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

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 01:00

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

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