Free days: keep children amused on the cheap

You don’t have to spend a fortune to keep your kids from getting bored this summer: just take advantage of these free or inexpensive ways to entertain them

The Natural History Museum is putting on special tours this summer which allow vistors to touch the animals on display. Video: Darragh Bambrick


Free time is rarely free, and this is never more true than when you are trying to keep children entertained during the long days of summer. A trip to the cinema will set one adult and two children back at least €30 – and a lot more if you splash out on popcorn and soft drinks. An hour in a deafening play centre will cost about €20. Restaurants, day trips and play dates can be costly and exhausting for parents. However, there are ways to stave off childhood boredom without breaking the bank.

Be warned: some of the suggestions may require you to put down the smartphone and get your hands dirty.


1 Have more picnics: Children of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were reared on a summer diet of ham sandwiches, warm Miwadi and Tayto, and only ever saw the inside of a restaurant when they were making their confirmation or as an afterthought at a family wedding.

Then a madness seemed to take hold, and taking children out for lunch – and even dinner – became the norm rather than a social oddity.

At the risk of upsetting the nation’s restaurant owners, can we recommend a return to bygone days, at least while the weather’s not entirely miserable? A judiciously made picnic for four will cost little more than €10 or a quarter of the price of lunch in an ordinary restaurant. And as you don’t have to police your children with restaurant-imposed rigidity, it is more relaxing too.


2 You’ve been framed: Smartphones can do incredible things, including keep children – and parents – amused. But we’re not just talking about playing with the Frozen app. Such iPhone apps as Fiilmic Pro and iMovies can be downloaded for buttons and will allow you to shoot funny home videos of your children being adorable or annoying in high-definition. Better yet, get your children to write short films and then play Hitchcock by shooting and editing them on your phone. It is much easier than it sounds and will be great to have when they are older.


3 Free for all: Where else would you find free books, free internet access, free DVDs, free wifi, free storytelling, free readings, free magazines and free book clubs but in any of the 400 public libraries around the State?

Many people with young kids may not have set foot inside a library since Aunt Fanny was found dispensing lashings and lashings of ginger beer and tongue sandwiches to her famous niece and nephews, and will be surprised at how perfect these places are for keeping kids busy. The atmosphere keeps kids quiet and the books keep them entertained.


4 Days at the museum: When it comes to moaning about the high cost of stuff, we Irish are rarely found wanting, but we should acknowledge that we are very well-served by free attractions, most notably our national museums. There are family drop-in activities, tours and workshops throughout the summer in all four branches of the National Museum.

The themes of the four branches are: archaeology (Kildare Street, Dublin); decorative arts and history (Collins Barracks, Dublin); natural history (Merrion Street, Dublin); and country life (Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo). You can find a full programme of events at each, and more besides, at


5 More freebies: The National Gallery of Ireland was the most popular free tourist attraction here last year, with about 640,000 visitors walking through its doors. The National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin was second, with 550,000 visitors strolling through its gates. Parking will set you back €2, but it is money well spent for what is a real national treasure. Throw in a trip to Farmleigh and the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, as well as visits to Newbridge Silverware in Kildare and the Chester Beatty Library, complete with a picnic and you will have three free days out for starters.


6 Park life: Have yourself a treasure hunt in your local park. It will take a few minutes to organise but, if done well, it will provide children with hours of fun at virtually no cost. If it is done badly, however, it will provide children with no hours of fun and could end up costing you an arm and a leg when you have to make up for the misery with a trip somewhere expensive.

To make sure we don’t lead you astray, we have taken to the Great Oracle (also known as the internet) for tips on how to organise a great children’s treasure hunt, and have come across this splendid how-to guide: treasure-hunt-for-kids


7 Cook it yourself: If you buy pizza in your local supermarket or from a restaurant chain, it will cost you money. It will cost you a lot less if you make it yourself – and will keep your children entertained on a wet and windy summer’s afternoon too. The dough, cheese and tomato sauce for three large pizzas will cost about €10. It will be messy but time well spent.


8 Street parties: Unless you live on a windswept stretch of the M50 or on a street popular with heroin dealers, you could organise a street party in your neighbourhood. Pick a summer Saturday, print flyers, post them through the letterboxes of your neighbours and see what happens. It sounds like hassle, but all that is required is some community spirit, balloons, bunting, chalk and a willingness to carry some chairs from your house into the street.


9 Boffin time: Would you like to build a fog tornado or a hovercraft from an old CD? What about a foamy fountain or a magic ketchup experiment? Of course you would. Well, has all the answers you could ever need. This splendid website takes you on a step-by-step journey through some very cool-sounding experiments that kids will love.


10 Download Netflix: It is one of the best things about the internet right now. It costs just €6.99 a month and allows you to stream television shows and films on to your telly without ads getting in the way. The selection has improved immeasurably in recent months, and it is particularly good for kids. And then, after they have gone to bed, you can watch House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black.

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