Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means we may earn a small commission should you make a purchase from one of our links.
If you’ll be home with the kids this summer, you’re going to need ideas. Ideas to keep their hands busy and their minds occupied.
Keeping your child(ren) entertained with Kids YouTube while in waiting rooms, traveling in the car, or while you’re cooking dinner is great short-term but I think we can all agree that it’s not the way a kid should spend his summer.
To help you out, I’ve created a list of cheap summer fun for kids. Some of the activities listed are free while others may require supplies. I’ve tried to include something for everyone’s budget.
To print this page:
Windows & Linux: Ctrl + P.
Mac: ⌘ + P.
In the window that appears, select the destination and change any necessary print settings. When ready, click Print.
Cheap Summer Fun For Kids: 43 Activities To Keep the Kids Busy (and Parents Sane)
Seashells come in all shapes and sizes. Just walking along the beach where the tide rolls in can net you lots of pretty shells. While in shallow water, teach your kids how to inspect the shells for defects, make groupings by color or shape, and even plan how to display them creatively at home.
If your child is like most children you will have to help them sort through and choose the best shells to take home otherwise you may need a truck to carry them all. Trust me, I’ve been there. 😉
2. Rock Collecting
The beach is a wonderful place to go rock collecting. Many rocks along the beach will be smooth from years and years of rolling through the tides which makes for easy collecting for little ones.
You will find many types of rocks on the beach – agates, jaspers, quartz, jadeite among many others. You could even get lucky and find a few fossils among the rocks!
If you choose to take them home, clean them up and help your child display their beautiful finds. Make a mental note that you can also turn them into painted rocks later.
3. Beach Combing
The tides rolling in and out bring in lots of gifts from the sea that are deposited on the beach every day, such as sea glass, driftwood or fossils. Make it your mission for you and your children to find some treasures on the beach to take home.
After you’ve cleaned the items, turn them into keepsakes. A few ideas include attaching them to a wall canvas, making a treasure box, creating a wall hanging with yarn, or embellishing a mirror or picture frame.
4. Metal Detecting
Most beaches have hordes of people visiting all summer long which makes for great treasure hunting with metal detectors. Older children who have patience will be the best suited for this type of activity.
5. Making Sand Castles
Bring buckets, molds, and shovels to create the ultimate sand castle. You can even invite other children to work with your child to build a large community of castles with trenches, moats, and towers. The kids will love it and your child may make some new friends too.
A day at the beach is more than just swimming and sunbathing. With a little creativity, you can turn your beach trip into an exciting adventure – and even add a few “teachable moments” to your weekend.
6. Backyard Camping
Camping is tons of fun for kids of every age, but when you can’t get out in the woods, how about bringing the campout to your own backyard? Every kid enjoys sleeping outside and doing some of the traditional camping activities, even if the house is only a few feet away.
Erect your tent and pile in the sleeping bags and pillows for all the campers. If you don’t have a tent you can even sleep under the stars. Just be sure to put a tarp or cushiony blanket under your sleeping bags to keep the moisture from getting into your sleeping bags throughout the night.
7. Light the Fire
Having a warm, toasty fire is one of the things camping activities revolve around. If you have a fire pit to use that’ll make the activities more authentic and fun. Be sure to check the laws in your area before building a bonfire, because some municipalities regulate the use of fire pits.
8. Fireside Dinner
Prepare a dinner of fire roasted hot dogs using skewers or wooden dowels. *Always supervise your children around a fire.
If fire roasted isn’t an option, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will do because they can taste special when fireside.
9. Stories around the Fire
After dinner, it’s time to get the kids’ excited with some age-appropriate stories. No camping trip would be complete without a few scary stories. Just make sure you don’t frighten the little ones, or they’ll be back in the house in no time.
10. Campfire Songs
Want a little lighter mood? Have a sing-along. Most kids love to sing and this will give you an opportunity to share new songs with them. Some classic campfire tunes include:
- Do Your Ears Hang Low?
- Found a Peanut
- He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
- I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing
- You are My Sunshine
11. Late Night Treats
Before you settle in for the night, there’s time for one last tasty campfire treat. Two great desserts that are easy to make over the fire are S’mores and Banana Boats.
To make S’mores you’ll need:
- Graham crackers
- Plain Chocolate Bars
Roast your marshmallows over the fire until they are gooey and done to your liking. Then smoosh it down on one of the graham crackers, top with a square of chocolate and pile on the other graham cracker to make your S’mores sandwich treat.
