The school holidays have arrived, and money is a bit tight. You may find yourself wondering, how do I entertain the kids? Movies are expensive, and trips to the theme park are out. What can we do? Fear not; with a bit of hunting around, entertainment ideas abound! From staying at home to heading out into the world to see what’s there, there is a range of activities for every age group.


Auckland Domain Wintergardens Courtyard

One cheap activity that a lot of kids in enjoy (and often their parents as well!) is heading to Auckland Domain. There’s a lot to do between the supremely climbable trees, the wide grass areas, the museum, and the Wintergardens. If the day is warm and dry, you can pack a picnic, take a ball or skipping rope, and enjoy the fresh air. Older children can climb the trees, while younger ones can clamber about in the buttressed roots of the giant Moreton Bay Fig trees. If it’s a bit cooler or raining (or even if it’s not!), then the Wintergardens are a lovely warm, dry and colourful place, filled with a vast range of flowers and plants – though please note, at the time of writing, earthquake strengthening work is taking place that may affect access to either one of the glass houses. The courtyard and fernery remain open, however. Many cities have something similar to the Auckland Domain. In Christchurch, you can head to the Botanic Gardens with its gorgeous conservatories, filled with everything from tropical and alpine plants to cacti and succulents. For those who are inclined towards the history of science, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens even have the Magnetic Observatory, used by Antarctic Explorers including Ernest Shackleton’s team! Wellington has the famous Te Papa, which is free for general admission (special exhibitions may have an extra charge). If you have older children who have an interest in art, there are several galleries that have free entry around the wider Wellington area, including Pātaka Art + Museum in Porirua. Hamilton Gardens utilises the beauty of the outdoors to create themed gardens representing an array of different time periods, geographic locations, and landscapes (including the recently opened Ancient Egyptian garden built in the style of a Middle Kingdom temple garden!). Dunedin boasts the beautiful, wind-sculpted sandstone of Tunnel Beach – just make sure to rug up warm! In Napier, you can begin a tour around the art deco buildings with a walk down Marine Parade (and enjoy an ice cream while you’re there) or visit Ōtātara Pā, one of the largest and most important Pā sites in the country. Just make sure to respect your surroundings, stick to the track, and leave eating food until you are off the pā site, as this is a wāhi tapu area. Wherever you live in New Zealand – or the world – there may be similar free or inexpensive sites to visit.


Children's hands digging up a treasure chest

Of course, you won’t always want to go out. Sometimes staying home is what you need, especially if it’s a cold wet sort of day, and depending on the kids’ ages, entertaining them can leave you stretching for ideas. Organising a treasure hunt can be fun, and the prize doesn’t need to be expensive – perhaps the prize can be vouchers to choose what to have for dinner on a given night or the right to select the next movie. The fun in the treasure hunt is the hunt itself, in trying to interpret the clues and making their way to the next checkpoint. The clues themselves can be tailored to the children’s ages - and can be an excellent way to foster teamwork if there are multiple siblings. The prize of the choice of movie can be turned into its own event – pull the curtains, grab some snacks, and drag out the pillows and blankets for an at-home theatre experience!


If you have the space, getting into some gardening can be an experience with a real payoff – vegetables grown by themselves in their own garden are somehow so much more fun to eat compared to those bought from the supermarket! Local garden stores will usually have a good range of plants (including growing from seeds), and the staff have experience in helping you choose what will work for your circumstances.


Grandfather and grandson sitting on the floor and drawing together

Breaking out the paints or markers along with a stack of paper or a cheap colouring book – or some chalk on the driveway – to work on can make the hours fly and gives the kids a creative outlet while keeping them occupied. Siblings could work together on a comic or draw a portrait of their favourite pet. Maybe they can come up with an illustration of their ideal holiday activity, giving you more ideas for things to do in the future. 

Don’t forget your little ones, either – the ones who aren’t at school yet (and so don’t have holidays) but want to take part! The best part is – these activities can be brought out at any time. To start with, why not try some edible fingerpaint? You’ll need to make the paint for the babies and toddlers, but it’s also something your older ones might be able to help with. Combine ½ cup of flour, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Heat the mixture gently while whisking until it thickens into a paste, then remove from the heat. Whisk in some cold water a few tablespoons at a time until it reaches a consistency you think will work for your wee ones’ little fingers. The colour will come from food colouring – separate the mixture out into small jars or bowls, then add a few drops of colour to each portion. Mix well and allow to cool. Your baby will have fun exploring the texture of the paint, and the different patterns they can make with their hands. Just make sure they’re wearing old clothes you don’t mind getting a little stained! A few layers of newspaper to protect the floor is recommended as well – babies love to explore everything around them! In fact, any type of sensory activity will work with your babies. Blowing bubbles is an all-time classic – if you don’t have bubble mix, you can check out our Winter Activities blog for a recipe to make your own! Your own garden or local park can provide a whole world of adventure. Collect leaves and bark to see how many different sizes, shapes and colours there are, or see how many different insect types you can find.

  Mother and father reading to their baby

Sometimes, no matter their age, just sitting and reading a book with them can be a fantastic way to bond. Discussing what happened in the book afterwards can deepen the connection they have to the story (as well as clearing up any questions they may have had while listening but didn’t have the time to ask). A visit to your local library is always recommended – there are often holiday events for kids of all ages, involving reading and dress up times. Have a look to see what is on offer, then return home with a new selection of books to read!


Of course, don’t forget that being bored is something kids can actively benefit from; not every second of the day has to be scheduled with structured activities to keep them engaged. Child Psychologist Dr Caley Arzamarski notes that having the free time to be bored is important when it comes to a range of aspects of children’s development, from social to cognitive, while boredom itself is linked to creativity1. And it’s true for adults, as much as it is for children. Allowing ourselves to be bored and seeing what we can come up with as a result can be a wonderful way to spend the day. Putting away our phones, turning off the tv, and giving ourselves the chance to just remain in the moment with our kids can lead to some amazing experiences.

Child wearing red gumboots jumping in a puddle 

Whatever you decide to do for the school holidays, the important thing is to enjoy each other’s company and hopefully make some fun memories. The days don’t need to be structured from dawn until dusk, nor do the activities need to be expensive.


1Arzamarski, C. (2019). The art of boredom: Practicing mindfulness, conversation and creativity. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 35(7), 8-8.