The school holidays can be a trying time for any parent, with different challenges depending on your situation and the age of your kids. With nearly all activities geared towards school kids, regular weekday activities not on for kids under 5 and most playgrounds overcrowded, it can be particularly difficult to find things to do with little ones.
Here is our go to list of things to do in the summer school holidays with little ones (kids under 5yrs), broken into seven sections.
We are definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to places to go with little ones to cool down. From free water playgrounds and swimming pools, to playgrounds with some water play features and harbour beaches. Here is our ultimate guide to free water fun in the area, 15 kid friendly swimming pools and our top picks for keeping cool outside with little ones.
- Dundas Park, Dundas Valley
- Francis Park, Blacktown Showgrounds
- Granville Park, Merrylands
- James Ruse Reserve, Parramatta
Nearby Harbour/ River Swimming Spots
- Lake Parramatta Reserve, North Parramatta
- Greenwich Baths, Greenwich
- Northbridge Baths, Northbridge
- Cabarita Beach, Cabarita
- Clifton Gardens, Mosman
Sydney Beaches Favoured by Parramatta District Mums
Here are the top 5 Sydney beaches as voted by Parramatta District Mums in a recent poll.
2Playgrounds and Play Areas
If we aren’t at the beach or water playground, and it’s not raining, you will almost certainly find us at a park with a playground – playing, exploring, scootering or bushwalking.
Our choice of playgrounds shifts slightly in the summer school holidays as some can get super busy and very hot. We generally go for fenced and/or shaded playgrounds, plus ones with some water play. We have also found that playgrounds only really get busy from about 10:30am onwards…..guessing because school kids (and their parents) understandably like to sleep.
Below are a few of our favourite summer school holiday playgrounds and play areas. For a longer list, check out our Top Summer Playgrounds list.
- Boronia Park, Epping
- Central Gardens, Merrylands
- Auburn Botanic Gardens, Auburn
- Caber Park, Winston Hills
- Bicentennial Park, Sydney Olympic Park
- Heatley Reserve, East Ryde
- Blackman Park, West Lane Cove
- John Wearn, Carlingford
- Lidcombe Shopping Centre outdoor play area
- Stockland Baulkham Hills Mall outdoor play area next to Little Rock Cafe
- The Coffee Playground, West Ryde
Here are some playgrounds and play areas we generally avoid during the school holidays, as they can get particularly busy:
- Blaxland Riverside, Sydney Olympic Park
- Yamble Reserve, Ryde
- Domain Creek Playground, Parramatta Park
- Most shopping centre indoor play areas
- Indoor purpose built play centres – even though they usually have a designated under 5s area, we find them way to busy and noisy (and pricey) to go to.
A great way to escape the crowds and have some fun screen free time is to go for a bushwalk. I wouldn’t recommend going for one on a stinking hot summers day, but it can be a lot cooler in the bush under the cover of gorgeous tall trees.
Tips for bushwalking with little ones
- Remember to always pack plenty of water and snacks, take a small first aid kit and fully charged phone, and let someone know where you are going.
- Before setting off, work out roughly how long you think your kids can walk for, allowing for a number of rest and food stops. Then only walk for half of that time before turning around and walking back out the way you came (unless the walk is short enough to complete the full circuit in that time). It may not be as interesting as doing a round trip, but it will very likely save you having to listen to a LOT of whinging, tantrums and having to carry them.
- As a guide, I have found that my boys (2yr and 3yr) take up to 3 times as long to walk a trail then what is listed for an adult. For example, I think Berry Island Reserve circuit is meant to take 25mins for an adult and we do it in about 60 to 75mins.
While I am still working on the Bushwalking with Little Explorers article, here is a handy list of bushwalks suitable for under 5s, with links to useful information about the walk. We have done the first eight and hope to get through a good the rest this year.