For Banana Boats you’ll need:
- 1 ripe banana per serving
- Plain chocolate bars
- Aluminum Foil
Slice each banana down the center from end to end without piercing the skin on the bottom side. Remove a small strip of peel from the cut side. Break up the chocolate bars and add a few pieces down the center of the banana along with a few marshmallows. Replace the strip of banana peel and wrap tightly in foil. Lay directly on coals for 8-10 minutes. Carefully remove from fire and dig in.
12. Gunny Sack|Potato Sack Races
Invite the neighborhood kids over to join in an old-fashioned gunny sack race. You can, of course, substitute a gunny sack with pillowcases, if you don’t mind little grass stains.
Have everyone put their feet inside the sack and on your go, hop to the end of the course.
Whoever gets there first wins!
13. Homemade Slip & Slide
Take a large tarp or two smaller ones and lay them end to end, securing with tent stakes pounded all the way into the ground. For extra protection, you can cover the tent stakes with sand, dirt or even a towel.
Saturate the length of the tarps with water from a garden hose. Let the hose continue to run along the beginning of the slide. To make it extra slippery, add some tear-free baby shampoo down the sliding area and spray with water. You may have to add more shampoo now and then to keep the kids slipping and sliding.
14. Flashlight Tag
This game is fun for older children since it is played in the dark. It’s a combination of tag and hide and seek. The seeker has the flashlight and counts to 50 while the other players hide.
The object of the game is to have the seeker find one of the other players and when the light is shined on them then they become the seeker.
The only rule is that the seeker must keep the flashlight on at all times while he is seeking out the other players.
Hide, seek, find, and repeat!
15. Freeze Tag
Another fun tag game that’s suitable for all ages is the game of freeze tag. In this variation, the person who’s “it” has to tag all of the other players and the last person tagged becomes “it”.
Once a player is tagged they have to freeze in the spot where they were tagged. They can be rescued by another player who has not yet been tagged by touching the frozen person and they can continue playing.
A good variation for older children is to have them run through the frozen person’s legs rather than just touching them.
16. Life-Size Portraits
You can do this in a couple of different ways:
1. Get large pieces or rolls of paper from the craft store that you can lay out on a flat surface. Have your child lie down on the paper with his arms just a little apart from his body so you can outline his whole body with a marker. After you’ve outlined him let him fill in the details of hair, clothes and facial features with crayons or colored markers.
2. Get a tub of sidewalk chalk (this one is our favorite). Sweep off space on a patio or driveway where it’s safe for your child to play. Have him lie down on the cement in such a way that you get a chalk outline of his entire body. Then let him work on adding details. You can assist with picking out colors to help him learn those as well. Or make this fun and different by allowing him to make himself into a funny monster or other creature.
17. Pasta Bead Necklaces
You could make this a little less messy by preparing the pasta ahead of time. Then you could just allow the kids to have fun making the necklaces, rather than messes.
Items you’ll need per color:
- 3 tbsps. white vinegar
- 3 drops of food coloring
- 1 cup Ditalini pasta (macaroni salad type)
- Sandwich size plastic bags
- Tin foil sheets
Place the white vinegar and food coloring in a sandwich-size bag to combine. Then add pasta, gently mixing and shaking the bag to coat well. Dump out the liquid and place on a sheet of tin foil to dry overnight.
You will want to make at least 3 colors of pasta beads but you can make as many as you want. The more colors you create, the more combinations the kids will be able to make.
Once you’re ready to have the kids start making the necklaces, cut a piece of string long enough to easily fit over their heads once it’s tied. Thread the string through a cotton ball on one end to keep the beads from sliding off as the children string the necklace. You can then let them get to work.
18. Candy Bracelets
This might be an all-time favorite for the kids because when they’re done they can eat it. For this, you will need any type of candy with holes that your children like to eat and elastic string (you can get this at the fabric or craft store).
Lifesavers, Twizzlers (cut into smaller pieces), and candy beads are all good choices. Follow the same instructions as above for stringing your bracelet. The kids will love it!
School may be out, but science experiments are still fun – especially when you can see the results right in your own kitchen. These experiments are fun enough for young children, and the scientific explanation of the results will fascinate the older kids as well.
19. Inflate Balloons with Pop Rocks
Pop Rocks are fun to eat because they snap and pop and fizz in your mouth. But you may not know that they can inflate a balloon, too, by releasing carbon dioxide trapped in a bottle of soda.
You will need:
- 1 – 16 oz bottle of soda (any flavor will do)
- 1 pouch of Pop Rocks
- 1 balloon
- A funnel
How to make it work:
Use the funnel to pour the whole container of Pop Rocks into the balloon. Twist the end of the balloon just a little so you’re holding the Pop Rocks inside the balloon while you stretch the end of the balloon over the top of the soda bottle. You don’t want the Pop Rocks to drop into the bottle before you’re ready to start. Once the balloon is firmly in place on the bottle let it go. Watch the Pop Rocks work in the soda and the balloon start to inflate.
