... a dreamer, freelance writer, massage therapist, naturopath, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Published January 1st 2017
Best Day Ever: Banish the school holiday blues
100 Things To Do With Kids in Sydney & NSW
Fun times ahead!
Stumped for something to do in the school holidays or over the weekend? Not for long. With this mega list of over 100 ideas - forged from my own years of school holiday induced panic - I promise you're about to find something.
For ease of use, the list is divided into sections: indoor, outdoor, ideas for slouching at home as well as that something different you would never have thought of.
May this list bring you, dear exhausted and much harangued fellow-parent, comfort and inspiration. If you find it useful, bookmark it for those days you're stuck for ideas and share it on to other parents.
And, finally ... thanks to my fun-loving daughter Angeline, for her abundant enthusiasm for life and providing the inspiration for most of the photographs here.
TREETOPS AND HIGH ROPES ADVENTURE PARKS
Trees Adventure park, treetop and ropes adventure Nowra
Absolutely fabulous. Swing on high ropes, walk across logs or wires suspended mid-air in this obstacle course amongst the trees.
What you need to know: the adventure lasts about 2 hours and young children can't join adults on the more difficult levels. An adult needs to supervise any children at the park.
There's a Treetops adventure located in Nowra and one at Yarramundi by the Grose River.
Blaxland Riverside Park - ooh, that looks like fun!
Kid's playgrounds have come a long way with water parks all the rage in summer. A surefire winner with most kids and doesn't deplete the school holiday wallet overly - pack food and drink to avoid the drain. Most of the water parks listed below are free. Wet n' Wild however, will set you back well over $100 for one child and an adult not including locker fees, parking fees and the fact food isn't allowed in the venue. Please note: most water parks are closed down over winter.
- Blaxland Riverside Park, Sydney Olympic Park, (Jamieson St, Silverwater).
This new addition to Sydney Olympic Park will wear them out. It has views of the Parramatta River, tunnel slides, rope-climbing web, tree-house, flying fox, swings, giant spinning disc and water play area.
With walking trails, superior play equipment, bike-riding hire and a multitude of school holiday activities offered through the Kids in the Park program, Sydney Olympic Park has become a popular place in the school holidays and deserves space of its own in this list. Kids can enjoy the simplicity of the ducks and eels and picnicking on the grass to regular school holiday events and activities and the onsite water park.
Be warned, it can be near impossible to find a parking space here during the school holidays. If you want to avoid parking stress arrive early (prior to 10.30am). For all you need to know including getting here and the latest Kids in the Park program, take this link to the Sydney Olympic Park website.
A great adventure for children and the chance to spy on creatures in their natural habitat.
The best snorkelling for children can be experienced at Clovelly beach (Clovelly is in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney) and Shelley Beach in Manly. Gordon's Bay (also in Clovelly) is another well-known snorkelling hotspot.
The beach has a timeless appeal with kids - and it's free
In this age of Imax cinema and iPad, the beach remains a timeless favourite with most kids during the summer months - proof the best things in life are free.
Jump over to my article "The Top 5 Sydney Beaches To Take Children" to explore several ideas in the Sydney region. Pack sunscreen, beach toys and jars for collecting shells for a ripper time. Weather and parking issues (think fines) can ruin your day, so study both carefully including not just rain, but wind conditions.
LOCAL SWIMMING POOLS
The local pool - always an option
The beauty of these is convenience and price. Make it more of a day out with a DIY picnic, flippers and pool toys. In winter, seek out a decent heated pool - preferably one with a spa to warm up in. It'll make it all the difference. Locate your closest public swimming pool here.
The Australian Horse Riding Centre (AHRC) has a list of several horse riding centres in NSW. Please note this isn't a complete list and you should find more locations by googling pony or horse-riding and the area of your choice.
Centennial Park offers a convenient location for pony rides for Sydneysiders. Check out the Centennial Parklands website here for all details including schedules, meeting point and cost or call them on 02 9339 6699. The pony rides are held on the Horse Track, cnr of Grand Drive and Parkes Drive, between Oxford Street, York, Darley, Alison & Lang Rds, Sydney.
Within NSW some top spots for horse-riding include Glenworth Valley on the Central Coast, the Blue Mountains, Kangaroo Valley and Sahara Trails on the beach at Port Stephens.
SYDNEY FERRY CRUISES
Sydney Ferries - an inexpensive way to cruise the harbour.
