are so hard to come by!  If you have any recommendations, do let me know.
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How to have fun for free

I live in ‘provincial’ New Zealand.

Whanganui has about 43,000 people.  It’s not huge.  I spent most of my teenage years dying to get out of it, so it was with some sense of irony that I found myself voluntarily moving back here with my own family after a 20 year absence.  There were many reasons that D and I moved from Wellington, the coolest little capital on the planet.  The cheap house prices were one.  The family-friendly vibe was another.  The fact that you can always find a parking space is an added bonus.

Moving to our home in Tawhero was definitely counter-cultural.  People seem to think that if you live in a big city, you have ‘made it’.  If you have a corporate job and a nice house, your life is a ‘success’.  By this measure, D and I were indeed successful. The fact that we wanted to give up the trappings of success and move to small-town NZ blew some people’s minds.  “You’ll get bored” I was told.  “It’s career-suicide” someone said.  “Why on earth would you want to move there?” challenged a friend.

Well guess what?

I’m never bored here.

I have, for some reason, always been one of those people who knows about all the cool stuff there is to do.  I’ve lived in small towns, big cities and in three different countries, and I have always, always, always found plenty of ways to pass the time.  For example, when I lived in London you’d rarely find me at home.  Come Monday morning my colleagues would ask “So where did you end up this time Angela?” and I always had lots to tell them.  I didn’t have a fat bank account.  Much of the things my friends and I did for fun were free.  I just knew where to find out the inside scoop.

Now of course, Whanganui is a far cry from London.  But if I wanted to, I could do really interesting things every day of the week.  There are family-friendly events on almost every weekend here, too many for me to keep up with.  This past weekend alone there was an open day at the Fire Station (which had been refurbished) and a family dance party in the middle of town with dancing sensation, Tommy Franklin.

The firefighters put on several demonstrations

The firefighters put on several demonstrations

Tommy Franklin doing his thing

Tommy Franklin doing his thing

Getting ready for a mass high-five

Getting ready for a mass high-five

Whether you live somewhere big or small, there is always free or frugal fun to be had.

How to find all that fun stuff:

  • Community newspapers.  These are a wonderful source of information.  Lots of people don’t subscribe to their local newspaper anymore, but you can be sure that they read their local freebie paper.  You will often see events listed in here that aren’t in mainstream newspapers, as event organisers on a shoe-string go where they will get more bang for their buck due to higher readership of free community newspapers. Similarly, if an event wants to attract families or those on a low-income, they know to advertise where their target readers actually have a chance of seeing it.  Ergo, if you want a free or cheap event to go to, look in the free papers.
  • Mainstream newspapers.  If you don’t subscribe to one, check out their website or Facebook page to get up-to-date information about what’s happening in your town.
  • Local Facebook groups.  I’ve lost count of how many Whanganui-based Facebook groups there are!  I find many events on a local FB page called Whanganui Mummies where mum’s will often share what’s happening around town.  In your neck of the woods there might be other social media that are more popular, so head there first.
  • Local radio stations.  Not only will they know about all the big events happening in your town, they will often know about all the cool events (not always the same thing!) too.
  • Join email lists.  I am regularly updated as to what’s going on with several community groups, businesses, amenities and at our great Museum.  I have been invited to book launches, art gallery openings, poetry evenings, in-store VIP customer nights, lectures, workshops, comedy nights, gigs and more.  All free.
  • Community noticeboards.  Library noticeboards, supermarket noticeboards, noticeboards outside a church or cafe are all excellent places to spot posters for what’s going on in your town.
  • Ditto your local information centre if your town is big enough to have one.
  • Look around you.  Quite seriously, look around you.  Posters on lamp posts, on bus shelters, on the back of buses, billboards on the side of the road are the friend of frugulistas in need of something to do.
  • Ask around.  Simply saying ‘So, what are you up to this weekend?’ may yield instant results as your friend raves to you about an upcoming free bluegrass gig or invites you to go strawberry picking with them.
  • Make your own fun.  I once lived in a city that was very challenging due to cultural and language differences.  It was hard work.  But you know what?  It was fine because I had a good bunch of friends.  You can have fun anywhere if you have a few good people around you.  Heck, even if it’s just ONE friend.  Get together to visit an art gallery, or go hiking, to play a board game, to eat pancakes in your pyjamas at 2pm.  This weekend we are hosting a fish n’ chips/movie night with a whole gaggle of children so us parents can get a break, crack open a bottle of wine and have a good old chinwag.  Fun stuff doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.