School’s out for the summer! The season of sunny weather, family vacations, and activities galore is here. With so many options to entertain and educate kids in the summer, it is easy to spend a lot of money on camps, workshops, and activities. Luckily, there are plenty of free and inexpensive summer activities for the kids, too.
What are they? Here’s my go-to list of 15 free or cheap summer kids activities.
1. “Go Play Outside!”
When the kids start getting rowdy or say they are bored, my fall back answer is simple, “go play outside!” In fact, recent studies suggest unstructured play time is important to development because it allows children to develop the flexibility needed to adapt to changing circumstances and environments - an important skill to have as an adult.
Done right, camping is an affordable vacation idea for the summer. Here in Washington State there are several free camping sites (check out freecampsites.net). We have all of the camping gear, and we generally don’t spend more on food than we would at home, so all we pay for is gas or a ferry ride to get to the camp site.
Tip – Get your kids involved with the trip planning and budgeting!
Hiking is another affordable summer activity, even with little kids. Many hiking guide books and websites list kid-friendly hikes. And, if you’re lucky enough to live in an area like Washington where there are hundreds of hikes nearby, you won’t have to travel far to find a trail.
Tip – Instead of hiking alone with the kids, I recommend joining a parent hiking group. Check out your local branch of Hike it Baby – a free, volunteer-based hiking group for kids and their parents/caregivers. We attend Hike it Baby meet ups at least once a week!
Have you tried Goecaching before? Think of it like a scavenger hunt using GPS coordinates posted on a website. This can be such a fun activity for around town, or out in nature.
5. Play Dates
Play dates or meet ups with friends are inexpensive activities, and a way for the kids to build and maintain friendships over the summer. If your kids are not in school yet, find a parent group in your area through MeetUp or other community groups.
6. Local Parks & Beaches
Visiting local parks, splash-pads, and beaches is one of our favorite free summer activities. Pack a picnic and meet a friend for an awesome morning or afternoon – rain or shine!
7. Family Visits
Summer is an opportunity for our kids to have longer visits with their grandparents and extended family.
For example, this summer, our six year old is going to grandma and grandpa’s for a week, where they will work on building a robot.
8. Zoo or Children Museum’s Membership
This idea is not free, but used strategically it is very cost-effective. Each year, we choose one membership such as the zoo or children’s museum. We pick one we know both of our kids will really enjoy, and one that is close to our house. Then, we go once or twice a week. By the first month the membership has paid for itself, and it feels like a special outing.
Tip – Memberships also make great gift ideas from family!
9. Library Programs
Our local library has weekly storytimes, activities, and workshops for kids of all ages. Our elementary school also offers a weekly drop-in library visit in the summer. These are fun, free activities, especially on cooler days.
If your kids love swimming, a membership at a local pool is another inexpensive summer activity idea. Many public pools in our area also have “happy hours” during off-hours with discounted entry for open swim time. For an even less-expensive alternative, fill up that kiddy pool in the backyard and turn on the sprinkler for some backyard water fun!
11. Summer Jobs, Chores, or Projects
Depending on the age of your kids, summer jobs, chores, or projects around the house can help kids stay busy – and help them learn the value of hard work (and making money). We plan on using a chart system so they are helping with chores every day.
Our older son is also very motivated to have a garage sale this summer, so we’ll turn that into a learning activity about money. Similarly, the kids could sell ice cream, lemonade, or soda as a fun way to earn extra spending money for the summer (or even better, increase their savings!).
12. Art Projects
Kids of all ages can enjoy art projects, and they do not have to be elaborate or expensive. Make homemade play dough, set up watercolors or finger paints, or make a collage out of items found on an outdoor scavenger hunt.
13. Community Events, Concerts, & Farmer’s Markets
Most cities and communities offer free events, movies, concerts, and farmers markets during the summer. Just remember to bring food or beverages from home and skip events with entry fees or add-on expenses.
14. Berry Picking
We buy a lot of berries in the summer for smoothies, snacks, and breakfasts. So, why not make it an activity for the family?
15. Summer Olympics or Game Nights
Are your kids athletic and competitive like ours? Create a summer Olympics in your back yard. Set up obstacle courses, outdoor games, scavenger hunts, and make simple prizes (like a paper crown) for the participants. Adults can join in, too!
Similarly, hold a weekly board game night. Pop some popcorn and play your family’s favorite board games.