When the kids get out of school for the summer, you want to be sure they do more than sit about at home watching one screen or another. The trouble is that things add up really fast if you have to spend much money on them. It’s a big help to know in advance what free and cheap activities are available in your area for your family.
I write various summer activities on our calendar if they take place on a given day or week. This makes it easier to remember what’s coming up. I tell the kids it’s their job to check the calendar and make sure I remember the things they really want to do.
Go Play With Friends
I’m putting this one first because this doesn’t happen enough for my kids or many of their friends. They’re so busy with organized activities, that they don’t often get to just go play with friends. Some of the issue for my kids is that none of their friends are in the neighborhood, and there are very few kids in the neighborhood at all.
Don’t plan everything your kids are going to do this summer. Let them make plans with friends or decide to head over to a friend’s house to see if they can play.
Movies In The Park
Many communities do free movies in the park once a week or so during the summer. These are usually free. The city we live in does them on Wednesday nights in the park, and the same movie on Thursday nights at the pool. I prefer the park, as it’s easier to let the kids run around. Check your city’s website to find out what happens in your area. The movies start once it’s dark enough for everyone to see the screen clearly.
You may need to get there early to get a good seat, and you will probably need to bring your own blanket or chairs to sit on. If it gets cool in your area on summer nights after the sun goes down, bring jackets or blankets to keep warm. Younger children may fall asleep if the movies run much past their bedtimes.
I also make sure to post on my kids’ class Facebook page when we’re going to a movie at the park, because it’s a great way to meet up with friends over the summer. Other parents don’t have to promise to go, but the kids have so much fun seeing which friends show up for each movie. They’ll share snacks, play until the movie starts, and snuggle up if it’s cool after the sun sets.
Cheap Movies At The Movie Theater
A lot of movie theaters now run children’s movies during the summer for a low price. They’re generally in the morning, and tickets should be about $1-2. The movie selection varies from fairly recent children’s movies to older selections such as The Wizard of Oz. Check your local theater’s website to see if they have any to offer and for ticket prices.
Communities may also do summer concerts in the park. Once again, you should be able to find out about these on your city’s website. As they don’t need to wait for darkness to begin, these may not run as late as movies in the park.
Summer Reading Programs
Many libraries offer summer reading programs to encourage kids and teens to read. They may offer prizes, and there may be special activities and crafts at the library as well. Check with your local library to learn what they offer.
Barnes and Noble offers kids a free book if they read at least eight books and record them in the Reading Journal. The free books the kids can choose from are listed on the journal.
Kids Bowl Free
If there’s a bowling alley in your area, they may participate in the Kids Bowl Free program. Check the website to find out. You will probably need to pay for shoe rental, but kid can have up to two free games a day.
Many kids love to play in the water on hot summer days. When you don’t have a pool of your own, and the community pool admission adds up too fast, a splash pad can be a fun option. Water shoots up or sprays down on the kids from various items.
Some splash pads are free to use, while others charge admission.
Summer Food Service Program
No Kid Hungry is a program which serves free lunches to kids 18 years and under at approved sites during the summer. There’s no paperwork required – just show up. Any child can use this program, regardless of financial need, although the hope is that kids who get free or reduced lunch at school during the school year can make it to these sites so they continue to get free lunches during the summer.
To find a site, you can visit the program page on the USDA site, or text FOOD to 877877. Check to see what time each location serves lunch.
Are there any playgrounds near you? Your kids may have a lot of fun playing at them. As they get older, encourage them to range more widely so they get more independent, and consider when they’re old enough to go to a park without you. Kids need to develop independence, and this is one way they will enjoy doing so when it’s appropriate for their age and your area.
Riding bikes is a great physical activity for the whole family. You can ride around your neighborhood, around local parks, or run quick errands on a bike. Once again, let them ride around on their own when they’re old enough, responsible enough, and you’re comfortable that your area is safe enough.
You can use a GPS enabled device, such as your smartphone, to find geocaches in your area or anywhere you go. You share your finds with the geocache community, and can make your own caches.
Free Admission Days At Museums
While admission to many museums can add up quickly, many offer free days, or are even free regularly. The California Science Center, for example, always has free admission, although there is a fee for parking, movies and special events. There’s still a lot to do there for free.
Check the websites of any museums you would like to go to and see when their free days are.
If you have an EBT card, you may be able to find museums in your area which participate in Museums For All, which gives free or discounted admission to families in the EBT program. Fees can currently range from free to $3 for museums participating in this program.
Work On A Skill Or Project
Each of my kids picks a skill or project each summer they want to work on. This gives me something to tell them to do any time I hear the words “I’m bored.” Mostly they want to make videos for YouTube, and I have rules for them about whether they can show faces, use real names, etc. They also have looked at improving artistic skills, learning to solder and much more.
Home Depot Kids Workshops
Home Depot offers workshops for kids to build small projects. The kits change each week and are free. You may be able to register online, but drop ins are usually welcome so long as there are enough kits. Classes are the first Saturday of each month. Parents must remain with their children. They also have workshops for adults, so if you see something you would like to learn, sign up for it.
Tynker offers a Summer Code-A-Thon to kids with free memberships to their site. It’s a 10 week program with a new project every week. Kids get certificates for completing projects, and the top projects each week get a t-shirt. Child accounts must have a connected parent account to participate.
YouthSpark Programs At Microsoft Stores
If there’s a Microsoft store in your area, your kids may be able to participate in free YouthSpark courses. Activities vary by the ages of your children. Parents must remain in the store for the duration of the event – these are not drop off classes.
If you have an Apple store in your area, you may be able to sign your kids up for Apple Camp. It’s for ages 8-12, and is three 90 minute sessions. Kids choose their track from what is offered, and spend their time at the camp working on their project.
Use Educational Websites And Learning Games
If you want to work on academics over the summer, make sure it’s fun for your kids. They do forget a lot of what they learn over the summer, making it important to help them use their skills during their break, but this time should be a break.
There are fun sites for kids to keep working on their math skills, for example. My youngest loves The Prodigy Game. It’s a lot more fun for her than the math sites they use through school, although their accounts for those may be available over the summer as well. The basic account for The Prodigy Game is free, but don’t be surprised if your child wants a paid membership to access the extras.
Some places will allow families to volunteer with their children. My kids and I volunteer year round at a local animal shelter, for example. While many animal shelters only allow older kids to volunteer, you may be able to find places you can volunteer with your kids by checking VolunteerMatch.
There’s nothing wrong with kids being bored sometimes. That’s what will help them learn to come up with ideas on their own.
For more ideas, I did 30 Days of Keeping Kids Busy During The Summer a few years ago.