19 Really Cheap Activities for Summer Fun with the Kids

Looking for something to do with your kids over the summer that won’t break the bank?  Check out these ideas:

1. Visit Your Local Library: Libraries are a treasure trove of free and fun activities for all ages.  There is story time for the preschool kids, reading programs for the school-age kids, DVD and CD check-out for the teens, and travel information and foreign language acquisition tools for the whole family to enjoy.

2. Summer Concert Series: If your family loves music, find out if there are any free outdoor summer concert series in your area.

3. Nature Trails: Research suggests numerous benefits from getting in tune with nature.  Summer is a great time to explore your local area, while keeping in shape.  So drag out your hiking shoes, dust off your bikes, and get moving.  If you’re unsure of where good family trails might be, check with your local parks and recreation department.

4. Water Fun: What kid can turn down a water activity on a hot summer day?  Use a sprinkler to water your yard and your kids at the same time.  Check out local creeks, rivers and lakes.  Like to fish?  Take a pole!  And, of course, don’t forget the local swimming pools.  That being said, never leave children unattended around water.

5. Sand Play: Like water, most kids can’t resist sand either.  If you live near a beach, now is the time to take advantage of it.  If you don’t live near a beach, grab a bag of play sand at your local toy or hardware store for about $5 and put it in a plastic bin outside.  Throw some beach toys in and you’ve got the kids occupied long enough to do the laundry!

6. Recycled Crafts: Rainy summer day?  No need to fret.  Gather up cardboard scraps, buttons, empty cans, plastic containers, paint and some markers and let your children get creative.  If you need a little more structure, check out online craft ideas for kids from recycled household items.  It’s a win-win for the kids and the environment.

7. Put on a Play: If you think you may have a drama queen or king on your hands, this may fit the bill.  Gather up old clothing from your closet, old Halloween costumes, or other dress up clothes if you have them and encourage your kids to ham it up.  This is particularly fun if you want to have the neighbors over for summer refreshments (wink, wink).

8. Neighborhood Ice-Cream Sundae Party: Speaking of neighbors, it’s also fun to buy a big tub of ice cream and then have all of the neighbors each bring a favorite topping.  If you don’t know your neighbors well, this is an excellent way to get to know them.

9. Visit Your Local Parks: Pack a picnic lunch and head to the park.  The swing-set crowd will love you for it!  Parks never get old for the young ones.

10. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town: That’s right.  No sense spending all of that good money in someone else’s town.  Plus, you may find that there are fun and free activities that you’ll enjoy visiting again.  Tour local historical homes, historical markers, parks and museums.  If you have hotel points burning a hole in your pocket, cash them in on a local hotel and let the kids enjoy the amenities.  Not sure where to start?  Contact your local Chamber of Commerce for the best list of things to see and do.

11. Scavenger Hunt or Treasure Hunt: Another great idea to do with the neighbors.  You can either divide the kids into teams or keep everyone on the same team if the number of participants is small or you don’t want to worry about competitive fallout.  Have a list of 10-20 items for the kids to find inside or outside the house.  Once all items have been collected, enjoy popsicles outside as a nice reward!

12. Plant Something: Look at your local dollar store, hardware store or plant nursery for some really cheap seeds.  Have your children plant them in the backyard or in a plant pot.  Would they like to eat what they grow?  Think fruit (e.g., strawberries), vegetables or even herbs.  If your child has a penchant for flowers, suggest trying his or her hand at floral arrangement once the flowers bloom.

13. Catch (and release) Insects: Most kids, especially boys, love this activity.  Give the kids a container and see what they come back with.  My personal favorite was always Fireflies (aka, Lightening Bugs), but my daughters also love ladybugs, Mayflies and June bugs, along with an occasional caterpillar, butterfly, or earthworm.

14. Weenie Roast with S’mores: Some of my fondest summer memories include roast hot dogs and making s’mores.  Fun for all ages.

15. Community Movie Night: Check your local community for free movies.  Some communities offer them at the local theaters, while others offer them outdoors.  Bring the kids (and some lawn chairs, if you’re outdoors) and enjoy a free family-friendly movie.

16. “Cooking Day”: Too hot to be outside?  If your kids are like mine, they love to be in the kitchen with you.  Let them find some recipes they might want to try.  Encourage them to find an entrée, side dish and dessert with items that you have on hand.  Though you may need to supervise, dinner will be done and the kids will be occupied.  What could be better?

17. Hula Hoop or Jump Rope Contest: Pick up a hula hoop and a jump rope from your local dollar store.  Then, encourage the kids to see how long they can jump or hula.   If they get bored, turn on the sprinkler to add a new, wetter and cooler dimension to the activity.  Your kids will get the physical exercise they need and a good night’s sleep.  Can’t beat that for $2!

18. Star Gazing: Looking up at the stars is an age-old activity that never ceases to amaze.  Turn off the lights and grab a pair of binoculars or a telescope, if you have one.  Then, find as many planets, stars and constellations as you can.  My kids actually enjoy making up their own constellations!

19. Family Game Night: No list is complete without family game night.  So bring out the deck of cards and your favorite board games.  Kids love to play and they love it even more when parents play, too.  Don’t have Pictionary or Charades?  Not to worry.  Have your kids write some theme-based pictures or scenes down on paper for a free, fun and family-friendly game.