Family-friendly Feature

Low-cost Entertainment Ideas for Kids

PubTIC contributor and mother of a four-year-old, Emma Castle, explores cheap and cheerful ways to keep kids entertained at the pub.

Family-friendly Feature

Only a parent can know the many pitfalls of taking a child to the pub. Dragging them out of the gaming area, chasing them around the bar and trying to get them to sit still and eat their food, as opposed to throwing it on the floor or smearing it all over their face, are just some of the challenges that parents face when they leave the house.

And then, when the beleaguered parent in question succumbs and hands their child an iPad or a phone to distract them from whatever hell their kid was about to unleash, they receive disapproving looks and whispers of ‘raised by a screen’. Tsk tsk.

Despite the downfalls, breeders do need to take their offspring out in public from time to time. The good news is that there are many things that smart venue operators can do to make this a pleasant experience for everyone – especially the kids.

While some publicans have thrown serious cash at playgrounds and childcare, there are some low-cost things you can do to keep kids happy. After all, there’s a reason they say that kids love the box as much as the gift inside.

If you’re looking for some affordable ways to entertain children at your pub, here are 10 things you can consider:

  • Get a goat

If you’ve got the room, a goat (or two) will provide hours of amusement. You will need to build an enclosure that offers shelter but apart from this, goats are low-cost, low maintenance animals that will happily eat veggie scraps from the kitchen.

If goats are too big, consider something like a parrot or even some goldfish in a tank. The main thing is to choose animals that aren’t especially timid by nature, are robust and are cheap and easy to look after.

  • Invest in a bubble machine

For the cost of some bubble mixture and a few batteries, a simple bubble machine will pump out hours of fun for little kids. If you put it on the lawn outside, kids will play in it for as long as it’s switched on and the sun is up.

  • Buy a swing set

If you can’t afford – or can’t fit – a full playground set-up, consider getting a swing set or even installing a swing hanging from a tree branch. Swings are the most popular piece of playground equipment and will keep kids amused for a surprisingly long time.

  • Paint a wall with blackboard paint and buy some chalk

Letting kids go nuts with chalk is a great way to keep them busy. Easy to clean off at the start of every lunch or dinner service, a blackboard wall lets kids express themselves in a way that doesn’t lead to stained clothes or a whole lot of mess.

  • Set up a kid’s corner with a TV

OK, so this is technically another screen but creating a kid’s TV corner with ABC Kids or CeeBeebies on will capture the attention of toddlers – who also tend to be the most destructive age group. A few cushions or beanbags and a TV with the volume on low can work wonders during dinner service when kids start to crack it.

Family-friendly Feature

  • Get a toybox

In the era of COVID, the concept of a toybox might fill publicans with horror but the truth is, you can chuck the whole lot through the dishwasher a couple of times a week. Things like little metal cars and trucks, plastic building blocks and Duplo will keep little kids occupied and are very easy to clean. You can stock up on additional toys at charity shops for a couple of dollars, or you could even consider giving kids a ‘lucky dip’ toy that they can take home with them. There’s a reason Happy Meals have been around for decades (hint: it’s not because kids especially like cheeseburgers).

  • Buy some stickers

The one eternal truth in life is this: kids love stickers. They love covering themselves in stickers. They also love covering everything else in stickers. The easiest way to manage this in a pub setting is to give them some activity sheets that they can decorate so they don’t cover the pub in stickers.

  • Ask the kitchen crew to make some play dough

Feel the fear (and do it anyway). Yes, playdough can get into the carpet but apart from that, it’s a benign and cheap way of amusing kids.

With a few basic – and critically, child-safe – ingredients (salt, oil, flour, cream of tartar and food colouring), you can make batches of different coloured playdough that you can give out to kids.

  • Buy some balloons
You can go all out and invest in helium, string and branded

balloons for high traffic days like weekends, or simply go for a cheap bag of party balloons that you can hand out whenever you see an ankle-biter. Most kids will happily play with a balloon, whether they throw it around or simply enjoy bouncing and holding it. There will be tears eventually (there always is) but for a few cents, you have bought some parents five minutes of peace.

  • Have a dress-up box

Wigs, hats, masks, old Halloween costumes, funny glasses, beads – all available for a few bucks from op shops and Kmart – will delight most kids. Best used for groups that have booked in a private event space, the dress-up box can be something you get out on ‘special occasions’ when kids are going to be around for hours and there’s a good chance they’re going to go feral without something to keep them amused.