For many parents/carers, the weeks between now and that first day back at school seem to stretch like a long and winding road. Fortunately, there are plenty of school holiday programs, workshops and enrichment classes out there that'll keep the kids busy, such as intensive swimming programs, dance and drama classes, art classes, language lessons, sports programs, and cooking classes. Unfortunately, however, these school holiday programs can be quite expensive, and many parents/carers simply can't afford to send their kids to them.
So are there school holiday activities in Canberra that your kids will enjoy this summer but that are also either free or affordable to do?
Luckily for you, there are. Here are twenty of them:
1. Go swimming! There's no better place to beat the heat in summer than at a swimming pool. Entrance fees are $5 per child, $7 per adult above 16 years, or $20 for a family (2 adults 2 children, or 1 adult 3 children) at Manuka Pool. With shaded areas, a shaded toddlers pool, children's playground, children's pirate ship, and café, Manuka Pool is just perfect for families. Another great place for families is the Canberra International Sports and Aquatic Centre (CISAC) at Belconnen. Entrance fees are $5.80 per child or $22.60 for a family of four and $27 for a family of five. CISAC has leisure and whirlpool areas for the kids as well as Canberra's only indoor waterslide. The water slide costs an additional $4.50 per person. And during school holidays, you can also go on the Aqua Castle which, together with the Water Slide, costs $6.50 per person on top of pool entrance fees.
Finally, another good option for families is the Lakeside Leisure Centre at Tuggeranong with its outdoor splash park. Entrance fees are $5 children, $7 adults and $18.70 for a family of 2 adults, 2 children or $21.50 for a family of 2 adults, 3 children.
However, you don't need to go to a swimming pool to cool off. Canberra's network of rivers, lakes and waterways offer some great swimming spots such as at the Cotter River, Uriarra Crossing, Casuarina Sands, Pine Island, Lake Ginninderra, Weston Park, and Kambah Pool. And best of all, they're free! Go here to find your nearest swimming spot.
Fun at Pine Island
Just remember that whether you're cooling off at a swimming pool or a lake or river, you must supervise your children at all times.
2. Enjoy a picnic. Canberra is not called the Bush Capital for nothing. We are surrounded by parks, nature reserves, and bushland, and so we're spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a picnic spot. Some of my favourites include the Cotter River, Uriarra Crossing, the Himalayn Cedar Forest at the National Arboretum, Henry Rolland park at West Basin, Yerrabi Ponds, Fadden Pines, Aspen Island, Lennox Gardens, Glebe Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Find a spot near you here, pack a picnic, pack your kids, and enjoy the great outdoors.
3. Burn some summer energy at a local playground.
It doesn't cost a cent for your kids to have fun at a playground. Here in Canberra, we have so many wonderful playgrounds and play spaces for them to enjoy, such as at Moncrieff Recreation Park, Tuggeranong Town Park, John Knight Memorial Park in Belconnen, Fadden Pines, the National Arboretum, Cotter Avenue, Kambah Adventure Playground, the Boundless Playground at Kings Park on Lake Burley Griffin, and Yerrabi Ponds. Find a playground near you here.
4. Get on your bikes/scooters/skateboards.
Get the kids moving this summer! It's absolutely free for the kids to ride their bikes/scooters/skateboards at many safe locations around Canberra, such as at Lake Burley Griffin, Lake Ginninderra, Lake Tuggeranong, Weston Park, Telopea Park, Googong Foreshores, the National Arboretum, Learn to Ride centres for young children at Belconnen and Tuggeranong, and the children's learn to ride play area at Stromlo Forest Park. There are also skate parks at Belconnen Skate Park on Emu Bank at Lake Ginninderra, Yerrabi Ponds Skate Park in Gungahlin, Eddison Skate Park in Woden, and Tuggeranong Skate Park near the Tuggeranong Town Park. Go here to find out more about where the kids can ride their bikes, scooters and skateboards in Canberra.
Riding our bike under the cool shade of the Himalayan Cedars at the National Arboretum
5. Go to the cinema.
It doesn't have to cost a fortune to take the kids to the cinema this summer to watch Ralph Breaks the Internet, Mary Poppins Returns, Storm Boy or How To Train Your Dragon. At Limelight Cinema in Tuggeranong, tickets cost only $9 each on Tuesdays for children and adults (otherwise it's $10 for children and $12 for adults on other days). Dendy Cinema in Civic also has a special Tuesday rate: $13 per person for all 2D sessions. And movie tickets are only $10 per person at Event Cinema in Manuka.
