With the summer holidays comes the ever-pressing question, what am I going to do with them? Theme parks and petting zoos are all very well, but they’re expensive and, let’s face it, you’re going to have a lot of afternoons to fill. So, with that in mind, here are some ideas for free ways to entertain a toddler:
Go to the beach
Obviously this one depends rather on where you live. But if you’re within an hour or so’s drive of the coast, it’s worth the trip. The nearest beach to London is Canvey Island in Southend, which is under an hour away. It’s sandy, has a café and a promenade, and you can surf here. And if you fancy a change from busy Brighton, try Birling Gap near Eastbourne, a picturesque sand-and-shingle bay with lots of rock pools.
Don’t forget your local library. Most organise free events for young children, like Rhyme and Story Time. Last time I popped into mine, an animal handler was introducing the kids to various reptiles, rodents and creepy crawlies. And even if there’s nothing on, you can just look at the books, have a go on the computers and shelter from the unending rain.
Galleries, too, lay on lots for children, including treasure hunts, drawing classes and the like. If yours are a bit young for that, they may just enjoy haring up and down the corridors. For that reason it’s best to go first thing in the morning, before everybody else arrives. And you never know, you might have chance to grab a fleeting look at the art.
Organise plenty of playdates
This is the cheapest and easiest way to entertain children. Ideally organise them with another parent you like, so that you have a better time, too. You’ll need to book them in early though, as people tend to plan far ahead during the holidays.
The Diana Memorial Playground at Kensington Gardens
Of all London’s parks, this one’s by far the best for kids, laying on teepees and a beach area, alongside the centrepiece, an enormous wooden pirate ship. There’s also a good café that serves up healthy salads and sandwiches. But be warned, there are queues on sunny days.
So many toys are a waste of money. Those that aren’t tend to be the ones with a wholesome, vaguely sporty quality – the paddling pools, trampolines and kites. Admittedly these aren’t free, but you can pick up basic models for a few pounds on Ebay.
Free summer festivals
Keep an eye out for free festivals this summer. London has a whole host of them, including the Olympic Festival at Hyde Park (27 July – 11 Aug), the African-inspired Yoruba Arts Festival (28 July) and the Notting Hill Carnival (26 Aug – 27 Aug). And outside London, you’ll find free festivals this summer in Colchester, Edinburgh and Oxfordshire, among other places.