What school-age child doesn’t look forward to Winter Break with exasperated impatience? The last day of school, they sit on the edge of their seat, watching the clock second hand wind its way around until the final bell rings and they win their freedom. The reprieve only lasts for a couple of weeks, but to kids, it’s a time of endless possibilities (and presents)! On the other hand, to parents, who suddenly have a house full of children again and in need of entertaining, Winter Break brings a slew of challenges. Working parents must rearrange schedules, childcare, or vacation plans, and homemakers experience a drastic interruption in their daily schedule. Do not let your kids’ boisterous energy over the holidays overwhelm you. Rather, funnel that energy into some fun and frugal activities to engage your children and create lasting memories.
Here’s a fun and frugal list of 13 Holiday Activities for Kids on a Budget that may inspire your family during the holidays. Feel free to do one a day, combine a few, skip activities that don’t apply to your family, switch them around, or substitute in local events for your area.
TIP: For the first couple of days of Winter Break, keep the activities simple and at home so that your family time is calm and relaxing, allowing kids and parents to adjust to the new schedule.
Activity 1 – Sleeping-In
Unplug all the alarms and sleep in. Have a quick and easy meal plan in place (think donuts, pancakes) to mark the occasion and prepare a frozen dinner in advance. Plan nothing for the day except lounging around the house. Talk to your kids about how the school year has gone so far, and discuss what the spring schedule looks like.
Activity 2 – Game Day
Let your board, card, and electronic games do the child-minding for the day. Prep your playroom with juice boxes, fresh fruit, snacks and a trashcan so the kiddos can help themselves to pre-approved food. Pile throw blankets on the couch and extra pillows on the floor to encouraging lounging (and napping!). Let the kids invite over a friend or two. If you want to go all out, order in pizza for lunch and make a Score Board. You may want to stay within earshot in case squabbles need supervision.
Activity 3 – Cleaning House
Start getting your kids into the holiday mood by cleaning up the playroom and bedrooms. Motivation maybe as simple as brownies afterwards or reminders that they need room for new gifts (and it can’t hurt to remind them that Santa brings gifts to nice boys and girls who mind their parents).
Create two piles for “keep” and “donate” toys and clothing items, and have handy a trash bag and recycle bin for all other items. If you have a storage system in place, have your kids put away their “keep” items. Gently clean all “donate” items and set aside in bins or totes for removal from the home. You will want to supervise the piles to make sure that last-year-gift from Grandma doesn’t disappear in the trash, or that a much outgrown piece of clothing or ignored toy doesn’t land in the keep pile.
Activity 4 – Gift Donations
Load your donation items and your kids into the car and head off to your favorite shopping center. Every year, in addition to donating gently used items, it’s a good idea to have the children shop for a new toy or clothing item to be gifted to a child-in-need. Talk to your kids about the less fortunate people in the world and the spirit of the season, and set a budget for each item to be purchased. Many churches and local organizations can provide the name, age and gender of a child in need and possibly even some shopping recommendations.
Have the kids personally deliver the donations to your charity of choice. Some popular options are GoodWill, Salvation Army, and Purple Heart for gently used items. Many churches, shelters and local charities also accept donations, but know the organization’s rules ahead of time as some will only accept new, unwrapped gift items.
Activity 5 – Outdoor Excursion
Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, local parks are a great place to burn off some extra energy. Think snowball fights, snowmen, sledding, nature watching, and feeding birds and squirrels. Bring some old bread or crackers to give the ducks a winter treat. Make a bird feeder by spreading peanut butter on a cardboard toilet paper roll and covering it in seed; add a string to one end to secure it to tree branches or bushes. Bring a bag of nuts and sprinkle under the trees for the squirrels. Have snacks or packed lunches in a cooler in the car, and it’s always a good idea to bring a large thermos of hot chocolate or apple cider.
Activity 6 – Sleep Over Party
- Strut the Runway: raid the costume boxes and closets, set out some makeup and provide some disposable cameras. For the extra touch, rig up some blankets or sheets to make a “stage”.
