What to do over the school summer holidays: Fun-times for nothing and the kids go free

A CHARITY has produced a top 10 of money-saving ideas for families wanting to keep a close eye on the holiday purse-strings.

Christians Against Poverty helps people to escape the misery of spiralling debt and teaches people how to budget to avoid financial trouble.

Now it’s come up with a list of ideas in a bid to reduce the pressure on parents and ensure the younger members of the household enjoy the school break.

“A lot of people on low incomes really worry about the six weeks holiday and what they are going to do with the children while living on a budget,” said Sarah Blackaby, manager of the Saffron Walden centre based at the New Life Church on Shire Hill.

“They feel a big pressure to entertain them but many of the big obvious attractions like the zoo, or the cinema are very expensive. Sadly, the weather plays its part too. When it’s wet, it’s much harder to keep it cheap but that’s when us parents have to have a few imaginative tricks up our sleeves.

“So, if you see it’s going to be a rainy week, get on the phone and sort out some play dates with friends – an afternoon shared is always more fun and your little one will probably get invited back and give you a bit of space.”

CAP is encouraging parents to spend some time researching the free activities on offer and having a store of ideas to help keep boredom at bay.

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“Our best advice is plan ahead to see what your options are,” added Mrs Blackaby. “You could also create a ‘treats fund’ to remind everyone – including yourself – to take it steady and stick to the budget. It might event motivate older children to do a bit of car-washing for some extra cash.”

• REMEMBER if money is tight because you have spiralling debts, get it sorted with Christians Against Poverty’s free service which is there to help anyone regardless of age, gender, faith or background. Visit capdebthelp.org or call the freephone helpline 0800 328 0006.

CAP’s Summer Top 10

1 Find a quiet moment to compile a list of all the indoor things you could do with your child so even when you’re tired or busy, you can come up with something interesting – making pizzas? finger painting? writing to the Queen? building a den? putting on a play or making an Olympics scrap book? Whatever you think is right for your little gang.

2 moneysavingexpert.com has a comprehensive list of all the free museums and art galleries – eat before you go or take sandwiches to avoid spending in the cafe.

3 See what your local council has on offer so you can make the most of any free entertainment eg watching a brass band or making a kite session in the local park and - while you’re doing your research - find out what your local libraries have on offer and when they are open.

4 DIY store B&Q are offering free “Kids Can Do It” sessions where children aged seven to 11 can make a nesting box, media storage unit or hedgehog house. Parents need to accompany them and book online and some stores seem to be offering more than others – but it’s a great free activity.

5 Never underestimate the power of a picnic! Keep it simple – an open space, a football, a friend or two and plenty to nibble on and you have the sort of day memories are made of.

6 British Gas are offering free swimming sessions – and you don’t have to even be a customer! Have a look at britishgasswimming.co.uk and book a session near you.

7 Get some ice lolly moulds and see what your offspring can do with a bit of juice or squash and some slices of fruit. MUCH cheaper than the ice-cream van.

8 Make the most of one of natures best ever toys: the stick! Get your wellies on and find some woods – check naturedetectives.org.uk for great free resources to print off, including information on spotting birds, trees and bugs.

9 Suggest a DVD evening for older children, make homemade popcorn and mocktails (non-alcoholic fruity drinks)

10 Twenty-two towns and cities will have the Olympic events on their BBC big screens helping to engage the local community with London 2012 – go and watch for free OR hold your own Olympics with friends or neighbours and invent your own sports.