Parenting experts share seven ways to create cheap fun for kids these holidays

Petra Bagust and Hannah McQueen share 7 tips for creating cheap fun over the holidays.
Petra Bagust and Hannah McQueen share 7 tips for creating cheap fun over the holidays. Photo credit: Getty.

Keeping the kids entertained over the holidays can be expensive - especially on top of Christmas.

With schools closed until early February, parents have over a month to juggle. School holiday programmes cost money. Devices provide some respite, but are counterproductive if overused.

To help cash-strapped parents keep their kids occupied, Newshub asked high-profile mums Petra Bagust and Hannah McQueen for ideas.

TV host and mum-of-three Petra Bagust suggests parents use the golden triangle methodology of 'good', 'cheap' and 'fast' to plan activities. The idea is to pick any two points of the triangle.

'Fast' fun involves spending money on experiences that may not last long. To create good, cheap fun, the main thing parents provide is time.

"I reference this triangle to help get my expectations to a happy (and lower) level: If I'm going to save money, I'm going to spend time and attention and that's probably the most valuable thing I can do because it builds connection," Bagust explained. 

To avoid starting the New Year with a 'budget hangover', requiring parents to work harder after the break, Enable Me director McQueen suggests setting a holiday budget.

"A strategy I've [used] is to sit down with my son and get him involved with planning the holiday, establishing the budget and getting him on board with what that money has to cover: food, petrol, accommodation, the works," McQueen explained.

"The key is making sure they understand that if they don't spend carefully, there's no more money."

Seven ways to create good, cheap fun  

Here are seven ways to create good, cheap fun for kids.

1. Find new places to eat

Eat in a different place: at a new beach, in a tent on the lawn, in a blanket fort in the lounge or on the floor with cards and cushions.

"Just mixing it up makes a meal memorable and it gives it a holiday vibe. A picnic up a hill, sitting on top of a rock, dinner at the playground with another family… the list is endless," Bagust said.

2. Have an 'upside down' or 'backwards' day

Another idea is to do things upside down or backwards for a day. For example, eating dinner and dessert at breakfast time, and eating breakfast at dinner time.

"It's possible to 'upside down' heaps of stuff, like clean your teeth before you eat, get dressed then have a shower - the idea is to inject joy into a day," Bagust said.

"[Kids] could walk to the letterbox backwards, put clothes on backwards, do a headstand [and] start writing a note at the bottom of the page, or do a drawing that's upside down."

3. 'Pick a path' activity

As kids can be difficult to get off the couch, asking them to pick a path might inspire them to go on a walk. Perhaps they're spun around with their eyes closed and the family walks the way they're facing.

"Go to the end of the driveway and get the children to choose left or right. Keep going until you find yourselves somewhere new.  Buy an ice cream, explore a new street or beach or laugh at being at the local supermarket car park and try again," Bagust suggested.

4. Create an 'ideas pot'

Bagust has sat down with her kids and a piece of paper to brainstorm fun activities, drawing  vases and pots to contain each idea.

"[The] 'ideas pot' was on the fridge for the holidays [and] when we were looking for inspiration, we'd go to the ideas pot and pick the one that suited our time, my energy levels and the amount I was happy to spend," Bagust explained.

"Any time we did one, we'd come home and colour it in or cross it off...I was always surprised by how many of the ideas we got through in a holiday.  The visual aid was a good reminder to the kids and myself about what we'd done."

5. Create a 'rock of free things' jar 

Another idea is to ask each family member to write each 'free fun' idea on a rock and add it to a jar.  

When looking for something to do, the child can pick a rock out. This can encourage children to do the activity, because 'the rock said so'.

6. Set up activities at home 

Board games are useful in wet weather, encouraging interaction between all family members.

Backyard cricket or football can also be a fun way to break up the day and let off steam. 

"In my household we're training for an event, so we're simultaneously learning to orienteer, mountain bike ride and tramp more often to [increase] our fitness. Mountain bikes quickly become a cheap form of entertainment – and it really helps to wear the kids out," McQueen said.

Parents can turn their lounge into a movie theatre with sleeping bags and homemade popcorn. Making a blanket fort, baking and arts and crafts are also popular with younger kids.

7. Visit libraries, galleries and pools

Local libraries, Auckland museum and Auckland Art Gallery are free to visit. Auckland Council pools are free for kids up to age 16 (a spectator fee may apply for adults).  

Check the Auckland Council, Wellington City Council and Christchurch City Council websites for free family events.   

"I get great joy from free fun: it's such a win/win because it usually takes some creativity and creates a memory. At best, it can lead to a family tradition - something you can return to and repeat over the years," Bagust said.

TV host and mum-of-three Petra Bagust says by creating free fun, parents have the opportunity to create a memory or family tradition.
TV host and mum-of-three Petra Bagust says by creating free fun, parents have the opportunity to create a memory or family tradition. Photo credit: Supplied.