20 free ways to entertain the kids this summer

child in playing in river with net

Sometimes the best things in life really are free – and parents, of all people, could use some free stuff. Can't afford a pricey trip abroad? No problem – Mumsnetters share their favourite summer holiday activities here, which you can enjoy without spending a bean

1. If you have a garden, let the kids run free

1. If you have a garden, let the kids run free

“My daughter and her friends have been playing all day in the garden. They've built a den, had a picnic, played on the trampoline, made 'perfume', and are currently playing in the paddling pool/throwing cups of water at each other. They're having a ball, and it hasn't cost us a penny. It's not even particularly warm out. Happy days.”

2. Toast some marshmallows

2. Toast some marshmallows

“My favourite joyful summer moment has been camping in the back garden. We invited round some friends from the neighbourhood, put up tents, played lots of fun games in the garden, and made some 'survival snacks' out of things we had in the cupboard, such as s'mores – made from chocolate, digestive biscuits and marshmallows.”

4. Tower power

4. Tower power

“One of my favourite free things to do with our kids in London is to look up the Tower Bridge lift times, then go along to watch the bridge lift and the ship go underneath it. It always has that wow factor.”

3. Embrace your inner Railway Child

3. Embrace your inner Railway Child

“We live within walking distance of a bridge that goes over the top of a railway line. Our son's favourite thing to do is to walk there together and watch out for trains. His face is a picture when he sees a train coming, and he's even more delighted when the train drivers respond to his frantic waving by sounding the horn.”

5. Go on an adventure

5. Go on an adventure

“Taking the kids rockpooling is always fun. Our three-year-old isn't quite sure about catching anything that moves, but will happily spend hours directing her grown-up helper to collect sea snails for her. She then gives her new 'pets' names, like Fluffy.”

6. Host a teddy tea party

6. Host a teddy tea party

“Our daughter loves setting up a teddy bears' picnic with all her dolls and teddies, putting a lovely tea party out for them. It costs nothing but involves lovely imaginative play.”

7. Channel your inner Brian Cox (or, if you're old enough, Patrick Moore)

7. Channel your inner Brian Cox (or, if you're old enough, Patrick Moore)

“Stargazing when we were camping last weekend. No light pollution. It was absolutely amazing.”

8. Let's go fly a kite

8. Let's go fly a kite

“Running on the field near our house, 'flying' a mini kite. It wouldn't fly at all unless we were running with it, but when it did, it was the highlight of my summer so far.”

9. No garden? No problem

9. No garden? No problem

“We made a street chalk obstacle course. When you have no garden to speak of, you have to be creative. We raced all the way up to the other end of the street.”

10. Get thee to the beach

10. Get thee to the beach

“There's so much at the beach for little'uns and no cost except maybe a picnic lunch or an ice cream. My son adores it – playing in the sand, paddling in the sea and splashing through rock pools.”

11. Take me to church

11. Take me to church

“I took my daughter to a nearby cathedral where we went on a hunt to see how many animals we could find on the stained glass windows, tombs, and floor tiles.”

12. Host your own Olympics

12. Host your own Olympics

“My two are hosting their own Olympics. So far they have made medals from tin foil, and a torch from cardboard. They will be racing up and down the back garden while I sit with my feet up and act as judge.”

13. See the woods for the trees

13. See the woods for the trees

“We went to a local forest and did their play trail today. Free and lots of fun as well as healthy. It was lovely to see our son and the other children there enjoying being outside and active rather than just sat indoors.”

14. Sign up for a soaking

14. Sign up for a soaking

“Our kids love playing tennis or cricket with water balloons. They particularly love it if mum or dad also get soaked.”

15. Embrace ALL aspects of the British summer

15. Embrace ALL aspects of the British summer

“Carpet picnics with a new (or rediscovered) DVD always go down well and are a great rainy day activity.”

16. Grab a basket

16. Grab a basket

“I am lucky enough to live close to a river. We spend hours there with nets, fishing and having a picnic. There are no shops so everything is brought from home and therefore cheap.”

17. Hop on your bike

17. Hop on your bike

“We've found lots of bike trails in our area – many seem to be old railway lines. It's great fun setting off not knowing what you'll see along the way, and they're totally safe and traffic-free.”

18. Get them to grow their own

18. Get them to grow their own

“Yesterday my son and his dad went to the allotment and harvested our onions and spuds, spending the afternoon digging and chatting. Didn't cost a penny and we have months and months worth of spuds and onions as a result.”

19. Make a mess

19. Make a mess

“We're doing various things in the water tray this summer – ice, water beads, shaving foam etc. Mostly stuff we already have at home. It's been so much fun. Jelly has been the winner so far.”

20. Ban the word no (but just for one day, otherwise ANARCHY)

20. Ban the word no (but just for one day, otherwise ANARCHY)

“I tried to say yes for a whole day. Or, at least, not say no. It took some creative thinking, and I really had to zip my lips and sit on my hands at times, but the children had a fabulous day. And the mess was…manageable.”