While most people think of Circular Quay when they think of ferries, these can be boarded from a range of locations including Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park and the Eastern suburbs. Ferries offer a fun yet inexpensive way to enjoy Sydney's waterways. Exit the ferry at Taronga Zoo, Sydney Olympic Park, Manly Beach, Luna Park, Cockatoo Island or the beach for more fun.
The mainstay of the school holidays, these are popular with young children. Put together some fun foods (berries, muffins, crackers and funky sandwiches), and a picnic blanket. Pack the scooter, kite, soccer ball, frisbie, tricycle, rollerblades, mountain bike or swimmers - if there's water in the equation.
Wilder and less man-made than parks, national parks showcase nature as the entertainment. You might be surprised to learn there are 225 national park options in NSW. Learn more about them at the NSW National Parks and Wildlife website.
Shop, learn about nature and have some fun at the same time. Generally speaking, mandarins and citrus are available during the winter months, while autumn brings persimmons, stone fruits, apples and nuts. During spring and summer look out for berries and stone fruit. While fruit picking is popular, think outside the square (or beyond the strawberry) - for example, it's also possible to pick your own tomatoes and vegetables from bok choy to onions. Or even your own Christmas tree.
The food growing regions of the Hawkesbury, Bilpin and further afield to Orange are considered the best places to go food picking.
Check out the Pick Your Own website for where to go picking across the state. It's advisable to call first to find out what produce is available and avoid any disappointment.
FESTIVALS, FETES AND FAIRS
Facepainting - one of the things on offer for kids at most festivals, fetes and fairs.
Community festivals are an often overlooked source of family entertainment. While timing and planning is crucial, with festivals underway all over the country, it's often possible to discover there's something at a time that suits.
These can be an opportunity for kid's activities including face-painting, pony rides and jumping castles, as well as snacking on home-made produce and learning about local crafts, produce and the community. Teens can enjoy fossicking for treasures. Multi-task by getting some shopping done, then drop off at the local park or playground to fill out the day.
Some markets that cater well to the needs of parents and kids include:
The EQ Village Market (at the entertainment quarter at Moore Park) - has jumping castles and other entertainment for children.
Personally, I try to avoid zoo's with small cages and unhappy looking animals. To this end, I'd recommend the Western Plains Zoo - possibly the closest example within NSW of a free range zoo. Unfortunately, for most of us it's a bit of a hike to Dubbo and best visited as a weekend (or week) away.
These are a really cool way to get kids outdoors and active without sweltering during summer. Fascinating geology and the magical setting of the caves makes for an outstanding experience for adults and children alike.
Jenolan Caves is one of the most popular and easy to access. During school holidays it's strongly recommended to book.
For kids (and their parents) who like the creeps. Not for me, but each to their own. For a taste of the ghouls, see the sites below:
Suitable for active teens, canyoning, abseiling and rock climbing provide challenges that test endurance and teach physical skills in nature. Canyoning involves exploring canyons and is a mixture of walking, scrambling over rocks, swimming, abseiling and jumping. Abseiling is the art of using a rope to descend a vertical drop.
The Blue Mountains is the main destination for these activities and is home to some of the best canyons in the world.
A word of warning - don't attempt any of these activities on your own. Do put yourself in the hands of an experienced and accredited guide. Here are some below.
- Zig Zag Railway - at the time of writing the non-profit co-operative that runs the Zig Zag heritage railway (and the Harry Potter Express) is working hard to get the railway operational in 2017. The 19th century heritage train passes striking scenery in the Blue Mountains. Watch the website for updates.
MONSTER PARK, HOMEBUSH, OLYMPIC PARK
A great venue for boys, Monster Park has a BMX track, Monster X facility and indoor and outdoor Skate Park. Check out the details here.
Awarded Best Significant Tourist Attraction in NSW (2004-6) and combining elegance and a family friendly environment within a classy tourist locale, HVG is legendary in terms of putting on magical events for children. The garden holds annual Easter egg hunts, Christmas lights spectaculars and regular shows and rides for kids at specific times of the year. These events tend to be scheduled during school and public holidays. Worth the trip at any time of the year.
Something parents should know: HVG doesn't permit you to bring your own food into the garden. This can blow out expenses for the day, so maybe have a big, earlyish lunch if you need to keep a lid on spending.
The 1.6 kilometre beach walk offers a chance to walk along the sand shadowed by dramatic cliffs. At the North end is the Long Reef headland - a protected aquatic reserve.
