Many schools and preschools have dismissed for the summer, so now it’s time to find fun ways to fill your summer schedule. Unless your kids are signed up for summer camps, it’s up to you to figure out what fits within your calendar and your budget. Here are 11 cheap summer activities for kids that won’t break the bank.
1. Splash Pads
Some days, it’s too hot to be outside unless you’re in water. These summer days are perfect for a visit to a local splash pad. More and more cities–both large and small–are building splash pads. A quick Google search will pull up options near you. Most splash pads open after Memorial Day and close by Labor Day, with some offering free use and others charging just a couple dollars per child.
Thanks to city taxes, public libraries offer a ton of free kids’ activities. Highlights include weekly storytimes, performances, puppet shows, summer reading programs, crafts, family nights and more. Check with your local branch to find activities near you. My kids loved the interactive puppet shows at our branch last summer.
3. Local Public Parks
With younger kids especially, some days there’s no need to go much farther than your nearest public park. Most public parks feature playgrounds and places to picnic, but some have added amenities such as a lake beach, swimming pool, paved biking paths, hiking trails and creeks for playing (just watch out for snakes!). Also, take note of parks near you that have shade in the morning vs. the afternoon. When the sun is too strong, we go to a park that I know is shaded.
4. Bowling and Skating
This year, I just learned about two free summer programs for kids. Kidsbowlfree.com is a site where you register your kids, who can bowl free two times a day. I took my kids a couple weeks ago and they had a blast, even if I was run a bit ragged. In the future, I’ll take my husband or another adult to make things a little easier, but this would be a great activity for kids 5 and older. Heads up, you still have to pay for bowling shoes each time, which run about $3 a pair. See if a bowling center near you offers this program.
Kidskatefree.com is a similar free program for roller skating at select rinks, and most rinks limit the age of skaters to 10 or 12 years old and charge about $4 for skate rentals.
5. Public City Events
Summer is the time many cities–both large and small–host festivals and public events. From BBQ competitions to holiday parades to outdoor concerts to Touch-a-Truck events for kids, most cities ramp up activities offered in the summer–and most are free to attend, though purchasing food is optional. Go to your city’s government website and search for summer events.
I will admit that I have yet to attempt going to the movies with my three kids, but if this summer proves to be a hot one, it may make it’s way toward the top of my list. There are a whole slew of theaters that offer free or nearly free ($1-$2) morning movies all summer long. See if your local movie theater is offering kids summer movies.
7. State and National Parks
State and national parks are wonderful because you are entrenched in nature, even though a city may be close by. Most have well-kept hiking trails, just do your research ahead of time to make sure the trail length and difficulty level are appropriate for the age of your kids. Besides basic family hikes, many state and national parks also offer geocache hikes, orienteering and guided hikes.
Besides hiking and other outdoor offerings like swimming (if lake or ocean access), fishing, many parks offer special programs such as snake exhibits, music festivals, historic site tours, paddle boarding lessons, paddle boating, holiday celebrations, horseback riding, disc golf and more. Find a national park or state park near you.
Georgia locals: Show your library card at any Georgia public library to check out the ParkPass or Historic Sites pass. Use it to get free parking or admission at any of the 63 parks and historic sites in Georgia. The ParkPass exempts you from paying the daily $5 parking fee at state parks, and the Historic Sites Family Pass gets free admission for up to four visitors to any historic site in the state.
8. Baby Pools/Water Table
If you’re wanting an easy at-home day this summer, cheap baby pools or a simple water table (great yard sale finds) are easy activities that will keep your kids entertained and cool. And best of all, there’s no mess inside your house to clean up afterwards. Also, give your kids old paintbrushes to play with and they will have a blast painting your driveway, your house and whatever else they can think of.
9. The Home Depot Workshops
Lowe’s just discontinued its monthly kids workshops, but The Home Depot is still going strong. Held the first Saturday morning of every month, simply register your kids online for the location nearest you and then just show up. Store staff set aside a special kid-friendly workstation, typically a table made from particle board and seats fashioned from upside-down orange branded buckets. Kids will build everything from birdhouses to pencil holders to simple games. Not only will they hammer and glue together wooden pieces from their kit, they’ll also paint and decorate them. It’s a great way for kids to get creative and dirty without having to worry about the mess!
10. Local Farms and Creameries
Local farms typically have more to offer in fall and spring, but some are still open to visiters in summer months. Many farms now offer activities for kids such as playgrounds and jumping pads. But if a farm near you is closed for the summer, try a nearby creamery. Not only will your kids love the chance to eat fresh ice cream, but they can also marvel at the process of making ice cream. Some creameries offer free tours and some charge a nominal fee, but tours are a great way to sneak in fun learning for your kids.
11. Local Attractions
Many cities have local attractions that are kid-friendly. Search online for museums (for kids or adults), small waterparks, petting zoos, nature centers, gardens and more. Though many of these local attractions are pricey, they often offer discounts for the summer or annual passes. Last year, we purchased an annual pass for a children’s museum for $100 and went about twice a month, specifically on cold winter days, rainy days and overly hot summer days. If you decide to buy an annual pass, choose a place that you can see your family visiting a couple times a month. And keep in mind that many attractions intended for adult visitors also have special programs or areas for kids.
What are your favorite cheap summer activities to do with your kids?