6. Get the kids reading by visiting your local library.
Your kids can live a thousand lives and go on a thousand adventures this summer just by reading! Visit your local library, get the kids to throw themselves into a good book (or two or three or four!), and join in one of the many free school holiday workshops and storytelling sessions. For more details, go here.
8. Visit MOADOPH. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MOADOPH) is a wonderful place for families, with the fabulous PlayUP family space, Open Air Playup in the Senate courtyard which includes giant lawn games for children, and the 'Behind the Lines' political cartoons exhibition's family activities. Entrance to the Museum is only $2 for adults, $1 for children, and $5 for a family.
9. Visit the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
Spend the day exploring the wonders of Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. It only costs $13 for a day pass for a private vehicle that seats up to 8 people. Explore the Sanctuary, visit the koalas in the Koala Enclosure, enjoy the many walking trails, enjoy a picnic under the gum trees, and have fun at the playground. Go here for more information.
10. Visit the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.
While you're out at Tidbinbilla, why not visit the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex? Check out the big dishes, as well as the Canberra Space Centre located on the grounds of the Complex. The Canberra Space Centre offers visitors the chance to learn about the role that Australia plays in the exploration of space. There are many fascinating exhibits, including a piece of the Moon that's over 3.8 billion years old! There is also a café and children's playground. Entry to the Canberra Space Centre is free.
11. Meet your reptilian neighbours at the Snakes Alive! Exhibition at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
Taking place between January 14-20, Snakes Alive! is a wonderful opportunity for you and your kids to learn about a variety of Australian reptiles and amphibians. Come along for live displays, feeding and handling of snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles and crocodiles. Cost is only $6 for adults and $4 for children.
12. Fly a kite at the National Arboretum.
Grab your kites and let them fly at the National Arboretum! The Amphitheatre next to the Visitor's Centre is a great place for kite flying. The Arboretum has extended opening hours over summer, so it's a good idea to fly your kites after 4pm (so you don't have to pay for parking!).
13. Play mini golf.
It's only $10 for children aged 15 and under for a game of mini golf at Mini Golf King at the Canberra Outlet Centre, Fyshwick. Mini Golf King is a themed indoor mini golf centre that's fun for the whole family.
14. Visit Canberra's historic homes.
Step back in time and learn more about Canberra's European past when you visit Lanyon Homestead in Tharwa, Calthorpe's House at Red Hill and Mugga Mugga Cottage, Symonston. The entry fee for each house is only $15 for a family. Go here for more details. You could also go and visitSt John's schoolhouse museum, site of the first school in Canberra, in Reid. Admission is free but a gold coin donation is appreciated.
15. Have fun at Kid City.
Take the kids to Kidcity, Canberra's biggest indoor play centre, located at Mitchell. Entrance for children 1 to 12 years is $15, with adults and children under 12 months free.
16. Explore Jerrabomberra Wetlands.
If you have younger children, the Wetland Treasures School Holiday Program is a fantastic way for them to explore and learn more about the wetlands and its creatures. This ranger-led activity runs for 1.5 hours with a healthy fruit break included. Cost is $8 per child. Go here to book your tickets.
17. Free school holiday fun at Majura Park shopping centre.
There'll be a special ride on a train for the kids from Jan 19-26 from 10am-2pm departing from outside Woolworths, plus there'll be a free reptile petting zoo outside Big W from Jan 12-21 from 10am-3pm.
18. Explore the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
There's so much for you and the kids to see and do at our National Botanic Gardens. Stroll through the Rainforest Gully, climb the paperbark treehouse, go on the 'Who did that?" children's trail, and have a picnic on the Eucalypt Lawn. Go here to find out all the exciting things you can see and do at the Gardens this summer.
The paperbark treehouse
19. Play in your backyard.
My young son absolutely loves playing in the backyard and can spend hours outside with his sandpit, the garden hose, the dirt, the garden gnomes, and his toys. Kids have incredible imaginations. Let them make up their own fun every once in a while!
20. Enjoy a day at home.
You and the kids don't have to go out; you can also decide to just stay at home every once in a while! Especially when it's much too hot. So read books, make crafts, watch DVDs, build a Lego city, cook something, play board games, make kites to fly at the Arboretum, do some science experiments, or let the kids get bored and make up their own fun.