Summer is here! And summer is a golden opportunity for kiddo fun – but at what cost? No worries; there are plenty of ways to have fun this summer without breaking the bank! Read on for 55 great ideas for low-cost and free summer fun activities to keep your kiddos entertained over the next few months.
55 Frugal & Free Summer Fun Ideas
1. Find a splash park near you
I wish we had these when I was little! “Splash parks” are popping up in cities everywhere. Unlike pools (which require lifeguards), splash parks are basically fancy faucets and sprinklers, a 21st century answer to opening fire hydrants. Do a web search on “splash park” to see if there are any near you.
2. Or a municipal wading pool
Our nearby city still has a number of free city wading pools as well. Perfect for cooling off your littles, and bigger than your wading pool at home – meaning Mama can sit in the cool water, too! Check out your municipality’s rec department page, or do a web search for options in your area.
3. Or a creek, lake, stream, or watering hole
For those of you further from urban centers. don’t forget your nearest local park with a water source. There may be a small fee per car for beach access at larger parks. At creeks, streams, and watering holes, be prepared to be your kids’ lifeguard. Also, ✅plan ahead for mosquitoes and ticks; wearing your permethrin-treated clothes when not in the water is critical.
4. Build a sand castle at the beach.
If your swimming spot has sand, plan to spend some time playing in it! You don’t need fancy equipment, even! If you’re beach regulars, you probably already know that kids’ beach sets are inexpensive. But if sand play is only an occasional thing for you, old spoons/knives and recycled cups will also work fine as building tools.
5. Or in your backyard.
Don’t want to shell out for a brand-new sandbox for your kids? Check out local yard sales and electronic bulletin boards. I got my girls’ green turtle sandbox secondhand, for about $20, through an online local mommies’ swap. (Just make sure it has a cover that stays on, to help keep critters out!)
6. Or build one inside.
7. Take a hike or nature walk
Make the most of summer with a walk through nature. One fun option is making a nature scavenger hunt for your littles; give them a paper bag, and you’re good to go! Again, though, be sure to wear your ✅permethrin-treated clothes and take other basic precautions to avoid mosquito and tick bites.
8. Find a free guided ranger program
Check with your nearest local, state, or national park to see what summer programs they have in store. Many have guided hikes, ranger talks, and other presentations and activities throughout the year, but especially in summer – a great source of free summer fun.
RELATED POST: How To Visit National Parks For Free!
9. Make some nature art
While you’re at it, why not make some art with the things your kids collect on their nature hike? Glue a collage when they get home. Or make a fairy house or fairy garden. A Frisbee makes a perfect base for one, as does a clear plastic bowl from the dollar store.
10. Make crayon rubbings outside
Crayon rubbings are great for all those crayons your kids have peeled the paper off of. Spread a sheet of paper over different tree barks, different leaves (on a flat surface), or different building materials. Cemeteries are also a great place to make rubbings. The older the tombstones, the more interesting the pictures you’ll find!
11. Make some s’mores
What’s a summer without some gooey chocolate-graham-marshmallow goodness? S’mores are a campfire classic, but you don’t need a campfire to make them. We’ve done them over a charcoal chimney at home before, and you can also make them under the broiler or in the microwave, using these recipes.
12. Craft a solar oven
Or even better, sneak some fun science learning into your kids’ summer, with ✅this easy DIY s’mores solar oven the girls and I made last summer. Chances are, you already have everything you need to make it already on hand, making this free summer fun that’s super-easy. And even better, the results will be super-tasty!
13. Look at the stars
Stargazing is a great activity for free summer fun, with a little planning. Summer travel and online maps make it easier to find dark sky sites with good night visibility. And summer school vacation makes it easier to stay up late (or get up in the middle of the night) to catch a lunar eclipse or summer meteor shower.
14. Sleep under the stars
While you’re at it, why not sleep under the stars? (I still remember doing this as a kid to watch the Perseids!) No sleeping bags or lightweight sleep sack? Just spread an old sheet or blanket on your groundcloth (a tarp, plastic sheet, picnic tablecloth, or large garbage bag cut open all work). A lightweight plastic sheet over your sleeping blanket will keep you from getting dew-soaked overnight, and mosquito netting over exposed skin will cut back on nighttime bites.
15. Or pitch a tent
Camping is an awesome frugal vacation pick; tent sites and camp meals cost way less than hotels and restaurants. Don’t have a family-sized tent, or time for a true getaway? Pitch a tent in your front yard. Or string up a rope between two trees, and throw a large tarp over it. Add a groundcloth, and you’ve got a perfect play-tent for front-yard summer sleepover fun.
16. Chalk it up
There’s nothing like summer for chalking up the nearest sidewalk or driveway. Sidewalk chalk is an inexpensive source of hours of summer fun, and comes in more colors than ever before! (And you can often find it in season at the dollar store!)
17. Blow your cares away
Blowing bubbles is another classic summer pastime for all ages. If your kids are prone to tipping over the bottle (as mine were), pour a little bubble solution into a shallow plate or bowl. Out of bubble solution? Mix a small squirt of liquid dish soap with some water to make your own for pennies.
18. Run through the drops
Raindrops, if you have them and it’s a light summer shower. Otherwise, there’s nothing like summer sprinkler fun, so long as you don’t live in a drought zone or someplace that’s too hot to be outside. You can get fancy sprinklers for kids, but the ordinary garden-variety also works fine (and is often more durable).
19. Freeze some grapes
If you’ve never tried it, you MUST. So tasty. Read this post for a complete how-to, plus why this will become your family’s new fave summer snack.
20. Make some popsicles
Homemade popsicles are SO easy, and much healthier than store-bought ones. Just use your favorite juice, or dilute your juice with water or club soda. If you don’t have popsicle molds, line paper cups with plastic wrap, add liquid to 3/4 full, freeze for 30 minutes, then insert a popsicle stick and freeze until firm. Looking for some great recipe ideas? I can’t wait to try this one from my friend Angie at The Peachee Pear.
20. Or just some funky ice cubes.
While you’re freezing things, drop some berries into your next tray of water for fruit-infused cubes. Or fill an ice cube tray with your favorite juice, lemonade, or drink mix – then use the cubes to flavor some sparkling water/club soda or ginger ale, for a yummy summer treat!
21. Paint in nature
Sure, you can set up an easel for your budding artist on the front lawn. But my fave is toddler finger-painting: strip them down to their diapers, pin some big sheets of paper to the ground with rocks, drop on some finger paints, and let them have at it. They can get as messy as they like, and afterward you can just rinse them with the hose or in the wading pool!
22. Dine al fresco
And don’t forget to eat outside, early and often – weather permitting, of course! We’ve already had a few meals on our back porch in recent weeks, and are reminded of how fab it is to have our fresh-grilled meals only steps away from the table where we eat them. You can’t get any fresher than that!
23. Pack a picnic
While we’re on the topic of fresh-air food, nothing can perk up a dull summer day for your kids like a switch-up in routine. So spread a towel or blanket in the shade and have a picnic lunch in the yard. Or pack one to take with you to the park or pool. We’re also big fans of picnic breakfasts on road trips.
24. Play ball
Toss a ball with your kid; get them a plastic bat so they can swing back, if they don’t already have one. Get together a neighborhood group to play pick-up games, if one doesn’t already exist. Some of my fondest high school summer memories involve playing pick-up softball every Sunday night with my friends.
25. Catch a game
My girls couldn’t care less about watching a baseball game, but they LOVE going to our minor-league ballpark and being part of the excitement of game days And a night at the ballpark doesn’t have to break the bank. Our nearest minor-league team offers lots of fan appreciation nights and other chances to score free or discounted tickets. Add meal-deal nights and special kids’ days, and catching a game becomes a more frugal experience than you might think at first.