There's no getting away from it - bringing up children costs a lot, thanks to childcare, clothes for your ever-growing little ones and food bills. But one thing we don't need to spend money on is entertaining our children and giving them fun. What children love best is the freedom to play, not a hectic round of paid-for activities and stressed parents.
Here are a few ideas that are entirely free.
Why not join forces with some other families with similar age children for run-around fun that's totally free? You can stage races - three-legged, wheelbarrow, silly costume dressing up relays - with homemade gold star medals and printed-off certificates. A game of British Bulldog or Capture The Flag, especially with the added fun of adults joining in, is a great way to let off steam.
Indoors or outdoors, a fort, den or house can make a fabulous focal point for all sorts of imaginative games. Indoors, you can help your children make a den by covering two chairs in a sheet, pushing the sofa away from the wall to make a kids-only space with cushions as doors or with cardboard boxes (decoration optional). Just make sure you don't dismantle their den (or can put it back together easily) before they've eked out every hour of fun. Outdoors, you can help create another tent with a sheet and garden furniture or a den with a framework of branches laid against a tree, covered with smaller branches.
Homemade play dough is super-easy to make with flour, water and a few drops of food dye - get a recipe here
. Rolling and cutting shapes provides hours of fun. You can even use the play dough to make a rainy day project, creating a miniature palace or magical kingdom for a doll or favourite Peppa Pig toy. Once it hardens, the shapes will keep, but if you want to start again the next day just make sure you store it in a sealed Tupperware container.
On the dough theme, making pizza is a great way to keep kids happy - with the reward of a delicious meal at the end. Kids will love mixing the ingredients, seeing the dough magically rise and kneading it into shape. Topping is a simple tomato sauce cupboard staple, topped with grated cheese, and whatever your child favours - salami, sweetcorn or chopped up peppers. Try making this simple recipe
Keeping a kids' dressing-up box doesn't have to cost anything - an old straw hat of dad's, mum's sequin top that's gone a bit baggy, some brightly coloured scarves, your clothes can get a new lease of life as costumes for games and plays. Children love putting on plays, from bartering over roles to endless rehearsals culminating in the final performance for parents. Depending on their age, plays can be increasingly sophisticated with designed tickets, lighting (one younger child proudly in charge of the light switch) and songs, solo musical performances and scripts.
Seeing a little child's face light up in wonder at bubbles bobbing and popping is a joy. You can make your own bubbles with soap and water. Here's a recipe.
Children need time to relax too. The brand new Sky Kids app
for tablets has over 4,000 episodes of their favourite TV shows - from Ben & Holly and Dora the Explorer to Adventure Time and Peppa Pig. The good news is that the Sky Kids app
comes at no extra cost for existing Sky customers with the Variety or Family Bundle, or with Sky Q. Parents can create a personalised profile with shows tailored to their children's age, and have peace of mind knowing there’s absolutely no adult content or nasty pop-ups getting in the way. Download on a compatible tablet from iOS
app stores today.