Ideas for frugal summer fun activities for kids have to go beyond just browsing on Pinterest and setting yourself up for failure.
When you actually start that first week of summer break, the reality sets in that there are many days between June 1st and August 30th. How do you keep your kids occupied and not tearing down your house or terrorizing your neighborhood?
More importantly, how do you keep them occupied without spending your vacation money on activities? Luckily there are so many ways to entertain kids during the summer, and a sympathetic society has made many of them cheap. We’re going to take a look at the top ways you can keep your kid having fun and maybe learning over summer break without breaking your bank.
Frugal Summer Fun Activities for Kids
Start by heading to the library! Libraries are not just places for princesses to spend time in-between not talking to their beast-captors. They have books, sure, but now libraries have so much more. You can check out movies, magazines, and even in some cases equipment.
Many libraries have something called a “library of things” where you can borrow appliances, sports gear, and more. Beyond that though, books are hugely important to neural development in kids. In fact, even adult brains show better ability to create new pathways when they read even 15 minutes a day.
Going to the library and picking up some books, reading them and returning the next week to get more was a HUGE part of my childhood and I still look back fondly on sitting in a quiet room reading, especially when it was raining outside. Your kids will benefit from it immensely.
Free summer reading programs
Keeping in the vein of reading over the summer, there are tons of summer reading programs out there to encourage kids to read in various ways. As a kid there was the Book-It program that got you little pizzas and books and it was GLORIOUS and it STILL EXISTS!
Now there are far more from many different companies and groups:
- Scholastic’s Summer Read-a-Palooza – kids can read and log their minutes, earning rewards on the Scholastic site.
- Chuck E Cheese Behavior Rewards – I have to admit, Chuck E Cheese has some great motivators. Basically you track the behavior you want your kids to engage in – reading is just one – then you can print off coupons that they sign their name to and they get free play points with a food purchase. Pavlov’s mouse, amirite?
- Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Challenge – Your kids download a journal and record the books they’ve read, and then once they’re done they can choose 1 free book from a curated selection at your local Barnes and Noble!
- Six Flags Read To Succeed – When kids K-6 complete 6 hours of reading over the summer, they get a free ticket to Six Flags! Considering you might already be thinking about a Six Flags trip during summer break, this is a good way to encourage your kids to read before they get their brains jumbled up on a roller coaster.
- Amazon Retail Stores Book Challenge – This one is less accessible, simply because there aren’t that many retail Amazon stores yet. However, it’s a great program that encourages kids to read at least 8 books. When they’re done, you come back for a free book from a curated list.
Though this list isn’t exhaustive, these are some of the ones that are not regionally locked. There are plenty more and in fact, if you inquire at your local library they will likely have a list of all the programs in your area over the summer.
Investigate your local museum or zoo
Often a city museum or zoo isn’t very expensive to begin with, but most will offer discounts for groups. Call ahead to your local zoo and see if you can get a group rate for a bunch of mom’s and kids all going at the same time. Our local museum and zoo both offer free admission for kids 4 and under during the summer months.
I can’t guarantee yours will have free admission, but the admission will be cheap. With a lot of interesting exhibits and animals, it should keep your kids occupied for an afternoon. Bonus points if your zoo like ours has a picnic area and you can bring food in; spend the whole day getting to know wallabies and penguins!
Home Depot DIY Workshops
Home Depot has a schedule of workshops where they teach kids how to build various things. Your littles will need adult supervision, but the projects are completely free! What’s best is that your kids can keep their crafts. The link above has a spot to put your zip code in to find your nearest Home Depot. You’ll be given a schedule of events once you click through to your local store.
Invest in Cheap but Quality Outdoor Toys
When it comes to summer fun, nothing beats spending time in your own backyard. Here are a few of my favorite affordable outdoor toys that will keep my kids entertained for HOURS on any given day:
Bike and Hike Days
All of the parks in our city have these days when cars are not allowed. It makes for a near party atmosphere with people grilling, picnicking, and simply enjoying the park. Contact your local park district to find out when they’re having them. They should also have a schedule of events for the summer as well for all sorts of fun things.
Head to the movies
Pretty much every movie theater has deeply discounted summer rates for kids. Some are as low as .50c, and especially if you have a local cinema, they probably have a summer movie program. These allow you to pay one flat rate for basically unlimited admission to movies all summer long.