- Berry Island Reserve, Wollstonecraft (a few stairs)
- Hunts Creek Reserve, North Rocks (pram friendly)
- Lake Parramatta Reserve, North Parramatta (pram friendly)
- Otto Losco Reserve (Water dragon walk), Northmead
- Cumberland State Forest, West Pennant Hills (pram friendly)
- Bicentennial Park, Sydney Olympic Park (pram friendly)
- Blackman Park, Lane Cove West (stairs)
- Balls Head Reserve, Waverton
- Ponds Creek Walk, City of Parramatta
- Lane Cove National Park
- Darvell Park, Denistone
- Brush Farm Reserve, Eastwood
- Ray Park, Carlingford
- Vineyard Creek Reserve, Telopea
- Whale Rock Walk, Epping
It may seem counter intuitive, but I have actually found that some attractions are less busy during school holidays. I think it has to do with the fact that there aren’t big school groups visiting, and they are generally no more busy then on the weekend. So we take advantage of this and the fact that there is less traffic on the road, plus we have annual passes to a number of attractions. Again, I think going first thing in the morning also means we miss any big crowds.
Here are our favourites during school holidays:
- Nancy’s Freedom Farm, Arcadia
- Calmsley Hill City Farm, Abbotsbury
- Australian Museum – has a designated under 5s area and some school holiday activities suitable for preschoolers.
- Australian National Maritime Museum – has a designated under 5s area and some school holiday activities suitable for preschoolers.
- Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, Manly
- Taronga Zoo, Mosman
- Canoelands Orchards, Canoelands (check facebook page for details of availability of fruit)
- Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Darling Harbour (only go if you have an annual pass as queues for tickets are massive. Nice and quiet once inside though)
- Australian Pioneer Village, Wilberforce
Other attractions enjoyed by local families are:
- Museum of Contemporary Art, Circular Quay
- Golden Animal Ridge Farm, Dural
- Featherdale Wildlife Park, Doonside
- Powerhouse Museum, Darling Harbour
- Museum of Fire, Penrith
- Australian Reptile Park, Somersby
We usually drive to most places, so I like to mix it up a bit, and add to the fun, by catching a train, bus or Parramatta Rivercat to one of the parks, playgrounds or attractions in this article. I do though find it so much quicker driving into the city, for example, during school holidays.
Here are some of our other favourite school holiday adventures:
- A trip to Cockatoo Island by ferry and a wander around. There is a kiosk perfectly positioned near the wharf with bean bags, plus a host of other things to explore and play with on the island, including a big chess board, old cranes and a long tunnel.
- A scooter, bike ride or walk across the new Bennelong Bridge connecting Wentworth Point to Rhodes. And there is a new community precinct at the Rhodes end of the bridge called the Connection, with a gorgeous looking learning space.
- We love going to the library to grab some books or toys (and enjoy their air con) and there are plenty around to visit.
There are also a number of day trips you can do if your little ones no longer nap or are happy to nap in the car or pram:
- Here is a great article from Ellaslist with six day trip suggestions, over on Sydney Mums Group there are another five suggestions and the Hills District Mums recommend a trip to Windsor.
- Explore the Australian Botanic Gardens at Mount Annan and they also have a host of awesome sounding activities.
- Train trip to Woy Woy Fishermans Wharf.
6Other Activities Your Family May be Interested in
Here are a few other activities that are happening these school holidays that are suited for kids under 5:
- Kids in the Park – program of activities run by Sydney Olympic Park, some of which may be suitable for preschoolers.
- Cool Parramatta Film Series at Riverside Theatre.
- Sydney Festival in Parramatta.
- Most shopping centres are putting on kids activities during the school holidays and some of these would be suitable for little ones. Examples include, daily craft at Lidcombe Shopping Centre, the Let’s Cook Kids workshops at Winston Hills Mall.
- Both Reading Cinemas ($10) and Event Cinemas are offering discounted movie tickets at the moment.
- Summer playground at Sydney Opera House
Phew, that is a one long list of things to do in the summer school holidays with little ones. Hopefully there is plenty of inspiration!
Do you have some favourites not on our list? We would love for you to share them in the comments below.