20. Make Giant Gummy Worms
All you need for this little experiment is gummy candy (worms or bears will work fine), water and a container. Fill the container with about 2 inches of lukewarm water and drop your candy in. That’s it! Now you just have to wait 8-12 hours while your giant gummies grow. It’s much more dramatic if you do it overnight so your little ones have a great surprise to look forward to in the morning.
Your gummy candy will be larger than the original but it will be very fragile so handle with care when taking it out of your container. Let the kids oooh and ahhh over their creations before eating them.
21. Dye White Flowers Pretty Colors
Carnations work nicely for this experiment and you can usually find them at the grocery store for under five dollars.
Making colored flowers is easy and fun. Just take several small jars or glasses and fill them about one-half full with water. Then add several drops of food coloring and then insert your white flowers.
Leave the flowers in the water overnight for a faint color change or leave in for several days for a more dramatic color change.
Take pictures to chronicle your experiments and drop it in the scrapbook for fond memories when they’re older. For older kids, help them hypothesize about changes based on stem length, the amount of dye in the water, or the type of flower used.
22. Big Balloon
In this game, each child is given one balloon. Each child then takes a turn filling their balloon up with water. The idea is to see how full he can make it without letting it pop. He can fill it as full as he likes, but if the balloon pops he is out of the game. The one with the largest balloon wins.
23. Balloon Toss
This game is always a hit. This works best in pairs but if you have an odd number of children simply have them stand in a circle. Have one child pass a water-filled balloon to another. After each successful toss, they should all take one step backward.
Eventually, someone will miss the balloon and it will break or the distance will be so great the force will break the balloon. Either way, the end result is lots of wet fun!
24. Water Balloon Football
Just like in real football, the goal of this game is to get your ball across the goal line. But unlike the rough and tough pigskin, water balloons are a bit more fragile.
While the offensive team is busy trying to protect their precious cargo, the defensive team does everything in their power to break the balloon.
In the end, the team that carried the most balloons to safety wins.
25. Enjoy an Afternoon at the Petting Zoo
The petting zoo is a fun place to take kids of all ages. Being able to pet and feel the animals is one of the draws. Little ones especially love it because many of the animals are their size. 😉
Some of the animals you’ll find are:
- Pygmy Goats
- Miniature Horses
- Potbellied Pigs or Micro Pigs
After they’re done petting the animals, or before a snack or mealtime, make sure the kids wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. Animals carry germs just humans.
26. Visit a Local Farm
Take your family on a tour of a farm in your area. Many local farms welcome a chance to show off what they do to bring food to your table.
You might get to milk a cow, collect eggs or feed the chickens. Some even have patches of pick your own product so you can show your children where fruits and veggies come from.
27. Discover a Fish Hatchery
The fish hatchery is an interesting place to see how fish, crustaceans, and shellfish are bred, hatched and reared through the early life cycles.
Many times they offer catch-and-release programs for children to see what it’s like to go fishing for the first time. Many fish hatcheries offer tours and sometimes have large events, such as a salmon festival to celebrate the salmon spawning season.
28. Stroll Through a Nature Preserve
Going to any nature preserve can be a lot of fun and educational at the same time. Many preserves cater to different things – some are for wildlife, plant life, geology or any combination of those.
You can stroll through to see nature relatively undisturbed and wildlife roaming freely within the preserve’s borders. Nature in all its wonder!
There are also wildlife preserves that you can drive through as well, such as a bison range, a wild horse range or a bear preserve. Do an internet search to locate one near you.
29. Spend the Day at the Aquarium
Going to the aquarium is one activity your child is sure to remember since we don’t see marine creatures every day. There are so many types of colorful fish, eels, lobsters, crabs, otters, turtles, sea lions and that’s just for starters. The aquarium is chock full of interesting creatures to let your little ones inspect.
Many aquariums offer touch tanks filled with marine life your children can touch, feel and sometimes pick up. Things like sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, and even octopus.
Getting out and exploring new places with different types of animals is something your children will enjoy and help will foster a love for nature and wildlife.
30. Shadow Puppets
These are fun for all ages but tend to really awe the toddlers. To make shadow puppets all you need is light behind your hand aimed at a light-colored wall or canvas. It’s really neat in the dark but you can do it with any range of lighting, even sunlight.
To make a bunny use your first two fingers to make a “V” (or a peace sign) and crook your fingers a little. You can move your fingers back and forth to make the bunny look like it’s hopping.
Make a bird by lacing your thumbs together and waving your hands simultaneously like the flapping of bird wings.
