Raise your hand if you’re nearing or just flat out broke from Christmas shopping… just in time for your kids to be home for the holiday break from school? If you’re like me, you’re already turning to The Almighty Internet for ideas of fun things to do on a budget. Honestly, the best way I tackle this is to keep a running list of projects and activities to do with my son, when going outside just isn’t an option. Most of the activities on this list were completely free, using supplies we had around the house, or the cost was very minimal. I’m all about finding free and cheap things to do. Here are some ideas for free and cheap things things to do with kids at home for the holidays.
Originally written Dec. 2017; Updated Nov. 2020
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Sure, everyone can read on their own, but what if we made it a challenge to read through a chapter book or two together, over the break? Turn it into an experience by adding ambiance, cuddling up under big throw blankets, sitting on pillows near the Christmas tree, and sipping hot chocolate or apple cider.
One year when I was a nanny, my 5 year old charge dictated stories to me. I would write them down and draw simple illustrations for her to color. We compiled several of our favorite stories and created a little book. Her parents ended up binding several copies for gifts that Christmas. I still have my copy, a decade later! It was such a fun project and special memento of our time together. I love these lined writing books for kids.
Invitations to create.
There are blogs and websites completely dedicated to ideas for inspiring your little one to create. I try to prepare these activities ahead of time and have the tray already set up to go. I like to use wooden serving trays, but these trays are great for painting on or other activities where compartments aren’t needed. Benjamin spent about 2 hours decorating this cardboard gingerbread house, with my help as needed. Here is what the setup looked like. He also loved the Invitation to Create: Trim a Tree. Check out ECCO-Kits for fun, themed, guided sensory kits available for purchase.
Here are a couple other ideas I’ve got bookmarked to do:
In the past I’ve set up an invitation to create with playdough, cookie cutters, and random craft and baking supplies. I love this idea for a Christmas Tree Play Dough Kit and this one for Playdough Snowman Factory Winter Sensory Play. This Chocolate Reindeer Play Dough set up is adorable too. Here is my favorite homemade playdough recipe. Below, I used white flour and whole wheat flour to get the two different colors without using food dye (which I’ve also used, here). I added 1-2 drops from each bottle of Young Living Essential Oils to create festive dough. Benjamin loved it!
Not crafty? No problem!
There are some fun STEM activities I’ve seen and tried that require only set up and clean up. One year I set up this Christmas Fizzing Candy Cane Science Experiment and it was a huge hit! This year I set out all sorts of different baking supplies he could test, including round peppermints and sprinkles.
Next on our list? Building igloos with marshmallows (then eating them, of course!). And we definitely need to do this LEGO Santa Sleigh STEM Building Challenge, too! Here is a really great roundup of 25 Christmas STEM Activities.
Spread Christmas cheer.
There is no shortage of DIY Christmas gift ideas but even a handmade card would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Here is a great list of people not to forget to send Christmas cards to! For several years, we’ve organized an exchange between Benjamin’s “peers” on Instagram. Here were Benjamin’s cards a couple of years ago.
Need more ideas? Check out my Christmas board on Pinterest for children’s Christmas activities, Advent ideas, DIY Christmas decor, free printables, and more!