You don't have to fork out a fortune to have a great day out with the kids these school holidays. Here are five fun ideas that won't break the bank.
Create a street library
In recent years, more and more street libraries have started to pop up in Australia's suburbs. In Canberra alone there are now almost 60 street libraries of varying sizes and designs, from an oversized letterbox to a mini Doctor Who TARDIS. And those are just the registered ones. There are no rules to making your own, so let your imagination run wild.
What you'll need: You can reuse an old appliance like a microwave or fridge, or create your own from recyclable materials. Also consider repositioning a large rock or log from elsewhere in your garden for use as a seat for visitors wanting to browse your library.
You'll also need a name for your library. Use your wit, like the owners of the "Page Pages" street library at 18 Petterd St in Page did. Oh, and don't forget some books!
Where: Team up with others in your street and position the library in an easily accessible location, like the Evatt Bike Path Little Library (on the path near 20 McGill St), or position it directly outside your own house (generally better to prevent vandalism).
Suitable for: Bookworms and creative minds of any age.
Testimonial: "It was great fun making our library," reports Katherine Stanton of Melba, who recently with her husband Luke and their two primary-school-aged children created their first street library.
The Stantons stocked their smart-looking timber library (materials and paint cost less than $100) with books they'd either "bought cheaply at school fetes or from books donated by friends".
While Katherine rates creating the library as "a cheap and fun school holiday boredom buster", she does warn of one unexpected consequence.
"We can't leave home … the kids keep peeking out of the curtains waiting to see who our first customer will be," she says.
Tim's tip: Make sure your library is waterproof – there's nothing worse than a pile of soggy books.
More: For inspiration, check out other designs and find the street libraries closest to you by clicking here. Be sure to register your library on websites like this so others can find yours too!
Every kid has their favourite playground, so why not organise a group of friends to visit your preferred playgrounds, all in the one day? An adventure to castles, pods, forts, and tree houses, all without leaving Canberra. Bring it on!
What you'll need: Depends how far you want to go. If you don't want to jump in your car or catch a bus, then plan a walk, ride or scooter to a playground in your own suburb. For an even bigger adventure, map out a trip to the ACT's biggest and most adventurous playgrounds.
Where: If Mum and Dad are coffee drinkers, there are a number of hang-outs like Tulips Cafe in Pialligo (8 Beltana Road) where you can enjoy a cuppa while keeping a close eye on the kids in a fenced playground. Meanwhile, out in the 'burbs, in the north it's hard to beat the extravaganza that is the one-year-old Moncrieff Adventure Park (got to love that tower slide and the big wheel where you can run inside like a hamster!), as well as Fadden Pines in the south which boasts plenty of shade and free barbeques.
Suitable for: Ages 4-10.
Tim's tip: Take an esky stocked with snacks and lots of cold water. It is summer, so don't forget the sunscreen. The Yowie clan sometimes take our water guns too. Great fun!
Testimonial: "We love heading to the playground at Cotter Avenue," report Justin and Mindy Bush of Bruce, who have two boys aged under five. "My parents took me there as a child and now it's my turn to take my kids there," explains Justin, adding "it's now a multi-generational thing".
If it's hot, the Bush family sometimes jumps in the river for an after-play dip. "It's a fun and free day out," Mindy says.
More: For more information on playgrounds in the ACT, click here.
It's not that long ago that going on a treasure hunt involved hiding a few toys in your backyard, giving the kids some clues (poor ones if you wanted to distract them for a long time!) and sending them off on a wild goose chase. But with the widespread adoption of GPS technology, treasure hunts are now high-tech. One of the more fashionable amongst families is geocaching, in which online clues will lead you to a hidden object, usually a small cylinder containing swappable and trackable items.
What you'll need: Access to the geocaching website and at least one person in your group with basic navigation skills.
Where: Caches are hidden all over our city, suburban and bush landscapes. There are over 3 million registered caches worldwide, including more than 3500 in the ACT — enough for a lifetime of school holiday outings!
Suitable for: Ages 5 and up.