A few of the more prominent chains offering summer kids’ pricing are:
Some are deeply discounted while some offer free movies for kids in a certain age range. AMC and Marcus actually include snacks with the admission price – $4 in the case of AMC! That’s a really good deal.
Not a fan of the theater? Set up a sheet and projector out back and have a family movie night under the stars. Check out what we recommend as the best movies for preschoolers (that the whole family will love!)
Take your kids bowling
Bowling is still around in cities everywhere and thanks to Kidsbowlfree.com, you can introduce the game to your kids. Not all alleys are signed up with the program, but the ones that are offer 2 free games per day for kids all summer long. In addition to this program, most bowling alleys offer big discounts or free kids’ admission with an adult during the summer.
It’s air conditioned, it’s fun, and you get to wear fun shoes. Go see if your local alley offers the program and get to rolling balls towards pins!
Get crafty with Michael’s
Michael’s stores offer a workshop, teaching your kids to make some fun and creative crafts. It’s $3 per kid per session, and it runs from June 10 – July 26th, every Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Each day is a different theme, from whimsical craft tube unicorns to glittery slime that kids adore. Entertainment, learning, and a craft to take home is a steal at $3.
Paint some rocks
Okay so you’ll need tempura paint for this but rocks are free! Painting and hiding rocks is a fun way for kids to express their creativity and be part of a popular community, too. You can take your kids on a walk and look for rocks painted by other people. It’s always a good time finding them and swapping them out with your own.
Another family favorite of ours is to “paint” things outside and then host a carwash, it’s how $5 kept my children entertained for an entire hour!
A literal treasure hunt, geocaching is a popular activity that doesn’t really cost any money. The gist is that people hide boxes filled with knick-knacks and you use your GPS to find them. You’ll sign the log book you find, take something, leave something, and go on your next adventure.
You can start exactly this minute, find something awesome and get some exercise as well. Using your phone or GPS, you create a free account on Geocaching.com.
There will be a list of known caches around your coordinates, and you simply hike to find them. Some will be difficult and well-hidden but others might be easier for little kids to get to. No matter what, it’s a good time.
There’s never a bad time to teach your kids about the importance of volunteering. It makes them better, stronger people with a greater connection to their cities and environment. There is also no time like summer to find plenty of volunteer activities.
These can be as simple as helping serve food at the local soup kitchen or making blessing bags for the homeless. Our city’s downtown is thriving during the summer and they’re always looking for help with events. There are dozens of ways to volunteer with children, and it’s such an important (and fun!) family activity.
While most summer camps cost money, many park districts have “day camps” that do not. Call your local district office and see what is offered at the parks around your house. You’d be surprised at what your kids can learn over the summer like archery, wood working, or gardening.
With that said…
Gardening on a budget is a favorite discussion topic, but it gets even better when you do it with others!
The idea of community gardens is taking over vacant, gross lots across the country. By transforming bare areas into thriving gardens, neighborhoods end up with a beautiful, green space. They also have a ton of fresh, delicious produce to share with the people who contributed.
Co-ops or CSAs are great, too. Usually a farmer will have a spot dedicated to people who either pay or volunteer their time. They then get a share of the harvest each week.
It’s like a subscription service that you have to kind of get dirty for!
Bonus: set up a worm farm and use their casings to better ensure a bountiful harvest. If your kids are like mine, this project is one they’ll love to help with!
Check out your local vacation Bible schools
Most churches offer free VBS over the summer to kids in the community. These are great places to learn crafts, play games, and spend some time with other kids. You can contact your local churches but I guarantee they will all have fliers and signs up right when school ends.
Call your local universities for kids’ summer events
Nearly all public universities will offer free or very low cost events for kids during the summer months. These are a great way to get your kids introduced to higher education, even if they’re a while from that.
In addition, there are lots of science-based camps that are free or offer scholarships. Particularly in fields like coding and IT, you can find lots of camps targeted at younger kids and specifically girls.
Keep them learning and having fun all summer long
They say “idle hands are the devil’s plaything” but have you ever seen a kid bored in the middle of July? Avoid that horror show by keeping them engaged and learning! Exercising your kids’ minds and bodies will make them better in the long run.
Being able to keep them entertained without having to spend a thousand dollars is a big perk, too.
What do you like to do during the summer with your kiddos?
Let us know in the comments below!
Here are a few final ideas courtesy of Dollar Tree: