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Tips for entertaining children on a budget

Children’s tastes and interests are very different now to 50 or 60 years ago. And they tend to cost a lot more these days, too. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things they’ll enjoy that are cheap or even free.

In this guide, older people who've been there and done it with one, two, three or more children of their own share their tips for entertaining young ones without spending a fortune.

We hope that older people, their carers and families, find this information useful. Print this page to give to someone you know or use the share button on the right of this page.

Iaunne’s advice

Maureen cooking with her grandchildrenThe children have fun sharing things with me. They love to teach me how to use their computers. I’ve had lessons on their iPad, their iPhone and I can now play on the Wii. My grandson, Kieran, is 15 and helps me with something on my computer nearly every week. I think the kids get as much out of it as I do.

Entertaining children by cooking togetherIaunne is a good cook and likes to spend time in the kitchen with the grandchildren. They’ll say to me ‘can we go in the kitchen now and make a mess?’ They love to do baking because of the flour. But you mustn’t complain when it goes everywhere!

I have a treasure box of old things that they absolutely love. It has cuttings about Celtic Rangers, old newspapers that they’re fascinated by because they like to see how much things used to cost. 

Your advice

We have elaborate but cheap picnics. I pack up a fancy tablecloth, some nice glasses and a folding picnic table. We buy fish and chips and set out our table in a field. We have fizzy pop in our posh glasses and the children just love it. It’s something different and it feels so special to them.

Mary, 76, Oxfordshire
My children loved making a tent or a den in the garden. I’d give them a clothes horse with a blanket and off they’d go. You could use deckchairs too, and pegs might be useful to keep the ‘tent’ in place. They also used to love anything with water. They’d have a bowl of soapy water and spend hours washing out my dusters. Then they’d peg them up on a little washing line I’d made out of a bit of string between two canes pushed into the garden. My grandson loves it now and one day he’d washed all the clothes he was wearing as well as the dusters!

Margaret, 68, Scotland 
I’d always done a lot of crafts so I taught my daughters to knit. One day my son came in and asked me ‘will you teach me to knit Mummy?’ I said to him ‘what do you want to knit?’ and he said ‘oh, nothing, I just want to know how to do it.’ It was lovely time together, concentrating on just some wool and a pair of needles. I would help my daughter to make clothes for her dolls with scraps of fabric from my sewing. 

Mary, 79, from South Wales

We had an old reel to reel tape recorder and we used to record stories on to it. We’d make up tales with the children and do lots of different voices. They loved it! I suppose you’d do it on a smart phone these days. Now, the tales I tell my grandchildren are true stories. They love to hear about years ago when you could buy sweets for two and half pence and no-one had a telephone unless it was in a red box at the end of the street – they can’t believe it!

Jill, 67, from Glasgow
We used to play board games with our children and we do it with our grandchildren now - things like snakes and ladders and Monopoly. They don’t play them at home and they love them because they’re something different.

Val, 72, from Salford
We would take the children on walks over the fields. We’d make a list of things they had to collect on the way so it turned into a little treasure hunt. They’d bring all sorts of things home and then we might have a go at making things out of what they’d found. We’d sometimes give them prizes of jammy biscuits when they got home.

Enid, 82, from Oxfordshire

Please exercise your common sense when considering these tips and whether to take any of the steps that may be suggested in them.

The tips have been provided by members of the public who have contributed to our Royal Voluntary Service Nationwise campaign so whilst we hope you will find them helpful, we cannot make any promises about their accuracy or completeness and we don’t accept any responsibility for the results of your reliance on them.

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