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Free things to do with kids in the summer holidays

Are the kids getting bored as fast as your school holiday budget is running out? Try these free experiences, from creative workshops to a waterslide, plus a few nicely priced options.

NGV just for kids

Get them off the couch and into the arts with the NGV Kids Summer Festival on 11-19 January. That’s nine days of free but priceless hands-on activities, workshops and performances. Don’t hold off visiting this amazing, mostly free art gallery though. Right now until 13 April, there’s the free Kaws: Playtime exhibition created just for kids by pop-culture-inspired New York artist KAWS.

A KAWS sculpture sitting in front of a bright coloured abstract painting. The sculpture has KAWS' typical cartoon-like rounded features and a white face with oversized grey ears and black crosses for eyes.

KAWS Exhibition at the NGV

The District Slip and Slide

Kids who like slides and pools will love this mega combo: a 25-metre waterslide! You’ll love it too because it’s free, and there are garden games and a water mist zone for kids too little to ride. The District Slip and Slide is made for thrill seekers over four years of age and 110 centimetres, and open every day from 6 to 26 January.

Sesame Street: 50 Years and Counting

You grew up with Sesame Street, maybe your parents did too. Now the little ones in your life are learning and playing with this kids TV show’s timeless characters. So the free Sesame Street: 50 Years and Counting exhibition, on until 28 January, is perfect for a multi-generational family outing. Fifty local and international artists were each assigned a character. Come see their fun interpretations of Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and friends, from prints to murals.

Shot of Sesame Street Elmo character, Cookie monster and Big Bird smiling cheerily at the camera

Melbourne Central’s Sesame Street exhibition

ArtPlay

Young imaginations can go wild at ArtPlay, and at no cost to their grown-ups with Scrapatorium (11-25 January). This free exhibition is so interactive it’s more like a play zone, with soft toy animals, a fortress, tiny realms and even a puzzle to solve. Got a few dollars to spare? Book the kids into one of ArtPlay’s nicely priced workshops, from Colourful Kites ($16, 22-24 January) to The Future of Toys: Making ($20, 15 January).

Botanica: A Village Among the Oak Trees

The Royal Botanic Gardens’ free Botanica: A Village Among the Oak Trees is back by popular demand. Curated by artist Darryl Cordell, it runs from 15-18 January. Get the whole family involved in creating cubby houses and imaginary creatures. All by using natural materials collected from the gardens, like pods and palm fronds. There’s even a communal mud kitchen!

A mum, dad and two little kids building a hut out of palm fronds and other found material at the Royal Botanic Gardens

Botanica at the Royal Botanic Gardens

10 Minute Dance Parties

How much fun can you have in 10 minutes? Artist JOF and a bunch of young local DJs are going to make sure it’s a lot at the free 10 Minute Dance Parties. They’re action-packed, with world record attempts, dance-move competitions, song dedications and more. Shimmy, shake and jump for joy in the Arts Centre Melbourne forecourt on 16- 19 and 21-24 January.

MPavilion

Reborn each spring with a stunning new design, this public space’s busy program includes lots of free events for children. MPavilion’s summer school holiday highlights include imaginative pop-up playground Loose Parts Play (10 January). And, for little green thumbs, Gardening Crafts with The Sage Garden (13-16 January). Older kids might like Signal Summer Cypher (17 January), a showcase of Melbourne dance subcultures, from hip-hop to popping.

The MPavilion building with grass and trees visible in the foreground and Melbourne's CBD in the background.

MPavilion in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens

Melbourne Zoo

The zoo’s great for keeping young bodies and minds active, especially given entry’s free for under 16s during school holidays (and on weekends). Melbourne Zoo‘s regular keeper talks are always free too, so kids can learn more about all sorts of animals, from seals to tigers. There are extra-special experiences during the school holidays including the Snuff Puppets’ big, roaming seagulls (7-13 January). Or you could check out the amazing Bubble Laboratory performance (15-27 January).

Melbourne Museum

Free for kids up to 16 years old, Melbourne Museum is always a top option for families. It’s huge, so pick a few highlights like the living creep-crawly display, the Dinosaur Walk and Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Don’t miss the new Mini Mega Model Museum exhibition, featuring 200 models from a tiny cow to a giant mosquito. For a special treat, book kids aged 6-12 into the Mini Mega Makers Workshop ($25, $20 for member kids, 27 December-27 January). It includes a tour of the exhibition, which will inspire plenty of hands-on creativity and problem-solving.

A colourful exhibition space at Melbourne Museum showing mini models a mini windmill and other old fashioned machinery in the foreground

Mini Mega Model Museum photo credit: melbournewithkidz

Pauline Gandel’s Children’s Quarter

The State Library Victoria has just opened the Pauline Gandel Children’s Quarter. This free, purpose-built, air-conditioned space has over 4000 books, toys and knick knacks to play with. There also free activities arranged for the school holidays including zine making, dress-ups and create your own adventure workshops.

Queen Victoria Market

Queen Victoria Market is running a series of free workshops for kids during the holidays. There are sustainability workshops to teach kids about composting. And budding young scientists will love the interactive workshops on kinetic and elastic energy

Fly for free with the Melbourne Star

Buy yourself a ticket to ride the Melbourne Star, and your little mates (under 15 years old) fly free. One full price ticket gets one kid in, but children under 4 fly free no matter what. On until 28 January.

More school holiday fun, for just a few dollars

Sunday at the Baths Series

Happening at Carlton Baths every weekend until the end of summer, the Sunday at the Baths Series is a hoot for all ages. There’s always live music, giant inflatables and fun activities, but the dedicated Children’s Fun Day on 12 January may be the best of all. The entry fee is low ($3.70 for children) and with activities such as sea-themed art workshops and ‘kid-aoke’ dress-ups, you’ll find it’s money well spent. 

Kids Tennis Day

Junior tennis champs and every other kid who likes whacking a ball, jumping around to music and doing some sports-star spotting – this is for you! Day five of the Australian Open, 18 January, is Kids Tennis Day. There are kid-friendly tennis sessions, live family entertainment and the chance to see top players practice. Entry is only $5, or $10 for adults.