As Winter draws in, entertaining the kids on the cheap gets more difficult than ever. Nights get darker, the air gets colder, and we're forced indoors to magic amusement up from nowhere.
With the outdoors much less accommodating than usual, it may seem like spending a fortune on days out is the only way to go. Take it from me though, with a bit of seasonal variation on your exhausted, go-to budget activities, you can put a positive spin on those miserable Winter months and have loads of family fun, without spending any money at all.
Here are some of my very own favourites for you to have a go at wit the kids this Winter.
1. Have a conker collecting competition
It's officially conker season! While you may think conker fun is a thing of the past, you'll be surprised at how much your little ones will love learning just what joy these nuts can bring.
There's nothing quite like the delight of breaking open a brown, spiky shell to reveal a shiny conker hidden inside. Whether you're just collecting, or you go all out, tie them with string and play a classic game of 'conkers', they're sure to bring a helping of happy warmth to a cold Winter's day.
Wrap up warm and get hunting!
2. Entertain the kids for hours with a newspaper snowman
The snow might not be here yet, but that doesn't mean you can't pretend it is.
A newspaper snowman is the perfect solution to so many of the problems one made of the wonderful white stuff can cause - no risk of frost bite, it won't melt, and best of all, you can keep your kid's new best-friend inside!
They're really easy to make, and a great way of upcycling your newspaper pile - yay for the environment! Check out the one Inner Child Fun made with her kids for some inspiration.
3. Get some early Christmas card-making done
Christmas might seem a way off yet, but blink and it'll be here. Making some DIY cards with your kids will not only help you get that long list of preparations well under way, but they'll love adding a personal touch to all those loving letters.
Even if the final results aren't the most professional-looking you've ever laid eyes on, everyone loves a handmade card. It's the effort, love and in this case, laughs, that go into them that counts the most.
4. Shadow puppets are sure to entertain the kids
Think that the dark nights mean that the fun has to end early? Think again! With shadow puppets, the early-night shadows will be your friend, rather than foe.
Your kids will be able to let their imaginations go wild with all those shadows the dark nights enable. Whether you opt for the simplicity of hand puppets, or choose to go all out and cut out some stencil designs, the results are sure to impress.
Jenn Rian has an excellent article showcasing a variety of brilliant ways shadow puppets can be created, I definitely recommend taking a look.
5. There's something to entertain everyone at the museum
If you're feeling a bit claustrophobic from all these indoorsy activities, consider a change of scene.
You don't have to go anywhere extravagant - check out your nearest museum's free offerings and go from there. Tarifs are often free for kids under a certain age, or at a heavily reduced rate.
Sit on the bus with a pre-packed lunch to help keep costs low, and you'll be there in no time.
6. Wrap up warm & have an unscheduled bonfire
Bonfire Night may only officially occur once a year, but that's not to say you can't break the rules a little.
Sitting around the warmth of a cosy bonfire with your family is an easy way to forget the chill of the air that surrounds you. Play some games, toast some marshmallows and tell stories. It's a cheap, easy way to make the most of the dark weather, bond as a family and get into the festive spirit.
7. Start writing that long letter to Santa Claus
While you may know better, it's likely that your little ones are still well under the impression that Santa is a real thing. Make the most of this while you can, and busy them by assigning them the task of writing him a loving letter this Christmas.
It may be a little early, but the post doesn't reach the North Pole overnight you know! Besides, as we know, Mr. Claus is a very busy man and will no doubt appreciate the advanced warning.
8. Make colouring more entertaining with a seasonal design
Colouring? That old activity again? Well, let's mix things up a bit shall we?
Instead of trying to coerce your kids into drawing designs onto a blank sheet of paper, do a quick Google search for some seasonal designs. There are millions of free printouts on the web to suit all ages and abilities, and it's sure to make a nice change for your little ones. Check out Activity Village for a great selection to get you started.
9. Cut the costs with some DIY playdough
When's the last time your kids had a play around with some playdough - my guess is ages and that the remnants are as hard as a rock in a cupboard somewhere.
Make this Winter indoors a little more entertaining, and knock them up some DIY playdough. It only requires throwing a few simple ingredients together for hours of fun! The best bit? It's so cheap to make that you really needn't bug them about putting it away properly, which is sure to please them just as much as you.
10. Try teaching some traditional games
Time to put away the iPads, close the lids on the laptops, and switch off the TV screens once and for all. Instead of relying on technology to make this Winter a success, why not try teaching your children some of the family favourites you used to play when such things didn't exist?
Squeak Piggy Squeak, Coffee Pot and Family Charades are games your little ones probably haven't tried before. Whilst there may be some whining when the screens get taken away at first, they'll soon forget all that when they realise how much fun there is to be had without them!
11. Make the house as Christmassy as can be
Christmas provides us with loads of excellent, free entertainment ideas that are perfect to do around the home. In fact, there are so many that there's really no thing as starting too early.
Use some old coloured paper and cut and glue simple paper chains with the younger ones, design and cut intricate snowflakes for the older children, and then take everything you've made and get decorating the place.
Make things even more exciting with a chart tracking how many decorations you've managed to make as a family - set yourself a benchmark and try and reach it before Christmas Eve!
12. Puzzles can be a great way to entertain the whole family
When was the last time you sat around a puzzle? If it was long ago, consider dusting one off to play with this Winter.
They're a great activity to do as a family as everyone can concentrate on a certain area and watch as the image comes to life. Not only that but everyone will be so engrossed that they'll forget to argue, shout or make barely any sound at all - peace at last.
I hope I've shown you how to make the most of the cold Winter weather, even on a shoestring budget. Have a lovely Winter everyone!