We’re bringing you 20 cheap or free summer activities for kids broken up by age group so that you can spend more time with your kiddos, and less time searching the web for entertainment ideas!

four kids exploring nature, one boy holding a magnifying glass

Wow, this year has been a doozy so far! Though there’s been a lot of good in my little corner of the world (I’ve been able to spend tons of time with my sweet 5-month-old, I started working with the incredible women at Fed+Fit, I’ve even gotten out of my comfort zone and done some cooking demos for you all, and I’ve learned a lot about myself through it all), there’s also been some pretty low points, and I’m betting that you can relate to that. 

One incredible low that many parents have faced is their kiddos’ schools being closed for the rest of the school year and many summer camps (and other ways that your kiddos typically stay busy during the summer months) following suit. While this time has provided some pretty special and unforgettable one-on-one time with your kiddos, we’re betting that you’re getting close to the end of entertainment ideas in your mom-bucket. 

Budget-Friendly Summer Activities for Kids

This list, broken up by age group, is friendly on the budget and will *hopefully* give you some support as you navigate the summer months with kiddos!

Summer Activities for Littles (1-5 years old)

  • Sensory Play* – let your little ones explore textures and while their fine and gross motor skills + cognitive and language development get some serious attention! Happy Toddler Playtime has over 40 sensory play ideas, most involving a tub and common household objects! You can also find more ideas on Pinterest. Don’t be afraid of a mess – that’s how your little one learns best!
  • Make Popsicles* – this is a great kitchen activity for your littles! A few simple ingredients (think: fresh fruit, yogurt, flavored sparkling water, fruit juice, etc.) and a popsicle mold is all that you need for yummy, fruity popsicles! This is a great way to get your toddlers in the kitchen with you. If you’re looking for a more structured recipe (not just an eyeball-some-yogurt-and-fresh-fruit recipe), these Strawberry Jam & Cream Pops are a REALLY good choice!
  • Go on a Nature Walk* – take your little ones on a walk around the neighborhood or a local park, and let them explore! You can turn this into a scavenger hunt (here’s a great checklist + count sheet from No Time For Flashcards) or just engage in conversation about the things you all are spotting on your walk!
  • Put on a Puppet Play* – Make paper bag princesses (or princes!) and animals with your littles, and then have them put on a show for you!
  • Make a Bird Feeder* – making the old school pinecone + peanut butter bird feeder was one of my very favorite things to make as a kiddo! There are SO many kid-friendly bird feeder variations out there (here’s a bunch!), so pick the one that works best for you and the supplies you have on hand!
  • Go to the Library – a lot of local libraries have a weekly storytime for kiddos, so it’s worth checking to see if the public library nearest you has this available!
  • Camp in the Backyard* – though this is a fun idea for older kids too, your little ones (especially ages 4-5) will LOVE camping in a tent in the backyard for the night. It’ll be a memory they’ll never forget!

Little girl smiling and looking at camera playing with her tent on campsite, happy girl sitting inside yellow tent at park

Fun Activities for Middles (6-10 years old)

  • Wash the Car* – there’s just something about getting into swimsuits and playing + splashing while washing the car! It’s so fun – your kids will love it, and you’ll get a clean (or at least cleanish) car at the end of the day! 
  • Start a Garden* – there are so many lessons to be learned through gardening! Start a small indoor herb garden, or an outdoor vegetable garden (click here for our best veggie garden tips) if you’re feeling ambitious. Let your kiddos help you map out the garden, have a say in what goes into the garden, and get their hands dirty in the process! Gardening takes tons of patience and consistency – both wonderful lessons for your middles! 
  • Learn about Money* – a valuable lesson indeed! There are SO many ways you can go about this, so get creative! One idea is to ‘hire’ your middles to do some extra work around the house (maybe something they wouldn’t typically be responsible for), and reward them with either fake or real money (nothing crazy here, maybe a nickel or two if you’re using real money, OR buttons, paperclips, cotton balls, etc. for a fake money option – just do what works for you!) Then, have them trade their money for a rare treat at home (think: if you don’t eat ice cream regularly but your kiddos love that as an occasional treat, get the fixings for an ice cream sundae, and have them ‘buy’ their at-home sundae with the money they earned!) 
  • Rock Painting* – this is exactly what it sounds like! Go on a hunt around the yard or neighborhood for some flat-ish rocks, and let your kiddos get creative with some paint!
  • Go to a Farmer’s Market – this is a fun outing for a beautiful day that your middles will really enjoy! Plus, supporting farmer’s market farmers + small businesses is no small thing.
  • Backyard Obstacle Course* – let your middles set up an obstacle course with objects you already have at home (think: hula hoops, jump ropes, balls, frisbees, etc.) and see how fast they can complete it! Beware: you’ll DEFINITELY be asked to try it too – go for it, your kiddos will love it!
  • Have a Paper Airplane Contest* – there is so much to learn when it comes to paper airplanes and what makes them fly! Engage your kiddos in a learning experience that they will *seriously* love! Scholastic has TONS of resources for all things paper airplanes!
  • Have a Dance Party* – turn up your favorite kid-friendly playlist (or find kid-friendly dance-alongs here) and let loose with your middles! They’ll love to see your silly side, and everyone will get out some energy in the process!

father and kids having a dance party in the living room

Activities for Bigs (11-14 years old)

  • Learn to Sew* – this is a super useful skill that your bigs will be able to practice and polish for a lifetime! Start out simple, and as your kids learn and improve, they’ll want to do bigger and bigger projects! Here’s a list of 20 kid’s sewing projects to start with.
  • Star Gaze* – you guys, stargazing is FASCINATING! I majored in elementary education in college, and one of my classes was centered around astronomy, and though I wasn’t super pumped about it at first, it quickly became one of my favorite classes. There is SO MUCH to learn! This site has some really great resources for getting started, supplies you may need, and an interactive night sky map to help you understand exactly what you’re looking at!
  • Go to a Drive-in Movie Theater – drive-in movie theaters are such a fun experience! Check to see if there’s one around you and if there is, see what movies are playing! Drive-ins are typically super affordable too since admission costs are per car, and not per person. Bring your own snacks and cozy up for a fun night!
  • Make a Difference – have your kids go through their clothes, toys, and games and pull out anything they don’t use or want. Then, take them to your local Goodwill donation center to drop off the items. Explain the importance of this to your kiddos, and let them know what a difference they just made!
  • Write to a Pen Pal* – letter writing is a valuable tool and something that our kiddos should feel confident doing. International Pen Pals for Kids! is a private (and secure) Facebook group that helps parents find pen pals for their kids!
  • Get in the Kitchen* – this may be my favorite activity on the list. Let your kiddos help you prep meals for the week (these meal prep lunches are a great start) while you teach them any basic skills they don’t already know. Then, once you and your kiddo feel comfortable, have them take over cooking one meal a week for the family! They can write out their grocery list and help you shop too! This pasta bake and these mini meatloaves are both super easy, and would be a great dinner options for their first solo meal! 

*Can be done from home 

3 teenage girls smiling and cooking on the stovetop

We hope this list of budget-friendly activities for kids serves as a resource for your family this summer! Enjoy the time with your kiddos – they’re only little once! 

About the Author

Brandi Schilhab

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