A dog is easy to do by lacing your fingers together, using your thumbs for the ears and your pinky fingers for the mouth. Move your pinky fingers in an up and down motion to make it look as if the dog is barking or the wolf is howling. Add some sound effects and your kids will love it!
31. Build a Fort
What kid doesn’t want to have his very own fort? It’s so easy to do indoors. All you need is a couch, a couple of kitchen chairs, an ottoman, a TV tray or really anything that you can use to construct your framework. Then drape sheets or blankets over your framework and voila you’re done.
Your kids and even you will have lots of fun-filled hours hanging out, playing games, reading or telling stories in your blanket (or pillow) fort.
32. Plan Dinner and Dessert
Most kids want to get in the kitchen and help out. Take time to plan dinner from start to finish with your children. Let them choose a dinner that they will be able to help make and a yummy dessert to finish it off.
This will not only entertain them but help them to build confidence in learning to cook AND cleaning up as they go.
33. Family Game Night
Children love to spend fun times with their family and a great tradition to start is family game night. Plan one night out of the week (or more) to play a game with the kids. Pick an age-appropriate game so the little ones don’t get bored too easily.
Family game night suggestions:
Zingo! (currently a bestseller)
34. Scavenger Hunt
Getting kids outdoors is a great way for them to learn about nature and get exercise at the same time. This is also one of the more popular cheap summer fun for kids ideas.
Create a nature scavenger hunt with whatever types of items are in your backyard, the park or wherever you choose to hold your scavenger hunt.
Here are a few items that you can include in your hunt:
- Four leaf clover
- Large leaf
- Small leaf
- Large flower
- Small flower
- Smooth rock
For more fun ideas, check out The Crafting Chicks free themed scavenger hunt printables.
35. Learn Numbers
Helping preschoolers learn their numbers is easy and fun with a numbered scavenger hunt. All you need is some colored paper and a pen to get started.
Cut colored paper into pieces and write numbers on them from 1-10. Hide them around your yard or house – kind of like an Easter egg hunt. Once the children find all of the numbers you can have them match them up to a sheet of paper that you’ve written all of the numbers on.
36. Learn Letters
Have the children search around your house for anything with words on it. Use the first letter of the word to have them come up with another word that starts with the same letter. Or if your child is a little more advanced you can give them a letter and have them find a word that has the letter within the word.
37. Learn Colors
You can print out a rainbow of colors and have your child find something of each color to gather. Another variation of this color game is to give them a bag of a certain color and have them find 10 objects of the same color to bring back. As you help them go over their items you can reinforce the colors.
38. Treasure Hunt
This is fun for all ages and you can scale the hunt to fit the ages of your children. Draw a map to several different areas, and mark where they can find the first item. When they find the first item it should include a clue to the next item and so on. At the end of the hunt they should find the buried treasure!
Going to the museum is always a treat for kids. Taking time to educate your child at your local museum will help her become aware of the history of your town and how it came to be. Being able to see, and in many cases touch, artifacts make it come alive. To find out about children’s days or certain events, visit their website or give them a call.
40. Farmers Market
The local farmers market offers many opportunities for your children to learn and see new things. The obvious attraction is the local fruits and vegetables brought in by the farmers or orchardists. This will give your child a chance to meet and interact with some of the people who grow food for your table.
The farmers market has much more than fruits and vegetables though. Some things you may find include:
- beekeepers selling their honey
- wild picked berries and mushrooms
- homemade goodies, such as jams, jellies, kefir and kombucha
- crafters selling their wares
- live music and dancing
- food vendors
Lots of vendors offer samples of their items so your child may get to try new things he or she may never have gotten to try otherwise. Also, many markets will have events throughout the summer to draw in more people. Keep on the lookout for future events in your area.
I’ll be the first to admit that I loved going to the library as a kid. I considered books to be pages of adventures and tales from faraway lands.
Do you want to know a secret?
I still feel that way.
Thankfully my parents encouraged and supported my love of reading. You can do the same by taking your child to the local library.
Many libraries offer summer reading programs at no cost as well. These are where groups of kids come to the library at a specified time and date and one of the library staff (or volunteers) reads to the children. Sometimes they offer a question and answer session afterward.
42. Park Events
Summer is a big time for social events such as festivals, parades, fairs, or carnivals. Children love the active atmosphere, bright colors and lots of things to see and do. Admission is usually free or fairly inexpensive and it’s a fun way to spend the day.
Volunteering can teach your children about giving back to the community, kindness, and gratitude. To find a kid-friendly volunteer opportunity, do a search on volunteermatch.org.
If you’ve found this list helpful, please share on social media and with your friends. We appreciate it!
What’s your favorite way to keep the kids busy during summer break?