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Free Summer School Holiday Events For Children in London

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
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It's nearly time for the summer holidays again and the thing that every parent dreads to hear is 'I'm bored'. How do you keep your children happy and occupied, whilst not spending a fortune on their entertainment? Here are a few ideas that you might want to consider. They could also keep you entertained and stop you from tearing out your hair in frustration. They are free too, so if the kids do drive you to distraction you may still have some money over for that well-earned drink (or two).


You can jump off excess energy on Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge, which is touring the country over the summer. The real deal is down in the West Country, alongside a busily congested holiday route, and is only open to Druids celebrating the Solstice. Sacrilege is a giant bouncy castle that will be popping up in various parts of London between 21 July and 12 August. The website will show exactly where.

Sacrilege (Picture Courtesy of the London 2012 Website)

Summer Reading Challenge

After all that bouncing your children may need a quiet time to curl up with a book. The Summer Reading Challenge will be taking place at a library near you and will encourage your kids to lose themselves in literature. Each child will be given six books to read, and will be encouraged along the way with stickers, certificates, rewards and medals. The scheme is open to children aged between 4 and 11. They will be happily occupied, improving their literacy, and curled up with good books so that you can have a quiet life. You may even find time to read something yourself.

Stroll: Discovery Trails

For some gentle exercise, and to find out more about London, you could take your offspring on a Discovery Trail of London. Six trails of the City, East London, the West End, Regents Park and the South Bank are supported by inner London Boroughs. Keep your eyes and ears peeled and your cameras at the ready and you may even bump into Wenlock and Mandeville, the Olympic Mascots.

Stroll: Discovery Trails
Stroll: Discovery Trails (Picture Courtesy of the Mayor of London's Website)

The Notting Hill Carnival

If you want to experience the West Indies in West London, take a bus or tube to Notting Hill over the August bank holiday weekend and join in with the fun of the Notting Hill Carnival. This festival, the largest in Europe, has been entertaining crowds since 1966. You can watch, participate, dance to the Caribbean rhythms and enjoy the flavours of Jerk chicken and other specialities. This year carnival takes place on Sunday, 26 (children's day) and Monday, 27 August (adults' day), with the parade of floats winding its way round the streets on the Monday. I'll drink to that with a can of Red Stripe.

Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival (Picture Courtesy of the Notting Hill Carnival Website)

The Owl and the Pussycat

Former Monty Python member Terry Jones has written a libretto to Anne Dudley's music based on Edward Lear's poem about The Owl and the Pussycat. The bird and the moggy may have gone to sea in a beautiful pea green boat, but this production will be performed in nature reserves, lidos and canals across London. Tickets need to be booked in advance via the website.

The Owl and the Pussycat
The Owl and the Pussycat (Picture Courtesy of the London 2012 Festival Website)

The Olympic Journey

It's impossible to ignore the impact of the Olympics on London this summer. Tickets to the events may be expensive and difficult to obtain, but you can learn more about the ancient and modern games at the Royal Opera House this summer. This exhibition will run for two weeks (from 28 July until 12 August) and will include artefacts, including Olympic Torches and Medals as well as audio and filmed information and memories. The ROH is in Covent Garden, itself also a place popular with children and adults, tourists and Londoners. You will also find street entertainers in the Garden, so there will be loads to keep your children amused.

Olympic Games
Olympic Games (Picture Courtesy of the Royal Opera House Website)

Picture: Potters Fields Park

If your children are distraught that they can't physically attend the Olympic or Paralympic Games, you could take them to watch all the events live on a big screen. Potters Fields Park, close by Tower Bridge, will be home to a huge television where they can spend their time cheering on their favourite athletes and teams.

A Family in Wartime

Do you ever think that your children are a little overindulged and privileged? They will soon learn what it was like to live through World War 2 if you take them to the Imperial War Museum and view wartime life through the eyes of a south London family. Experience evacuation, rationing, bomb shelters and raids all delivered through the medium of radio broadcasts (what mum, no television?) films and interviews. There are other free events taking place at the museum throughout the school holidays.

A Family in Wartime
A Family in Wartime (Picture Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Website)

Food Markets

Encourage your children to experience different foods and tastes when visiting food markets. The food may not be free, but the samples will be. Real Food Markets take place every weekend at the Southbank Centre Square, including extended four-day markets over 26-29 July, 2-5 and 9-12 August. There will also be a three-day market over the Thames Festival weekend of 7-9 September, as well as Borough Market, which will enjoy extended openings for the whole of the Olympic and Paralympic games.

The Mayor's Thames Festival

The Mayor's Thames Festival is the perfect finale to the summer. This year it takes place over 8 and 9 September, to coincide with the closing of the London 2012 Games. The events on offer will include carnival, percussion, choirs and fireworks.

The Mayor's Thames Festival
The Mayor's Thames Festival, with City Hall and a Partially Open Tower Bridge in the Background (Picture Courtesy of the Thames Festival Website)

There are piles more of free things to do with your children over the summer. Many museums and art galleries are free, it costs nothing to visit one of London's parks or Hampstead Heath, and both the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre offer installations, events and workshops for all ages. In case you're worried about the cost of travel into and around London, don't forget that children under ten travel free on London transport as long as they are accompanied by a fare paying adult, who can escort up to four children for nothing. Older children can travel at children's rates as long as they are in possession of an appropriate Oyster card. All information is available on the Transport for London website.

Enjoy your summer and try not to be too relieved when you send the little darlings back to school in September.
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Why? To retain your sanity and save on your purse while the children are on school holidays.
When: Throughout the summer holidays
Where: All around London
Cost: Free
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