School Holiday Activities On A Budget
As much as many of us wish it would stay away, it’s now undeniable that the dreaded school holiday is here again, and children all across Australia are demanding entertainment. Whilst there is recent psychological thinking to suggest that ‘being bored’ is good for a person’s overall creativity, there are limits to how long children can be left unstimulated before they tend towards challenging behaviours. However, there is also a limit to how far the average Australian’s wallet can extend to cater for organised children’s activities!
To help you (and your hip pocket) out this September holiday, we’ve put together this list of FREE activities for your consideration.
Check out your local library’s school holiday program:
Check out your local library ‘s website for details on school holiday programs and free activities that they’re offering. They generally have a decent mix of creative and literary activities planned, and cater for different age groups. Most activities are free, however, often require you to make a booking as places are capped, so hop on your local library’s website (contact details for all Victorian libraries in the link here) and book your child in.
Play Pod is the State Library of Victoria’s program for children aged under eight years, packed with activities to read, create and play. With a new theme every season, Play Pod is always changing, fun and interactive, so children are free to explore and engage with the support of their parents and carers
Engage with your local council through their free school holiday activities:
Most councils put together a list of activities available in their shires, and these are usually available at council offices and at local libraries. Many of them list these on their websites as well, so check out your local council’s page today to see what’s on for the next two weeks.
Sample every playground near your house:
We have a friend who has created a family challenge to visit 100 different playgrounds in a year, and they are having a whale of a time. You could make a smaller challenge for this school holiday to visit every playground near your house. Here’s a registry of playgrounds in Melbourne for you to use in your planning, or you could simply hop onto Google Maps and search for green patches in your area!
Book in to an Officeworks or Bunnings school holiday session:
Both of these giants offer free activities every week, and during the school holiday they have something on every single day. Kids can participate in workshops, and join Ollie’s Club for free at Officeworks and (they get a welcome pack and a card on their birthday too), and Bunnings has a stack of free printable activities on their website which are pretty good.
Activities vary from store to store, and some locations require bookings, so pop in or give them a call to see what they’ve got on offer.
Visit a beach: Victoria is renowned for its beaches, and they’re all relatively easily accessible.
Rickett’s Point, Beaumaris. At low tide, this beach has some of the best rock pools in Melbourne to explore; there’s a good walking & riding track along the foreshore; the café serves good food and excellent coffee, and you can almost always spot a pelican or two in the water. Parking isn’t the cheapest, but there are plenty of space.
Altona’s famous Dog Beach at Seaholme. Great space for running, and if your little ones love dogs, there is no better place to be! Free parking in the area – check out the instructions on the website.
Brighton bathing boxes. The bathing boxes are great for shelter from the morning sun, fun to play around for the little ones, and they allow for excellent photo opportunities. The water is relatively shallow and there are some good rock pools at low tide. Bayside parking is notoriously expensive, but you can get free parking spots in nearby streets if you’re happy walking a bit.
St Kilda Beach. Oodles of flat sandy space, relatively shallow water, walking, riding, skating tracks, skate ramps, cafés, restaurants, activities & equipment you can hire (rollerblading, paragliding, kiteboarding), and more. It’s well worth a look!
Piers and jetties: there are many of these around Melbourne, and they are great for walking and riding along, and often there are boats around for the kids to look at. Here are links to Mornington Pier & Jetty and Williamstown Pier, and here’s a list of all the standout piers in Victoria.
If you really like your local pier, why not go fishing?! If you don’t have any fishing equipment, take a detour past an Aussie Disposals or Rays Tent City store and pick up a few basics (it won’t cost much, and the line and hooks are obviously reusable on future holidays), and then head out to one of the locations listed in these websites. There are kid-friendly fishing spots all over Melbourne, and this activity makes for a wonderful, peaceful day out in the sun for the whole family. Here’s some information on places to go, here’s some top saltwater fishing spots, and this page has even more great locations!
Some of our preferred fishing haunts are: Maribyrnong river, St Kilda pier, Mordialloc pier, and Karkarook park.
Visit an Aquarium shop:
If you’re not into actually catching fish, but love the concept of looking at them, you can save yourself the fee of the Melbourne Aquarium by taking your kids to a really good aquarium shop instead. There are several around, and you can easily spend an hour wandering around looking at all the tropical fish, bugs and (in some stores) reptiles. The Mentone shop even has snakes and tarantula spiders! Here are some links to stores in Keysborough, Coburg, Bayswater, and Richmond, but there are sure to be more, so just look around your neighbourhood and see if there’s one near you!
Head to a park to go cycling (or walking):
Victoria is virtually bursting at the seams with great parks for walking and cycling around. Take your lunch, bikes, sunscreen and enjoy a day out in nature. Please make sure you keep our parks nice for their animal residents and visitors by taking all your rubbish home with you.
This link names parks great for cycling, but they’re some of our favourite walking parks too.
This link lists 10 parks and how they are best suited to different types of family outings.
Become a Junior Ranger!
Have you ever wanted to discover the secrets of Victoria’s national parks and reserves? Junior Rangers can find out all about what’s going on, direct from a park ranger! Take part in fun, ranger guided activities during the school holiday, suitable for children aged 6-12 years. These activities are SERIOUSLY cool!!
Visit a gallery.