- Super Hero Mock Battles
- Video Games
- Personalized Pizzas
- Pillow or Nerf fights
Activity 7 – Movie Marathon
Recover from a previously busy day with a Movie Marathon. Pop some popcorn, make some Puppy Chow chex mix, stock up on drinks and cozy up on the couch in pajamas. Pick a theme and have 3-5 movies at the ready to engage the kids throughout the day. Parents can join in or use the time to catch up work or household stuff. Some popular movie marathon theme ideas are:
- Home Alone Marathon
- Favorites like A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Muppets Christmas Carol, The Polar Express, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- Claymation like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Little Drummer Boy, and others
- Christmas classics (great for older kids) like Miracle on 34th Street (1947), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), White Christmas (1954), The Bishop’s Wife (1948), and Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
- For the non-Christmas types, there’s always Harry Potter
Activity 8 – Kitchen Extravaganza
Choose a few fun and easy recipes to cook up with the kids in the kitchen today. Some great ideas are decorated cookies for Santa, such as gingerbread men (or houses) or iced sugar cookies in seasonal shapes, or homemade goodies to give as gifts to friends and neighbors like cookies, brownies or fudge. It’s a good idea to already have purchased all the necessary ingredients and decorating supplies ahead of time so you don’t have to schlep the kids to the store. If you bake goods to give as gifts, wrap them in cellophane with pretty ribbon or in gift boxes or tins, and have the kids go with you to personally deliver them. If your family is musically inclined (or not!), it’s always fun to sing carols as you deliver the treats; it’s a time-old tradition that is rarely done now, but that always brings smiles and laughter to those within earshot!
Activity 9 – Build a Fort
Fort building is a creative way to pass the day, especially a rainy or blizzard day. The options are endless – teepees, castles, rocket ships, robots. Use all those shipping boxes the gifts came in, or wait until after Christmas and use your gift boxes. Don’t let a lack of large boxes thwart your kids’ creative vibes. Old sheets and fishing twine work great for stringing up an impromptu under the big top, circus-like tent. Or, place a few high back chairs back to back and drape blankets and sheets over them. Some fluffy cushions inside and blankets on the floor will make for a cozy setting to play board games, read books or play with toys inside. Grab some tape, scissors (adults-only), markers, glue and glitter and get to work. Those Christmas ribbons and wrapping make excellent décor too. Cut out snowflakes and stars and secure them to string and drape inside the tent with twinkling indoor/outdoor lights for a little ambience.
Activity 10 – Science Lab
Although any science activity would be a great way to spend an interesting day with your children, there are several winter-themed experiments to choose from. Some great ones include a Borax Snowflake, Frozen Bubbles, Hail!Hail!, and the Wind-Chill Factor. Pick a handful of activities from any of the following sites:
- TLC Holiday Season Crafts
- Science Made Fun
- National Geographic Kids: Fun Science
- Jump Start: Science Activities
Activity 11 – Crafts
Children love crafting. Provide them with kid-safe scissors, glue, feathers, beads, glitter, tape, and colored paper and you won’t believe what they can create. Some fun holiday-themed ideas include Melted Snowman ornaments, Craft Paper or Hand Print Holiday Wreaths, Mason Jar Snow Globes, Felt Stockings, and Snowflake Garlands, Pipe Cleaner Shapes (stars, candy canes, Christmas trees, wreaths, snowman), and Paper Plate Snowmen. Have your kids make personalized gifts for their family members or friends using their handprints or footprints to make Footprint Reindeer or Handprint clay ornaments.
Activity 12 – Local Events
Check your local paper and news for upcoming holiday events. You will not believe all the free events available throughout the season. Many local symphonies and choirs conduct free spectaculars, cities may host an outdoor music show, light parades and Christmas light parks are also very popular activities. Small, outdoor ice skating rinks (or your nearby frozen lake) can make for a fun-filled day. Zoos, museums and local malls typically host holiday-themed, public events such as Night Lights in the Park, ornament making, and Santa meet-and-greets.
Activity 13 – Christmas Lights
One of our favorite family traditions is to drive around and look at Christmas lights. Several houses and small towns often make the local news for some of the most spectacular displays of holiday lights and inflatable sets. Live nativity scenes are also a common event.