This is a great spot for exploring the reef and wading in shallow water in low tide. Young kids enjoy looking at the crabs, cunjevoi and shells. Around the next corner is Dee Why beach while snorkelling opportunities at Fishermans Beach - near the Golf Course - might suit older kids.
The Upper Crust pie shop lurks nearby on Pittwater Road - an opportunity to kill more time and grab an award winning pie.
Long Reef Reserve is located about 20 km's north of Sydney and is best visited as a full day trip. For more on Long Reef including how to get there, click here.
THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
The Blue Mountains - close day trip to the wilderness and more.
Along with books, libraries can also be a source of activities during the school holidays. To find out what's on, locate your local library here. Places in these are limited and can fill up quick, so book in early. Activities can range from craft to story-telling. Alternatively, the kids can catch up on some reading and borrow books and DVDs.
These are the latest rage and involve solving puzzles in and around the room in order to escape. Popular with teens, escape rooms can be found in many locations across NSW and Australia and tend to be based on themes from vampires to literature. Here are a few to get you started:
The Fairies Show - entertainment for kids at Penrith Panthers.
A number of venues including Sydney Opera House and local clubs and theatres, hold shows for kids during the school holidays. Shows suitable for kids range from circus acts and magic shows to pantomimes, music concerts and comedy.
RSL Clubs often offer very reasonably priced shows, disco's, movies and other entertainment catering to kids during the school holidays. For example, my local RSL is offering a kid's disco, magic show and more over the school holidays.
These tend to be under-utilised in winter, but offer a top way for kids to exercise through the colder months. Choose a pool that's warmed to a comfortable level - after all, you may have to get in there too. Some hotel pools offer day passes to locals and can be another option.
KID FRIENDLY CAFES
Secret Creek Cafe is a fabulous vegan cafe within a wildlife sanctuary.
These can take a bit of insider knowledge to dig out. If you're not sure where to go in your local area, simply ask around. The best kid-friendly cafes have a separate play area where you can watch your child from the comfort of a coffee and a good magazine or book.
Here are a few in and around Sydney to get you started:
If your wallet is up to the challenge, exploring toy stores can be fun for the kids (and your inner child). The trick is to know your maximum spend in advance, make your child aware of what that amount is, then stick to it. Here are some to whet your interest:
Places like St Vincent De Paul's and other opportunity and bargain stores can be sources of inexpensive children's toys, books and DVD's - offering some fun browsing and take home treasures on a rainy day.
Many churches hold activities for children, such as craft workshops, or play sessions.
INDOOR PLAY CENTRES
The former Jitterbugs play centre.
Great for small children and their parents, these offer refreshments and somewhere to plonk yourself (always a bonus) while your child plays. To find those near you, google play centres and your suburb, or ask others with young children.
Offering fun, fitness and physical challenge, indoor climbing centres exist in a variety of locations across the state. There are easier levels for beginners and young children, with challenges graduating up to those that require a high level of experience.
Indoor rock climbing is usually suitable for kids aged from 5 years up, but most appreciated by those who are active and teens. Safety harnesses are worn which means indoor climbing is perfectly safe.
Be aware that indoor climbing requires a partner to belay (hold the ropes) for anyone climbing. This means you have to be involved. But, indoor climbing is fun.
The movies are always an option. Enjoy your movie with a difference by doing a big-screen experience, outdoor or moonlight cinema or old-style vintage movie theatre. Or lie back on cushions at Govindas. Some RSL Clubs and other venues host inexpensive movies for kids.
Popular with both boys and girls of most ages, ten pin bowling centres often also offer laser skirmish (also known as laser tag) and arcade games - which can make for a really fun day out and varied indoor activities in one location. However, it can be an expensive outing if you let it get out of hand, especially if the cost of food comes into the equation. Most centres offer packages, which can work out cheaper in the long run. Do your maths and figure out what's best for you. Some locations are cheaper than others, so shop around if the price is an issue.
Here are some popular bowling/laser and games arcades:
YMCA's and Aquatic Centres can be less known sources of things for kids to do. Generally speaking, activities are of the sporty vein - ranging from gymnastics and swimming lessons to organised camping. Many YMCA's also offer vacation and after and before school care with a special focus on activities during the school holidays.
In addition to swimming, my local aquatic centre holds indoor gymnastics classes, soccer, roller-skating and other sports and activities.