These days, galleries are far more interesting for kids than they used to be, and whilst many of the specialised exhibits require either a ticket or membership to see, there are always heaps of activities and free exhibits to wander around as well. NGV (The National Gallery of Victoria) is great for a day out in the city, especially in springtime.
If you haven’t heard of McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park, be prepared for an amazing day out! The sculpture park is just off the Cranbourne-Frankston Highway, and entrance is free. There are windy paths through the bushland with sculptures around every bend, many of which are interactive (make sure to let your kids ‘test out’ the pedestrian crossing button at the traffic light sculpture!), and all of which can inspire a sense of wonder in your small bods. Take a picnic, or pop over the road to Parker’s Pies for lunch after a good wander around.
Get a bit botanical:
We have two fabulous major botanical gardens in Melbourne, plus many more, smaller ones dotted around the state.
The Royal Botanic Gardens in the city has a fantastic gated children’s garden, which is full of different types of play spaces, it has nice soft grass for picnicking, and is close enough to the Observatory Café to get a coffee on the way. Of course you can just visit the general gardens too: there’s lots of things to see and do there, and especially now that it’s spring, there are heaps of weird and wonderful plants to look at.
There’s even a list of Things To Do at the Royal Botanic Gardens. you can download it here, or just pick up a copy of it at any of the entrance gates.
Cranbourne Australian Garden is a fantastic place to take kids for an exploration of our Australian landscape. There are regions for each type of climate in the country, and lots of exciting plants and poky tracks for kids to ‘get lost’ in.
Go to an airport to watch the planes:
There are so many games you can play based around airplanes: “I wonder where the passengers are going! What do you think they’ll do there?”, “How many planes can we spot in 30 minutes? How are they different/similar?”, “How many different airlines can you spot?” (you could even have a checklist), “How many passengers are on that plane? How many passengers have we seen fly past in the last 30 minutes?”.
You can look up the airport websites for departures and details on the types of planes you’re watching, and then you can find out more about the models of planes, and use that to do some maths exploration.
Go to Ikea for lunch and join in their school holiday program:
If the weather is a bit murky and you feel like taking your kids to an indoor play centre, but can’t face the cost, why not consider Ikea in Springvale or Richmond? Their Smaland (pronounced Smorland) play space is fabulous, free, and leaves you free to wander around for a while. You will probably need to get there relatively early in the day during the holidays, as they have a limit on numbers for safety, but it’s well worth it. They have special activities booked in too: Here’s what Richmond has on offer, and here’s Springvale’s program.
Afterwards, you can pick up and affordable lunch at the café too: they’ve got some god vegetarian and gluten-free options these days too.
Spend a day exploring the city:
Melbourne has so much to offer, and it’s a brilliant place to explore on foot. To get to the city, you can drive, but parking usually costs a bomb, so it’s worth looking into using trains and trams. For Zone 1-2, children under 4 travel free on public transport, and children between 4-16 travel on concession rates ($3.90 for a full day or $1.90 for 2 hours). Once you’re there, make use of the Free Tram Zone to get around. All the details are here.
There are quite literally hundreds of things to do for free in Melbourne, but we’ve listed just a few to get you started.
– Take the free City Circle tram around town and check out some of the interesting buildings and historical locations.
– See what Federation Square has planned for the school holiday. Their programs of activities are generally pretty great.
– Head on a street art exploration walk. Hosier Lane is a renowned spot to look at some of Melbourne’s emerging street artists’ work, but there are many other locations to check out as well. Great for entertaining teenagers! This page lists a few and even gives you a handy map to refer to.
– Visit the Shrine of Remembrance. If you’ve only ever seen the outside, get ready to be amazed: underneath the building is a massive museum, full of tunnels, exhibits, video presentations, interactive displays, and you can even take a free guided tour. Details here:
Become mates with the Melbourne Fire Brigade:
The MFB run interactive demonstrations regularly throughout the year, and there is almost always one on during the school holidays. Below are the dates and times of demonstrations at the different branches.
It is essential to call and let them know you’re coming, as some of the stations will not run a demonstration if they think numbers will be too low, and other stations have to cap their numbers (Eastern Hill in East Melbourne in particular) if they get too many people. Click here for further details on the MFB.
Central District: 9662 2311
Eastern Hill Station ,456 Albert Street, East Melbourne Victoria,
Every Friday from 10:30-11:30am
South East District: 9665 4525
Burwood Fire Station, 25 Highbury Road, Burwood 3125
Oakleigh Fire Station, 100 Atherton Road, Oakleigh 3166
Ringwood Fire Station, 272 Maroondah Highway, Ringwood 3134
The Ringwood, Oakleigh and Burwood stations run demonstrations at 10:00am on a Friday on a 3-week rotation. This school holiday, Ringwood has one on the 23rd, and Oakleigh has one on the 30th.
Western District: 9665 984
Sunshine Fire Station, 30 McIntyre Road, Sunshine
Every Friday at the Sunshine station, generally beginning around 9:30-9:45am.
Northern District: 9665 4502
Thomastown Fire Station, 92 Mahoneys Road, Thomastown
Every second week at the Thomastown Station on a Thursday at 10am. During these holidays, it’s happening Thursday the 22nd.
If you still need more inspiration, take a look at these suggestions as well:
So there you have it: enough activities to see you through to the end of the school holiday, so that your children have a good time, and your wallet stays in good health! We’d love to hear what you get up to over the break, and if you have any other great free activities that you think we should include in this list, please tell us about them in the comments below.