Tim's tip: Many Canberrans geocache - if you ask around your friendship groups you'll probably discover a closet cacher, or two. Ask them to show you the ropes.
Testimonial: Susan Mitchell-Roberts of Richardson has been taking her kids Charlotte, 14, and Camden, 12, geocaching since they were born. "Four years ago they both started their own geocaching accounts, so now they get to log all their finds themselves," she says.
Charlotte, whose geocaching name is charli_bear, especially likes geocaching because "you get to go to lots of new places, including many that you wouldn't normally get to see".
The Richardson family are such keen cachers that they even have a geocache hidden out the front of their home. Sean Roberts, Susan's husband, reports it's a relatively easy one to find - "it's particularly popular with families in Canberra".
More: Lots of helpful information is available at the Geocaching website.
Build a bush cubby
Do you remember when you were a kid you would make hideouts with whatever you could get your hands on?
After a long hiatus, bush cubbies have made a comeback in recent years - and in some states there are now even cubby-building workshops. Really!
However, nothing beats a little bit of creativity, even if it does fall down after an hour …
What you'll need: Use fallen branches and sticks to create either a temporary teepee or lean-to shelter. Base your cubby around an existing natural feature such as a boulder and you'll need less materials - and more importantly, less-refined engineering skills.
Where: If you don't have a backyard, there are several spots in the bush, including pine forests around Canberra, where modern-day Huckleberry Finns have created cubbies of all sorts. Check out the National Arboretum (near the Himalayan Cedars or Cork Oak Forest) or the Pialligo Red Wood Forest for some nifty designs.
Suitable for: Ages 5 and up.
Tim's tip: Take care not to remove rocks (many critters live under them) or to disturb sensitive environmental areas, particularly in our nature reserves where rare native plants may be growing.
Testimonial: It is generally accepted that kids who play in the natural world more fall sick less often than those kids who restrict themselves to the indoor space. According to Nature Play Qld, "regular exposure to the outside world boosts one's immune system. As a result, a kid is able to combat illness better."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the National Arboretum reports "it's always positive to see children experiencing outdoor play with natural materials", but warns that management keeps a close eye on the cubbies as they come and go, taking into account both "safety for visitors" and "the amount of combustible material they contain during bushfire season".
More: For more ideas when it comes to kids experiencing, loving and looking after nature, check out the Kids in Nature website.
They are one of our most-admired native critters, but how many people have actually seen a platypus in the wild?
What you'll need: The ability to keep quiet (yes I know, not easy with some littlies) and be observant. Look out for the tell-tale platypus V shape rippling in the water.
Where: On the north side try Sullivans Creek, where it enters Lake Burley Griffin, or the Jerrabomberra Creek, near the footbridge and bird hide accessed via Newcastle St in the Causeway. On the south side try Point Hut Crossing or the Tidbinbilla wetlands (but you'll have to pay an entry fee).
While I'm not wanting to spark any cross-border rivalry, the Queanbeyan River (yes, shopping trolleys 'n all) is arguably the best place to spot a platypus in our region. On my last four field trips there I've seen at least one of the shy monotremes swimming along the stretch of river between the CBD and the suspension pedestrian bridge (accessed via Isabella Street).
Suitable for: Any age, but be vigilant with non-swimmers near water.
Tim's tip: If you can wake the kids up with the birds, try to go at dawn (dusk is also good) as that's when platypuses are most active.
Testimonial: When Waterwatch regional facilitator Woo O'Reilly takes her young kids to spot platypuses, she doesn't always head to the same haunts. "Just because an area isn't known for platypus doesn't mean they're not there," she recommends.
"Have a look and you never know, you might just be the first person to spot one there."
Did you know: Platypus young emerge from the burrow in mid to late summer, so there's often a spike in sightings at this time of year.
More: Check out the ACT Waterwatch website to find out more. Also, the Australian Platypus Conservancy has loads of info, including how to log your own sightings. There is also a free "Platypus sighting" app that includes some helpful information such as how to spot a platypus, and how to distinguish them from water rats.