Source these in your local area through the local council, school, library, private institutions, local paper, Facebook and good old Google.
EDUCATIONAL: SCIENCE, CULTURE & MUSEUMS
Inquisitive and science loving kids will enjoy the exhibits at museums. As example, at the time of writing, a fab Egyptian mummy exhibit is being offered at the Powerhouse Museum. Click on the website links provided below to see what's currently on.
Being housebound can happen if you're without a car, broke, too exhausted to head out of the house, or for any range of reasons. Here are some options ranging from low output to those requiring much more energy on your part.
Young children seem to like the 'memory game' - the one where you have to pair up cards that are the same and must rely on memory to locate the pairs turned facedown on the table. Snap is another favourite that doesn't require too much prowess. For older children, the range of card game options is more extensive.
Little ones might like snakes & ladders. Once again the choice is wider for older kids. If you don't have any board games, libraries sometimes have some you can borrow. Second-hand stores can be another source of inexpensive board games. Or head to your local department store.
Books and story-telling
Kids who don't like reading may enjoy those visual books that require searching for objects on the page. Alternatively, tell stories to each other. To get this started, pick a theme such as goblins, witches or cats.
Buy pretty flowers, plants like cherry tomatoes and collect interesting pebbles and other artefacts and enjoy a day in the garden setting up a special patch for your child. If you don't have a water feature improvise with a garden pot or container. Young children enjoy bringing toys out into the garden to play.
Host a play-date
Better than computer games is the social interaction provided by a play-mate. Invite someone over.
Options for creating art include pencils, crayons, fluoro pens, paint, textas, stickers and even computers. Make it a fun event by putting on some background music, snacks like crackers and nuts, and sitting somewhere relaxing.
The internet and books are a great source of craft ideas.
Most kids love this, as do many parents. If you hate baking (like myself) or lack the energy for it, popcorn, pancakes or fairy bread are other options. Or try making cold treats like ice-blocks, jelly, date and coconut balls or smoothie type shakes.
Puzzles can be daunting at first, but once you get into the groove, they're a fun and relaxing way to spend time together.
Simple backyard activities
Provided you have a backyard, get outside with the frisbee, soccer ball, water balloons, sprinkler, hopscotch or other activity.
Hold a home concert using music CDs, YouTube movies or music from a streaming app like Spotify. Pick a theme like Christmas songs, love songs or the music of Taylor Swift.
Being unable to get out doesn't mean you can't go to the movies. Hire a DVD or download a rental movie from iTunes or similar. This should set you back about only $5. Make some popcorn, draw the curtains and enjoy a movie from your lounge-room.
Not every activity has to be about being entertained. While as a society we tend to rely on outside entertainment for things to do, there's merit in activities that foster skills and teach something handy including altruism and community involvement.
Play-acting and dress-ups
Some children enjoy combining dressing up with play-acting. Search your cupboard for things like old beads, hats and fabric. Second-hand stores can be a good source of dress-up material. Of if you're handy with sewing, try making something.
Make something for someone else
Make a card or a gift for a friend, neighbour or family member. Simple gifts can include cookies or confectionary. Or pick flowers from your garden and deliver them to brighten someone's day.
Do the chickens at your school need feeding over the school holidays? Does someone you know in the local nursing home need a visit? This gives your child a sense of the importance of contributing to society.
Musical kids may enjoy busking. Backing music played from a portable device can be handy.
For the regulations concerning busking in public places, read this excerpt from the Arts Law Centre of Australia. Generally speaking it is legal to busk in many public places (provided you aren't being a nuisance) but may require a permit - normally this only applies to people over 16 years.
Mini garage sale
Hold a stall and get rid of old toys, books and DVDs. Your child can donate the money to charity or buy something for themselves.
If your child loves animals, they might enjoy volunteering to walk or groom a neighbours dog or feed pets while a neighbour is away. Of course, young children will need your assistance.
Children who enjoy singing may enjoy a day of sing-a-longs. If you don't have a karaoke device, try backing music and words downloaded from YouTube. Spice it up with some dress-ups. Get some family in on the act to watch or try filming it on your camera for playing back later for more fun.
Create a movie or slideshow together
Put your child's computer skills to use to make a movie together using the movie function on your camera. You can make a slideshow of 'still' photographs or a more complicated movie with dialogue. Your theme could be anything from animals to a recent holiday to your child's adventures over the past year.