Photo Credit to micagoto at Flickr
If you have school aged kids like I do, you are either really looking forward to their summer break from school or waiting with dread for that first “I’m booorrreeedddd!” Maybe you homeschool and you just want some new ideas to keep the kids happy and busy this summer. With many families, vacations are not in the cards due to work commitments or the expense so if you are hanging at home this summer here are 20 summer fun on the cheap activities you can try with your kids (or hey just with your friends if you don’t have children. Who says kids get to have all the fun?)
1. Challenge your kids to a summer read-a-thon. This is a great excuse to get them to the library or a used book store and stock up on some great reads for both them and you! Make a family read-a-thon chart and have each family member (who can read at least) mark off on the chart when they finish a new book. Have a prize like a Barnes & Noble gift card at the end for the family member who reads the most books. And yes, you can do it by page # too if you have teens and young ones who read at totally different levels. You can also sign your kids up for one of many reading challenges like this one from PBS Kids and .
2. Get outdoors and have a water fight! I found this how-to on Martha Stewart for making “sponge balls” to be used in place of water balloons. So awesome because you can re-use them all day long AND the birds and animals won’t choke on them. Plus if you are like me you probably have a stockpile of sponges!!!
3. On a super hot day, get your little ones in their bathing suits and try this frozen fun activity from Counting Coconuts. It’s like a frozen treasure hunt! This one looks so fun.
4. Have a campout in the backyard. Don’t have a tent? Borrow one or check your local Savers or Salvation Army. There is nothing more exciting to kids than sleeping outside –even if it’s just in the backyard. This was one of my fondest memories growing up! If you have a small charcoal grill or are lucky enough to have a fire pit, roast some weenies and marshmallows and make it a real camping experience.
5. Visit a National Park in your area (or two or three)! There are 397 “areas” in the National Park system with parks, seashores, recreational areas, historical monuments, etc. Many of the areas in the system have hiking trails, waterways, wildlife, camping and more. You can obtain an America the Beautiful pass for the year for $80 or a variety of other passes (kids 15 and under are always free). Also, many parks offer free admission on certain days and others have free admission year round!
6. Go bowling! If you have an AMF bowling center near you kids 15 and under bowl free from 5/14/2012 through 9/3/2012. Register and you’ll get a voucher emailed to you each week for two free games per child. Shoe rental is extra. This is great for a rainy day.
7. If you have creative kids who like to act, make a family play together. Let them help you write a short script and play a part. Some budding pop stars in your family? Make it a variety show instead. Then practice and show off your talents for your spouse, grandparents or the neighbor’s kids. You can even scour the second hand stores or garage sales for costumes and props to make it great!
8. Check local movie theatres for free or discounted kids movies during the summer. Most of the national chains have some sort of program for younger children. Or go to a drive-in if you have one near you. Here it’s a cost of $20 a carload and we can bring our own snacks and watch two movies.
9. Pick your own –anything! From about late May to October here in Massachusetts you can find something to pick locally. I love to go strawberry picking with my kids. Many of the farms have playgrounds, petting zoos and picnic tables so you can make a day of it. Even though the fruit is a little more expensive, the quality is sooooo good it’s worth every penny. You can also enjoy time making treats with the fruit you pick and/or can some of the goodies for use in winter months. Teach your kids how and they’ll never forget those times.
10. Check out your local YMCA for summer programs. Even if you’re not a member there are classes/sports your kids can participate in for a pretty fair price. Check out the YMCA camps in your area too and if the cost is prohibitive for your family, apply for a scholarship. Around me the YMCA offers a three month summer membership which gives your family full access to the pool and many activities, so this can be a good way to get the most bang for your buck. My Y also hosts BBQs and events during the warm weather with free admission to members or very low cost.
11. Volunteer with your family! You can find some really fun opportunities close to home and though not all are appropriate for children, some will be. You can also participate in a walk-a-thon, bike-a-thon or other charity event as a family where younger kids can be pushed in a stroller and you can walk to raise money for an organization that means something to you. Summer is the time when a lot of these events take place. Check out the Walking Site page for a good list of walk-a-thons and Biking Bis for a good list of bike events.
12. See some fireworks. If you are lucky enough to live near a beach or large campground, chances are you don’t have to wait until the Fourth of July to see great fireworks displays. Just Google your location and “fireworks” and you are sure to find some local events. Most of the time it is free to watch the fireworks, you just may have to pay to enter whatever park or fair is hosting.
13. Play outdoor games. Do you remember playing flashlight tag and kick the can when you were a kid? I sure do! Get outside and get some of these games going with your children. Raining? Have a family board game day or take out that Wii or Kinect. Pop some popcorn and dig in because you will see how competitive your kids can get! Even when they say they would rather watch t.v., don’t take no for an answer.
14. Make homemade ice cream! You know you love ice cream and so does your family but you might not love the prices at that fancy ice cream shop (or waiting in line for half an hour on a hot summer night?). This recipe from Family Fun is easy and does not require an ice cream maker –sold!
15. Start a neighborhood block party. Now this might not work in all neighborhoods but if you are not in a remote rural neighborhood, get some of the folks together and plan a block-party. There are a few different ways to host an event like this and it will take a lot of preparation and some money but if you already know a few of your neighbors and get them on board, you can pull it off. Read some tips from TLC Cooking on how to host a successful block party! The best part is if you can pull enough neighbors together, you can all share the expense and work. Plus maybe you’ll get to know some of your neighbors you don’t really know now.
16. Visit playgrounds and parks outside your immediate neighborhood. There are playgrounds that you’ve never visited before in a short driving distance. Probably some nice parks and public pools that are free too! This summer I am planning to take my youngest to a free splash park I never knew existed with giant water sprinklers and it’s about 10 minutes from my house!
Encourage your kids to keep a journal reviewing what they liked and didn’t like about each and compare at the end of the summer. Do you have a blog? Have your kids help you write your end of summer blog post by keeping a photographic record of where you visited and reviewing the best and worst parks in your neighborhood.
17. Try geocaching with your family. Now I admit, this is something I’ve never tried but it sounds pretty cool. Take a look at this Geocaching website to learn more about real-world outdoor treasure hunting game.
18. If you have a garden (or just a yard) work with your kids to make a stepping stone or garden stone. You can get a kit for between $15 and $25 at Michaels or another craft store. Or for follow the video on the DIY Dish to make your own and save a ton of dough (especially if you’d like to make more than one).
19. Make your own sprinkler like this one from Instructables.com. This only costs about $10 and a little time. (Unless you’re me, maybe more time.)
20. Take advantage of offers on sites like Groupon and Social Living for events and activities you can do with your kids. For example, I’ll be taking my daughter and two other people to a baseball game this month with a Groupon I bought for $29 including 4 hot dogs, 4 drinks and 4 caps. New offers get posted daily so make sure you’ve subscribed to their emails.
Whatever your budget this summer, make sure you take some time to enjoy the slower pace and make some memories with your children. Discover what they love about summer and maybe rediscover why you love it too. If you have a summer fun on the cheap activity to share please do so in the comments below!