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.
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!
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 from the archives 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.
26. Catch some fireworks
My family LOVES watching fireworks. With so many national holidays/celebrations of independence falling in the summer, many of us have access to plenty of displays around that time. Also check the schedule of your nearest agricultural fair, amusement park, and/or minor-league baseball team. (Ours has fireworks after most weekend home games!)
27. Even if you have to pay to see them.
If you’ve never been to an international fireworks competition and you have the chance, GO. The first time I did this, I thought paying $20 to see something I usually watch for free was ridiculous. A half-hour of the most amazing fireworks I’d ever seen changed my mind. Check this list, or do a web search by city; a lot of Canadian cities seem to host them. This may not be frugal, but for anyone who loves fireworks, trust me: it will be money well spent.
28. Find some Free Friday Flicks
There’s something that’s just crazy-fun about hanging out in a park with a bunch of strangers to watch free movies on summer Friday nights. Municipal-sponsored events usually feature family-friendly lineups, and are fun for all ages. (Some restaurants offer similar events more geared toward grownups, often with the expectation that you’ll at least buy a drink.)
29. Go fish. Literally.
Granted, this isn’t for every kid. My father took me fishing ONCE when I was little; I fell in and scared away all the fish, and that was the end of that. But my normally super-active girls were SO quiet and patient two summers ago when our family went camping with Keisha’s, and they got to borrow Keisha’s boys’ brand-new fishing poles. It was magical, and they had way more fun than I would have guessed.
30. Or “go fish” figuratively.
Card games are the ultimate in portable free summer fun. So tuck a deck into your beach bag or camping gear. Have one ready for those rainy-day blues. And if you’re tired of playing Go Fish and other standard games, broaden your repertoire. Get a cribbage board and learn to play cribbage, or get a deck specially made for another popular card game, like Uno or Set or 24. (Shh – card games are great for summer math practice!)
31. Get out the boards
Board games are another great frugal option for summer. I’m betting your kids have several that collect dust during the school year, when homework eats up their spare time. (While you’re at it, summer’s a great time to set aside games and other toys they’ve outgrown; I trade mine at the next children’s resale event for more age-appropriate options!)
32. Learn a new skill
Last summer we spent way too much time stuck inside, between rain and my broken foot. The girls quickly tired of playing with the same stuff, but then a cool thing happened: their boredom inspired them to haul out the wooden looms they’d received for Christmas and learn to weave. No craft kits leftover from Christmas or last birthday? Check for inexpensive kids’ craft classes at your local craft-supply store, or snag a free kids’ workshop at your nearest Home Depot.
33. Read in the shade.
There’s nothing quite so leisurely to me as reading in the shade. The girls seem to love it, too – maybe because I started doing this with them when they were babies, spreading a blanket on our shady front lawn with a basket of toys and books. To this day, they love to read, and adore having the summer free time to do so in the fresh air.
34. Read in the AC.
Of course, if you live in a place where the summer shade is just too hot, a good alternative is curling up in a comfy chair indoors where it’s cool. Also a perfect option for rainy days, whether at home or on vacation.
35. Hit your neighborhood park.
By the time the girls are done with homework on school nights, it’s all they can do to play in the street with the neighbor kids, let alone make it to our neighborhood park a half-mile away. So we try to make up for this with extra park time during the summer – especially first thing in the morning, when it’s still somewhat cool and not too crowded.
36. Or one further away.
Even better, we use summer to spend time at all the other great parks within easy driving distance of our house. We have some really amazing newly-built ones in nearby towns. And even those with older equipment are still fun just because they’re NOT the same park that is closest to home. On days when I’m organized, I’ll add a picnic lunch for even more fun.
37. Hit the stacks. (And see what else they have to offer.)
If you haven’t been to a public library lately, you might be surprised by all they have to offer. Our nearest branch has separate story times with crafts for a range of ages, as well as movie nights, coding and gaming nights for teens, puzzle time, Lego time, Duplo Blocks time, and everything else you can imagine. Not to mention that besides books and videos, our library lends such cool stuff as backpack stocked for a kid’s first hike!
38. Borrow a pass or two.
Not only are libraries great summer fun spots, but they often have passes to local and regional museums available to borrow. So if you’ve been wanting to take your kids to the local art museum but balking at the price tag, see if your library has free-admission passes available for members to check out.
39. Use those memberships and free nights.
If you have a family membership to a local museum, you’ve already paid the fee, so there’s no reason NOT to use it often in the summer! No membership or library passes? Check to see if your employer, union, or travel/auto club gives you access to discounted admission rates. And if your area has a regional “downtown night” (“third Fridays Free” or “First Friday” or “Artwalk”), check to see if local museums offer free or discounted admission on these nights.
40. VBS, anyone?
Vacation Bible School is a really inexpensive alternative to summer camp. I know mamas who send their kids to “camp” for free or near-free every week of the summer, a few hours at a time, by signing them up for every local church’s VBS they can find. Think songs, crafts, snacks, and typical outdoor activities, with a dose of Bible stories and “love-your-neighbor” lessons thrown in. I just signed my girls up for our church’s VBS, where each camper pays all of $5 for supplies.
