21 cheap and local ways to entertain the children this half term

Rosa Silverman
·8 min read
Autumn crafts are often a hit with younger children  - Mkovalevskaya/iStockphoto
Autumn crafts are often a hit with younger children - Mkovalevskaya/iStockphoto

Half term is upon us, and while some families will be looking forward to completely legal, Covid-safe, rule-of-six-abiding getaways, many face a week of entertaining the children at home. Again. With worse weather than last time we had to do this, and possibly even fewer ideas.

Whatever tier you find yourself in, if you’re not going away, you’re going to need some inspiration. For millions of us now, indoor playdates are out. Outdoor playdates are cold. And we’ve already watched everything on Netflix - twice. But fear not! There are heaps of things you can do that don’t involve anyone from outside your household breathing or coughing in your face. (Which, of course, is our usual preferred form of holiday amusement.)

Here are some ideas to consider when you’ve hit a brick wall – in other words, by lunchtime on day one:

1. Autumn nature walk

Why not brave the elements and simply enjoy the autumn colours - Martin Novak/Moment RF
Why not brave the elements and simply enjoy the autumn colours - Martin Novak/Moment RF

As British fellwalker Alfred Wainwright once said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. No-one’s asking you to walk up any fells (though if you have any to hand, it’s hard to find a better way to wear out the kids before bedtime); but come rain, wind or hail, you can dig out some suitable clothing and go and brave the elements. 

While you’re doing so, encourage your children to look out for signs of autumn. You could even create a checklist for them to complete when you’re out, ticking off acorns, conkers, berries, pine cones, red leaves etc. Or just enjoy the colours of the foliage, which in the US they call leaf peeping. Introduce the concept to your children, because giving an activity a special name can sometimes make it feel like more of a big deal. (We said sometimes.) 

Take a thermos flask of hot chocolate along for warmth and calorific thrills.

2. Kids in charge day

Yes, it sounds dangerous, but as long as you draw up the rules and maintain a few boundaries, it can be a really fun day for your children if you let them decide everything. Set a budget for the day and let them choose all the meals and activities. At the very least, they’ll hardly be able to complain of being bored. 

3. Sports day

You may think this works better in summer than in autumn, and you would be correct. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own cold weather version. On a dry day, there’s nothing to prevent you doing many of the same events – egg and spoon race, sack race, tossing little bean bags into buckets – in the garden or park. But you need not restrict yourself to traditional sports day activities. You could include a penalty shoot out, boules or even a conker fight. 

4. Home science experiments 

The only limitation here is how much mess you can be bothered to clean up afterwards. Without having to fork out for too many costly materials, you could make: a wormery; a bird feeder; a windmill; a windsock using card, tissue paper and string; a string telephone; shadow puppets; a water wheel fashioned from empty yoghurt pots; bubble mix using washing up liquid and a bubble blower using an empty bottle; a paper helicopter. You could separate coloured inks using coffee filter paper; see what floats and sinks in a washing up bowl; grow sugar crystals. And it’s all educational!

5. Home ‘cinema’ trip

Grab the popcorn, put a movie on and... relax for a while, at least - Geber86/Getty
Grab the popcorn, put a movie on and... relax for a while, at least - Geber86/Getty

Save this one for when you’re hungover, exhausted or have run out of answers to their questions about worms, outer space and which member of The Avengers you like best. Serve popcorn with a film and say a little prayer thanking God for creating streaming services. 

6. TikTok family dance challenge

You may not want to include TikTok in your prayer because a) what actually is it? And b) why are your kids always on it? But why not do that thing where you start liking something they’re into and thus completely rob it of its appeal? Suggest a TikTok dance challenge and get your children to learn a routine. Depending on their age, and to what degree they can bear to watch you dance, you could join in and learn it with them, killing two birds – exercise and childcare – with one stone.

7. Autumn-themed arts and crafts

Paint pine cones and create seasonal decorations with them; make a leaf collage; create an autumn wreath. Bring the outside inside to add some cheer in otherwise gloomy times.

8. Halloween baking or cooking

Whether it’s a pumpkin pie, biscuits, cupcakes or toffee apples, there are plenty of Halloween recipes you could try. Other seasonal delicacies your children might enjoy making include parkin, gingerbread and treacle sponge. Alternatively, if you’re making your own Christmas cake this year, the ideal time is about two months before Christmas. In other words, now. What are you waiting for? 

9. Bike ride

Bring snacks and make it into an adventure. Set out to discover somewhere new, even if it’s somewhere local that you’ve never been before. 

10. Zoom quiz

Galvanise the class WhatsApp group into action and nominate a quiz master among the children to draw up 20 questions for the rest of their schoolmates. The winner of the first quiz gets to be quiz master next time. 

11. Tend to your garden

‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’ (we must tend to our garden) is what Voltaire concluded in Candide. He probably didn’t have a pandemic-induced semi-lockdown in mind, but the sentiment still stands. If you have a garden or allotment, the Royal Horticultural Society says October is a good time to plant any pot-grown fruit, as well as spring cabbages, garlic cloves and onions. In mild areas you can also sow overwintering broad beans and peas. When it comes to flowers, for quick results plant some sweet pea seeds as they only take a few days to germinate. 

This time of year is good for digging over vacant areas of vegetable plot if you have heavy clay soil. Hand your child a spade and off they go

12. Go fruit and vegetable picking

Plenty of farms now provide pumpkin picking activities - Elizabeth Salleebauer/Getty
Plenty of farms now provide pumpkin picking activities - Elizabeth Salleebauer/Getty

Find out if there’s a local farm that offers this activity and let your children loose with a basket. For added seasonal fun, go and pick your pumpkin from a pumpkin patch instead of picking it up in the supermarket this year.

13. Build a den in the woods

If you have any woodland near you, help your children use sticks and branches to create their own hideout. 

14. Board games

A time-honoured way to while away a rainy autumn afternoon. Just be ready to step in with a distraction when the fighting inevitably begins.

15. Build a Lego city

Construct houses, roads, shops, an airport, a zoo... Don’t stop until you run out of bricks (and carpet space). 

16. Make a Marauder’s Map

If you have any Harry Potter fans in your household, they might like to make their own Marauder’s Map. It could be a map of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, or it could be a map of your own house, garden or neighbourhood. Help your children make it look old by soaking the paper in tea once they’ve drawn on it, then crisping it up in the oven. Hey presto: ancient parchment! 

17. Have a sleepover

Not at someone else’s house; that is pretty much against the law now. But you could build a den together in the living room and let your children spend the night in there. Add a midnight feast for extra fun.

18. Build a bonfire and toast marshmallows

This is, after all, the whole point of autumn. But, um, don’t leave young children unattended by an open fire. We hear now is not a great time to be sitting in hospital.

19. Decorate a pumpkin

An alternative to carving that involves fewer sharp knives and more colours. See if your area is participating in the Big Neighbourhood Pumpkin Trail and if they’re not, get on the street WhatsApp and do something about it. Then you can place your decorated or carved pumpkin in your window and, on Halloween, enjoy a walk around your neighbourhood admiring the efforts of others.

20. Body tracing

Get a roll of paper, get your child to lie down on it and trace around their body. Then they can decorate themselves, with wool for hair, old fabric for trousers, buttons for eyes and so on. 

21. Put on a puppet show

Build your own puppet theatre out of an empty cereal box, make some simple puppets using cardboard, wooden skewers and any other materials you have lying around, and get your children to put on their own show. They could even create their own flyer or poster to advertise the event.

Do you have any tips for alleviating boredom during half term? Let us know in the comments below...