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Busy on a budget - keep the kids happy when camping

June 26, 2012
by Laura Canning

Not the way to entertain the kids Camping and caravanning is easy to do on a budget, but add kids into the mix and it can be a bit trickier. You might be happy going on ten mile hikes, wandering around stately homes and sitting through a meal without fidgeting or flicking peas (mostly), but smaller people generally have a lack of taste in these areas.

And if your budget won’t stretch to the nearby theme park or expensive attractions, a week in a caravan or under canvas can seem a bit overwhelming in the ‘What am I going to do with them/Can I leave them at home’ stakes. Tremble not, for we have stress-free tips for entertaining the kids on a budget:

If you’re going to a campsite or park, look for ones with a play area , kids’ clubs , games room or indoor or outdoor swimming pool so that there’s plenty of free entertainment even if you don’t venture much off site. Kids’ clubs and entertainment will generally be covered in the cost of your stay, with a small charge of £1 or so sometimes made for one-off activities like face painting or parties. Don’t forget to check our many budget sites – you can filter these for family friendly too.

Once you know what site you’re going to, check the full Pitchup.com listing to see what’s on nearby, as there should be lots to do that’s free or cheap. Here are a few we prepared earlier:

  • Burrowhead Holiday Village in Dumfries and Galloway has St Ninian’s Cave nearby, as well as Castle Kennedy Gardens, Laggan Outdoor Activity Centre Galloway Forest Park and loads of spots for birdwatching and fishing. (It’s also where The Wicker Man was filmed, but perhaps you shouldn’t tell the kids that.)
  • Cosawes Park in Cornwall has the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Pendennis Castle, Trelissick Garden and Glendurgan Garden all within six miles, and is within easy reach of the coast for cycling, sailing and walking. And its toilet block won Loo of the Year, although we think it’s parents rather than kids who’ll be impressed with that.
  • Lee Wick Farm Cottages and Camping in Essex is a top spot to try glamping on a budget, as its Mega Pods sleep up to four people (and two dogs) and come with their own kitchen area, loo and sink. There's a fishing reservoir on site too,or bag a free pass to the neighbouring  Essex Wildlife Trust Colne Point Nature Reserve.

If you want to make your own entertainment or are going wild camping, try these extra tips for entertaining the kids on a budget:

  • Bring a toy box : See our rainy camping with kids blog for tips on putting together a toy box that can live in the car boot between camping trips. Add cheap stuff such as balls, dolls, colouring books, crayons and Lego, and other handy things such as cheap torches for shadow puppet games (or ghost stories) at night. Go all old-fashioned and add a rope too for tug of war – even older kids should get into this once they have a furtive look around that no-one’s watching them.
  • Hunt some bugs : If your kid’s interested in bugs, beasties and the great outdoors, put together a budget nature spotting kit for them. Pieces can be picked up cheaply in pound shops or budget shops and can include notebooks and pencils, toy binoculars, a wildlife or bird guidebook and boxes or tins to proudly bring critters back to camp to show off before releasing again: look for campsites in a wildlife haven so they'll have plenty to spot. Older kids can go off all day on a nature trek around the campsite or caravan park, while for younger kids butterfly nets provide hours of fun, mainly for the parents as you try not to collapse in laughter watching your four year old chasing after a Grizzled Skipper. Chortle.
  • Be a biker : If the kids are old enough, a bike ride around the countryside should keep everyone occupied for a few hours, especially if you bring a picnic too. No need to bring the bikes with you – just search for sites with cycle hire or with cycle hire nearby .
  • Have a water fight : Water balloons are cheap and can be easily filled at most sites. And you get to give the kids A Lesson too about not waterbombing innocent bystanders (bah) and about picking up the burst balloons afterwards. Before you hit them with three balloons at once.
  • Build a sandman : If you’re near a beach and spending the day there, don’t build a boring old sandcastle – get the kids to help you build a sandman instead. Make it look as close to a snowman as possible, add a carrot for the nose for added effect and see the double takes as people go past.
  • Scavenger hunts : Not only do these entertain the kids as they scamper off looking for whatever you’ve put on their list, but you get a bit of peace and quiet if they’re big enough to go on their own. And of course it would be evil to put something on the list you know they’ll take ages to find. Pass the corkscrew.

Finally, we have it on reliable authority from our consultant children’s entertainer (yes, really) that play parachutes are among the best things you can buy to keep a group of kids happy. They cost between £10-20, come with an activities list of games and are a good way of meeting other kids and parents if you’re staying in a park.

Hopefully these ideas should keep the family happy if you’re camping or caravanning this summer, but, as harried parents often wail, all kids are different. So if you’ve got any failproof methods of entertaining the smaller troops when camping, let us know!

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