These back to school ads I’ve been seeing everywhere are driving me crazy. Seriously, they’ve almost got me tricked into thinking that summer is over! It’s still July, but here I am feeling like I have to suddenly cram in some last minute summer activities.
My girls and I are having a blast playing together this summer, but of course, we do things that are either FREE or very CHEAP! I thought I’d share some of my ideas for keeping the kiddos entertained this summer… just in case you’re starting to freak out (like me) that school is starting soon (it’s really not…)
1) Visit the library: Most libraries have a summer reading program that will entice your kids to keep reading while school’s out. My kids already finished their requirements and are now waiting to pick out their last prize: a free book at the library in August. Aside from reading programs, libraries have fun and educational computer games for kids to play, magazines to look at, games and movies to rent, puzzles and puppets for the younger ones. We usually can easily spend 1-2 hours at our library each week.
2) Go to the Park: I am fortunate to live in a city with dozens of public parks that are fun and safe for my kids. Pack a picnic lunch or go early in the morning and have a picnic breakfast before the weather (and playground equipment) gets too hot. I have fond memories of going to a park as a child, eating Dunkin Donuts on a blanket with my mom and sisters, and making up games of tag and pirates.
3) Go on a treasure hunt: This could be one that you’ve pre-arranged with clues and prizes, or just go for a walk and see what you can find. My 5 year old has the sharpest eyes and will find a “treasure” no matter where we go. It may be a feather, a seed, a shell, or something that looks to you like garbage, but to a young child, it’s exciting to find something! For older kids, create clues to lead them around your house, neighborhood, or back yard and have the final prize be a coupon for a ice cream cone or something fun!
4) See a movie: What child doesn’t enjoy a trip to the movie theater? Many theaters offer $1 summer movies or free movies on select days. It may be a movie that has already been released on video, but it’s still fun to see it in the theater and get some popcorn!
5) Put up a tent: Even if you aren’t a camper, try putting a tent in your backyard and just watch your kids enjoy it! You could borrow one from a friend if you don’t have one.
6) Wash the car: Kids LOVE to play with water, so why not surprise Daddy with a clean car? You wash the inside and have the kids clean the outside. If there is still time, wash the bikes, or your neighbor’s car (if it’s okay with them). Water+ soap bubbles + kids is always a winning combination!
7) Go to the museum: Our library has passes you can check out to get free admittance to many museums. You can also check to see if your local museums have summer rates or days you can go for free.
8) Go feed the ducks: We actually save our state bread and buns for this very reason. There are many small ponds in our area with lots of ducks and the girls love to go feed them. If your city doesn’t have ponds, try looking for a local metropark.
9) Visit a local farmer’s market: Make a list of things your kids have to find while there. If they are able to find all the fruits and veggies on their list, let them pick out some treat to take home!
10) Pick your own fruit: This is a great family activity! For some reason, my girls love to pick fruit and “berries” (anything small they find on a tree is a “berry”). It’s great to support local farmers, learn how the fruit is grown, and take home a yummy treat. You can go here to find u-pick locations near you.
11) Visit your local police or fire station: Call ahead and see if you can take your kids to see their local “heros”. Bring a plate of cookies as a thank you to these men and women who serve your community.
12) Wash outside: Do you have a small kiddy pool? Let it warm up in the sun all day and then give your kids an outdoor bath! Add bubbles and wash cloths and see who can get the soapiest before rinsing off!
13) Set up an obstacle course: You can do this inside on a rainy day or outside anytime. Get your kids moving by creating obstacles for them to hop, skip, run, jump, crawl through. You can use things like hula-hoops, small chairs, brooms, trampolines, balloons, etc. to create the course. Time the kids to see who can do it the fastest give everyone a Popsicle as a treat when they’re done.
14) Do some volunteer work: Ask an elderly neighbor if they need any summer chores done- like washing windows, picking weeds, etc. They may not see this as fun, but I bet they’ll feel good when they are done and you explain the importance of helping others. Give each of your kids a small award (money, extra video game time, ice cream treat) to thank them.
15) Write and act out a play: My sisters and I used to do this all the time. You can have older kids write their own, or read a childhood favorite story for kids to reenact, like Rumpelstiltskin. Make props and costumes with things you have at home. My sisters and I used to do this with friends and invite our parents to come watch our performance. We would even serve treats: little boxes of raisins!
16) Call your local Parks and Rec department: Or visit their website. Find out if they have a summer concert series, free family events, free swimming passes to use the pool, etc. Most cities offer so many fun and free family activities year round!
17) Sell some old toys and have Christmas in July: Take old toys and clothes to a thrift store or have a garage sale. Then, with the money you make, buy gifts for each other and have Christmas in July! You could even make cookies, sing Christmas carols, and read the story of Christ’s birth!
18) Go to the beach: You may have a drive a little ways, but this can be a great free family activity. What kids don’t enjoy the beach!?! Pack lunches and snacks and enjoy making memories!
