14 Free or Dirt-Cheap Summer Activities for Kids

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Beat summer boredom without going broke with these fun ideas.

The battle cry of all kids from June to August: “Mom! I’m boooorred.”

No matter how excited your kids are on the last day of school, that joy will soon turn into boredom and they’ll be looking to you for ideas. You could spend the summer at the movies, the amusement park or the water park, but it will get expensive.

Instead, try these free or dirt-cheap activities to silence the boredom battle cry.

1. Homemade water park

A trip to the White Water Bay water park in San Antonio, Texas, costs $61.99 for adults and $46.99 for kids under 48 inches in height, but you can pick up this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sprinkler for $16.80 on Amazon.

If you have a garden hose and a little bit of yard space, you can easily put together your own water park. You’ll need a plastic outdoor kiddie pool, a waterfall sprinkler (Ninja Turtles or the grown-up kind) and some black trash bags. Fill the pool, lay the trash bags over a soft surface, wet them down to use as a homemade Slip ‘N Slide, and pop the sprinkler in the middle.

2. Costume-themed days at home

A cool parent lets the kids dress up. The coolest parent dresses up with them. Create memories with themed days. For example, pirates, ninjas, princesses and aliens are always popular kid themes. To keep the cost down, use what you already have around the house to make your costumes.

3. Summer reading contests

Reading will help boost your kids’ interest in learning and imaginations. If you’re having trouble getting your kids excited about books, try a contest. Barnes & Noble’s summer reading program rewards kids with a free book if they read eight this summer. Take your kids to the library, let them pick out their favorites, and use the contest to keep them motivated.

4. Let your kids be screenwriters

Let your kids write their own screenplay, design the set and the costumes, and then act out their own movies. You can record them for the cutest home video ever.

5. Designate a craft day

Gather up anything you have around the house – glue, stickers, scraps of fabric, paper towel rolls, egg cartons. Put everything on the table and tell your kids to make whatever they want. They’ll be busy all day letting their imaginations run wild.

6. Go on a nature walk

Many parks have free walking trails, and your kids will love seeing all the trees, plants, birds and occasional critters running by. Plus, the whole family will get some exercise.

Not sure where your local parks are? Check out the National Parks Map from the National Park Foundation.

7. $1 movie nights

In my area, adult movie tickets cost $7.50 and child’s tickets cost $6. Taking a family of four to the movies costs $27. Do that once a week and you’ll drop $108 a month on movie tickets.

Save some money and take your kids to the Regal Summer Movie Express. Throughout the summer, Regal theater locations sell $1 kid’s tickets to select movies at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Rather watch a movie at night? Pick one up from Redbox for $1.20.

8. Free day camps

Every summer Bass Pro Shops hosts free weekend day camps for kids. Last year’s activities included a fishing pole casting challenge, archery classes, crafts and other skill workshops. Visit or call your local Bass Pro Shop to see when they’ll host this year’s Family Summer Camp.

9. Free workshops for kids

The Home Depot offers a few workshops for kids on the first Saturday of each month. Your child will create a craft based on a certain theme or movie, like “Despicable Me 2.” They also run contests and presentations by companies like LEGO. Check out the Home Depot Free Kids Workshop site for more details, or call your local Home Depot store.

10. Entertainment hosted by your public library

Public libraries aren’t just for borrowing books. Many host workshops, camps, reading days and even movies. (This weekend I’ll be seeing “The Hobbit” on the lawn in front of my local library.) Best of all, everything is free to library members and many activities are geared toward kids.

11. Free bowling

Your kids get two free games of bowling every day all summer long thanks to the Kids Bowl Free initiative, put on by bowling centers, schools and other organizations. To get the deal, you’ll need to register your kids in person at a participating bowling alley. Visit the Kids Bowl Free site to find a location near you.

12. Make your own treasure maps

Indoor treasure hunts are the perfect activity for rainy days. To make your own, hide the “treasure” around the house and set up several clues. Then make a simple map to help your kids find the clues and sit back and watch while they run around.

13. Crazy sundae night

If I understand one thing about kids, they like to eat strange stuff. Get your kids excited about cooking by letting them make their own sundaes out of anything they want. Vanilla ice cream, pickles and caramel? Sure!

14. Build forts

My absolute favorite pastime as a kid was building forts. Older kids can do this with a stack of cardboard boxes, scissors and tape. Younger kids can get in on the fun (and not cut themselves in the process) with sheets, blankets and chairs.

How do you help your kids pass the time in the summer? Have any fun or educational activities? Sound off on our Facebook page and tell us about it.

Stacy Johnson

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