Looking for affordable ways to keep your little ones occupied this summer? We’ve rounded up free (and almost free) activities that can be done inside and outside of the house.
1- Build a Backyard Obstacle Course
Construct a backyard obstacle course with hula hoops, jump ropes, sticks, stones, hoses, and other materials from around the house. Your kids can take turns completing it—and the person with the fastest time wins a prize!
2- Camp in the Yard
No campground? No problem! Pitch a tent in the backyard and spend the night underneath the stars. This free summer activity has one major benefit over normal camping: There’s a working toilet merely feet away!
3- Plan a Bike Parade
Encourage your kids to decorate their rides with streamers, stickers, flags, and more—then let them cruise around the neighborhood to show off their creations.
4- Make a Bird Feeder
Invite summertime birds to your yard with a DIY bird feeder. To make it, simply coat sticks with peanut butter and roll them in birdseed. It’s the perfect opportunity to teach kids about nature and animals.
5- DIY Chalk Bombs
Kids will have a blast with this idea from mom Lorie King Kaehler, author of Chalk on the Wild Side. Use a clean soap-dispenser pump to fill water balloons with a washable chalk-paint mixture (1 cup of water, 2 tablespoons of corn starch, and a few drops of food coloring). Have your child draw targets on the ground with chalk or just let them go wild.
6- Learn Cooking Skills
This fun summer activity for kids also has a practical purpose: Teaching little ones to cook. Choose a favorite food—such as grilled cheese or cookies—and make it with your child. They’ll feel proud while eating the finished product.
7- Organize an At-Home Picnic
You can host a picnic lunch without leaving your property! Choose a mealtime destination, whether it’s a patio table or blanket in the backyard. Prepare picnic staples like sandwiches, load them into a basket, and enjoy dining al-fresco.
8- Paint Outside
When painting outside, there’s no need to worry about making a mess. Just use washable paint and the medium of your choice, whether it’s construction paper, cardboard, or blocks. You can also create outdoor artwork with sidewalk chalk.
9- Tour a Police or Fire Station
Do you have an aspiring firefighter or police officer? Take a tour of your local emergency station! Since some locations don’t have set visiting hours or rules for making on-site visits, call ahead to arrange an appointment.
10- Go Fishing
Fishing is a classic free summer activity for kids. Teach the proper techniques to your young angler, and find a place to cast off. Make sure you check local laws about fishing; you may need a license.
11- Play Games Outside
Designate one evening per week to some friendly family competition (think kickball, softball, and capture the flag). Keep everything fair by dividing into new teams for each round.
12- Participate in Community Park Activities
Community parks offer an endless array of free and low-cost summer camps and activities—including swimming, sports leagues, improv, arts and crafts, music, archery, tennis lessons, and nature programs. Contact your local park for more information.
13- Decorate Rocks
The next time you embark on a hike, have your children collect rocks. At home, they can decorate the stones with paint, stickers, markers, glitter, and other art supplies. Display the finished products around the house, use them as paperweights, or give them to relatives!
14- Make Homemade Goop
Mix up a bowl of Oobleck, a mysterious matter that kids can shape into balls or let ooze from their fingers. Here’s how:
- Pour 1 cup of water into a large mixing bowl
- Add a few drops of food coloring (any color)
- Slowly stir in 2 cups of corn starch (use a spoon at first, but you may eventually find it’s easier with your hands)
Your kids can do this fun summer activity either inside or outside the house!
15- Enrol in a Craft Class
Many crafts stores offer hands-on activities for kids like scrapbooking, box decorating, bead stringing, pottery, and more. Some classes are free and others require a nominal fee. Call around to find stores that are offering such classes.
16- Tour Your Hometown
You don’t have to leave town to go on a vacation! Visit local landmarks, call the historical society for hometown trivia, and ask a neighbor for their favorite restaurant recommendation to try somewhere new.
17- Swap Toys
A “toy swap” is a unique and fun summer activity for kids. Here’s how to organize it: Invite friends and neighbors to come over with toys (in good condition) that they no longer want, then let them draw numbers to see who gets to pick a “new” toy first.
18- Volunteer Your Time
Volunteering teaches compassion and responsibility, and it also keeps kids busy on slow summer days. Little ones can clean up parks, collect canned goods, and more.
19- Check Out Wildlife Refuges
Lace up your boots, pack a bottle of bug spray and play naturalist for the day at one of the nation’s wildlife refuges. These are public lands and waters set aside to conserve animals and plants. You can hike through lush forests, swim in pristine rivers and lakes, and identify hundreds of native species (including endangered ones).
20- Arrange a Scavenger Hunt
What adventurous child doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Whether you set up this free summer activity for kids indoors or outdoors, the objective remains the same: find hidden objects using clever clues.
21- Build a Backyard Bonfire
Bring out the s’mores supplies and gather around the bonfire! Kids can recreate the feeling of summer camp by telling stories, roasting hot dogs, and singing campfire songs.
22- Watch Movies Outdoors
Every Friday and Saturday, parks across the country sponsor free outdoor family film nights. Visit your parks department website to find if there are any screenings taking place near you.
23- Tour a Factory
Many factories offer tours so kids can see their favorite products created from start to finish.
24- Read a Story
Many bookshops and libraries host story times for little readers. You can feel good about this free summer activity because it fosters a love of reading.
By Robin Westen