41. Pick some berries.
Who doesn’t love picking berries? There’s something about being able to nibble fresh produce seconds after picking. (Of course, if you’re at a commercial pick-your-own patch, pick, pay, and THEN nibble.) If you have a little extra patch of sun in your yard, consider growing your own blueberries or raspberries. My girls LOVE to wander to the backyard for a “snack” at least once a day when ours are in season.
42. Go to market.
Summer is also the perfect time to visit a farmer’s market or roadside farm stand, and stock up on whatever is fresh and local. Food that’s fresh-picked and locally-grown always tastes amazing. And there’s nothing like planning your menus around what is fresh, local, and in season. (I’ve even been known to plan trips to distant playgrounds around what the nearby farm stands are likely to have in stock on a given day!)
43. Plant something.
Even better yet, plant your own mini-garden, even if it’s only a pot of lettuce outside your door. Our small herb garden is a neighborhood hit, and there’s no better way to get reluctant kiddos excited about eating their veggies and trying new foods! Live in a desert or drought-stricken zone? It may take a little more work, but my brother had an elaborate water reuse and rain-barrel system irrigating his backyard garden when he lived in southwestern Texas during a severe drought.
44. Run in the sprinkler.
This was a no-brainer growing up, but I’ve come to realize how fortunate I was to grow up somewhere where summers were just hot enough, and water just plentiful enough, that we could manage to do this. If you’ve got that just-planted garden nearby, set up your sprinkler so it hits your new plantings part of the time, and you’ll kill two birds with one stone!
45. Can something.
Or heat things up by learning how to can things. Yes, this lost art requires supplies (like canning jars) that you may not already have. But learning to make your own pickles, jams, and jellies is an incredible learning experience, not to mention a tasty one. Desert-dwellers, take heart: Evan learned to make a mean pickled serraño, hot pepper jelly, and (my favorite) prickly pear jelly during his time in Texas!
46. Cook something.
Or teach your kids to bake. Help them plan a meal. Or even have them be your sous-chef. Besides table-setting, one of my girls’ earliest meal-prep activities was shucking the husks off fresh corn from the farmer’s market. It was messy and took them forever, but they still have a blast “helping” with this task. And what kid doesn’t feel a sense of pride at getting to eat a meal that THEY helped prepare, or enjoy a cookie or cake they helped to bake?
47. Make a no-bake treat.
48. Make some homemade ice cream.
Summertime is ice-cream time. And making ice cream is a GREAT way to keep kids busy for awhile on hot summer days. (say, at a campsite when you’re trying to set up camp). Yes, this may require some equipment you don’t already own. But there are also plenty of no-church ice cream recipes available, many of which also work well for those who avoid dairy.
49. Visit your nearest thrifty craft supply outlet.
Like to get creative? Check this directory for your nearest secondhand craft-supply store, for crafting supplies on the cheap. (Scroll down to view by state, or to the end for listings outside the U.S.) The girls and I LOVE stocking up on craft supplies frugally with the great prices available at our local store. There’s no better way to refuel your creative juices and supply stash. Some also offer inexpensive summer camps and classes, or free open crafting sessions.
50. If you can, craft something while you’re there.
Even better, if yours has an open crafting table (as ours does), spend an afternoon there letting your kiddos create to their heart’s content. Kimmie sculpted this amazing bird at our store’s open crafting table when she was four, and this pirate ship (that she and Essie still play with!) when she was six.
51. Sign up for Kids Skate Free.
Through Kids Skate Free, kids get free admission to local roller rinks all over the United States throughout the summer months, for free summer fun all season long! If your kids don’t own roller skates, the skate rental fee at most rinks is small ($3.50-$5 for our nearby rink), making this a truly frugal afternoon indeed.
52. Try a 5K.
Do your kids like to run around? Do you miss your pre-baby jogging routine? Why not run WITH your kids over the summer? Check for a local 5K that you can train for together, or (f you’re a girl-mom) see if there is a Girls on the Run group near you that your daughter can join.
53. Or an organized ride.
If running’s not your thing, how about a bike ride? My girls LOVE to bike around our neighborhood, and my hubby and I like to complete as many metric centuries and centuries (100 km/100 mi) as we can each summer. Dear hubby and my girls just did the girls’ first 6-mile (10K) ride a few weeks ago, and the girls were SO proud of themselves (as were we!).
If your budding artists are beyond fingerpainting on the lawn, get them their own sketchbook and some colored pencils, and encourage them to draw whatever they like. Kimmie loves to doodle; Essie is our queen of elaborate imaginative scenes. They don’t get to free-draw during the school year as they’d like, so we try to make up for that during the summer.
And what better way to have some free summer fun than to kick back and daydream? Plan a family trip together (perhaps your next hike or camping adventure?). Lie on a blanket and study the clouds. Share what you see in the night sky. Summer is made for relaxing, and dreaming with your kids is one great way to do this!
What about you? What’s your family’s favorite form of free summer fun, or summer fun that’s wallet-friendly? Let us know in the comments!
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