19) Go to the Sprinkler park: We are so fortunate to have about 4 of these within 10 miles of us. They are becoming more popular, so look online and see if there is a new one near you! They are almost always free and are so much fun. If you don’t have one near you, create your own! You can water your grass and flowers while your kids cool off!
20) Go to the zoo or petting farm: Look for discounted tickets in entertainment books or call and see if they have discounted rates on certain days. If you have a friend with a membership, can you go with them on certain days when they can bring a guest? We don’t have a membership to the zoo, but we usually splurge for this a few times a year because the kids love it. Again, pack a lunch/dinner to avoid the high prices at the snack bars.
21) Store Freebies: Participate in some of the free weekend activities I post every Friday. Stores like Michaels, Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc. offer free activities for kids all year long!
22) See a Ball Game: You can usually find discounted tickets on ebay to MLB games, or see if you have a minor league game nearby.
23) Become a photographer or make a scrapbook: With all the great photo deals available, this is a cheap way to have fun and be creative. Give kids a disposable camera and have them take pictures of their summer. Then, have a family night in August to create your scrapbooks!
24) Make a pen pal: Encourage kids to learn something about someone in another country. The website epals lets kids form pen pels with kids around the world. If you don’t want your kids emailing, you can send letters to family friends or relatives who live far away.
25) Kids make dinner: Put your kids in charge of dinner (if they are old enough) or help younger ones decide whats on the menu for tonight- even if it’s pancakes with macaroni and cheese, let them eat it for one night! Adding candlelight will make it extra special.
26) Family Game Night: Have kids pick out game for the whole family to play! If your kids are old enough, have them make up their own game with cardboard and notecards.
27) Try something new! Find something you’ve never done before and learn how to do it! It could be making your own ice cream, learning to play chess, creating a puzzle, making a bird feeder, making your own silly putty or bubble solution, tie-dying a shirt, or planting a garden. Involve your kids and watch them learn! You can find instructions how to make most of these things online!
28) Create a time capsule: I always wanted to do one of these as a child! Have every member of your family add a letter to themselves and a special memento (or make a picture collage) into a box (and then place in a large bag). Promise to open it again in X number of years. Go here for more ideas.
29) Read a book together as a family: You should be able to ask a librarian for suggestions on books that would be appropriate for your family and kids ages. Each night, read 1-2 chapters together. When the book is finished, have a themed book party where you dress/act as the characters, discuss your favorite parts, act out scenes, or watch the movie version (if there is one).
30) Learn about astronomy: Find some websites or books on stars and then find someplace to go to look at the stars some night (you may have to get out of the city). Bring a blanket and some dessert and star gaze!
31) Make up your own holiday: This could be the start of a great family tradition! There aren’t too many (any?) major holidays between now and Labor Day, so have a contest to create your own holiday! Decide what day it will be, how you will celebrate and observe it every year, and maybe share it with your neighbors and make it an annual event!
32) Cook everything on the grill: Breakfast, lunch and dinner must be cooked outside. As my dad always says, “Food tastes better outdoors!” Find recipes on line for new ideas. One of our favorites is a grilled ham and cheese sandwhich made over the fire (we call them “mistokenchies” after their name in Portuguese… I think) or a fried bannanas and chocolate dessert. Use charcoal to really make it special!
33) Go to Chuck E. Cheese: We like to do this a fun treat for our kids. You can print rewards calendars at their website good for 10 free tokens. Spend a few dollars to get some more tokens, and then play all sorts of arcade games for tickets! You don’t have to eat there and it doesn’t cost anything to get in.
34) Go go-carting or putt-putt golfing: You can usually find B1G1 free coupons in the Entertainment book. Don’t have a book? Ask a friend or trade for a coupon at AFullCup.com
35) Make your own Design: Have kids create a work of art, then take a picture of it and upload to it VistaPrint to turn it into a magnet, canvas bag, tee shirt, etc. You can get most of these for free at VistaPrint- just pay shipping!
36) Go Bowling! Join the Kids Bowl Free program and go bowling any day! You’ll have to pay for shoe rental unless you have your own!
37) Pajama Day: Stay in your p.j’s all day (or maybe just till lunchtime) and spend the day having a “read-in”, playing games, making a fort, playing play-doh, finger painting, etc. Your kids will remember this funny day.
38) Redo your kids bedroom: Find free or cheap accessories and furniture on Craigslist.org or Freecycle.com or at thrift stores. It’s amazing what a little paint and re arranging can do to a room!
39) Help the environment: Collect water containers or newspapers and visit the recycling center. Teach your kids about recycling. Then take something from home and turn it into something else. See who can be the most creative!
40) Visit an animal shelter: Using coupons, get some pet food or treats for free or cheap and go volunteer at the local animal shelter (call ahead first). Your kids may enjoy petting some cute little animals and the shelter will appreciate your help. Take this opportunity to talk about animal shelters and pet adoption.
41) YOUR TURN.….what free or cheap things do you do with your kids in the summer? Leave a comment below to share!