Summer is here, and the living is easy – unless you’re a parent.
In that case, it’s more likely you’ll spend the next few months fearing the moment you hear three of the most dreaded words in the English language: “Mom, we’re bored.”
Fortunately, an endless number of free or dirt-cheap activities are out there, some as close as your own backyard. All will keep your kids entertained — and your wallet undented.
Following are the Money Talks News top 50 fun — and frugal — ideas to try this summer.
1. Bowl a free game or two
Your kids can get two free games daily all summer by signing up at the Kids Bowl Free website.
2. See cheap or free movies in theaters
At at least 10 theater chains offer free or cheap movies during the summer months. Some are free for the whole family, while others are free for kids or offer major discounts for all. Screenings typically are scheduled for weekday mornings. To find the free movies closest to you, do a Web search for your favorite local theater chain with the term “free kid summer movies.” Better yet, check out our list.
3. Download free movies
There are lots of sites where you can download or stream movies. While not first-run, there are thousands of older movies for you and the kids to watch. We’ve built a list of 17 Places You Can (Legally) Download or Stream Free Movies and TV.
4. Let Target pay
Target sponsors free admission to events and museums nationwide. Check out this page of their site to see what’s happening near you.
5. Let Bank of America pay
Show your Bank of America credit or debit card and your ID and get into more than 150 museums, gardens and science centers nationwide the first full weekend of every month. Learn more here.
6. Let the boss pay
Ask your human resources department what discounts it has available for sporting events, movies and more. Another place to check: your union. For example, an AFL-CIO program gives members and retirees of participating unions discounts on all kinds of entertainment. Check here.
7. Take a hike
Move some muscles, breathe some fresh air and take in some scenery. Nothing like a nice, free walk in the woods, the hills or the country to let kids explore while they exercise.
8. Go to a national park
More than 100 national parks offer free admission on selected days throughout the year. Unfortunately, the next free day does not roll around until Aug. 25. But even if you have to pay, the parks are one of the most beautiful entertainment bargains on the planet. Looking for another way to save? An $80 annual pass will get you and your passengers into every national park nationwide for a year.
9. Be a sidewalk artist
Use chalk to decorate your walkways. It is even more fun if you make your own chalk first. Look online for recipes like this one from PBS.
10. Listen to a story at the library
Many libraries have a drop-in story hour for kids once a week. Check your local library’s summer schedule for all kinds of cheap or free entertainment options.
11. Listen to a story at Pottery Barn
In addition to other child-oriented activities, Pottery Barn Kids offers free story time on Tuesday mornings.
12. Take a bite of Apple
13. Find free kids chow
There are several sites where you can find free kids meals. I searched my city (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) on Kids Meal Deals and found 119 restaurants within 15 miles where kids meals are gratis. Brad’s Deals lists 63 nationwide chains where kids eat free or almost free.
14. Start your own film festival
Who needs Cannes, Toronto or Sundance? Pick five movies, show one daily and sponsor a festival of your own, complete with popcorn and post-screening discussion. Check out Rotten Tomatoes’ 100 top kids films of all time for ideas, then read on for places to download or stream free movies.
15. Start a biker gang
The family that hikes together can also bike together. It’s great exercise and you can travel farther by bike than foot. You might find a free bike on Freecycle. Craigslist is full of bike deals, as are many local thrift shops. You might also find a free or cheap bike carrier for your car from the same sources.
16. Go on a Frisbee golf tour
Put on your tie-dye, dust off your disk and teach your kids to play Frisbee. You can toss one around your yard or a park, but you also might consider a disk golf course. Unlike regular golf, the disk kind is usually cheap or free at city or country facilities. I did a Web search for courses and was amazed to find there were 17 within 50 miles of my house.
17. Why not try the Y?
Your local YMCA offers a ton of things for kids to do, from sports to dance to educational courses. While membership may be required, you can at least check it out for free. Many branches offer a free three-day pass. And while for-profit gyms don’t offer discounts for low-income families, the Y does.
18. Play board games
Did Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land and Monopoly amuse you for hours on end when you were a kid? Odds are they’ll do the same for your children. Thrift stores, garage sales and the website Freecycle are places you might find them cheap or free.
19. Go to the dog park
While obviously fun for Fido, if you’re a dog lover, these parks are fun for everyone. That even includes people who don’t have dogs. Who doesn’t feel good after hanging around with a pack of wet noses and wagging tails?
20. Visit a museum free
Many museums offer free days. Just search the Web for “Free Museum Day” and your city’s name. The Smithsonian Museums in the nation’s capital, New York and Virginia are always free, and Smithsonian magazine sponsors a free day at others nationwide. Set for September, you can learn about it here.
21. Go fly a kite
When was the last time you watched a colorful kite soaring, swooping and climbing into the summer sky? However long it’s been, that’s too long.
22. Tour a local business
Some businesses are so interesting they’re fun to see in action. Breweries, manufacturing facilities, the post office, newspapers, and radio and TV stations often offer tours, especially if you can get a small group together. Call and ask.
23. Watch tomorrow’s sports stars today
Amateur sports can be just as entertaining to watch as the big leagues. The games are often free, the parking is closer, the hot dogs are cheaper and the action is less predictable. Watch 3-year-olds play T-ball and you’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry. Now that’s entertainment.
24. Plant some seeds
Starting a vegetable or herb garden is not only fun and educational, but could also result in a lower food bill next winter. Added bonus: Maybe if your kids grow their own vegetables, they’ll start eating them.
25. Host a scavenger hunt
These can be simple or elaborate, outdoors or in. Wikihow is one of many sites with instructions and ideas.
26. Feed the ducks
The next time your bread goes stale, don’t throw it away. Instead, find a pond and feed some ducks.
27. Have a picnic
You knew this one had to be on the list. There’s no combination better than great food and the great outdoors. If it is raining, simply switch to an indoor picnic. Spread out a blanket and eat on the floor.
28. Go fishing
Fishing has been a way to while away the hours for thousands of years. This method of entertainment can also result in the occasional free meal.
29. Blasts from the past
Your kids won’t believe people used to have fun without smartphones, TVs, video games or even electricity. Plan a classic weekend and take a walk down memory lane with games like hula hooping, hopscotch and horseshoes.
30. Turn your kids into reporters
Have youngsters interview neighbors, grandparents or others about what life was like in the old days, back when phones were attached to the wall and the Internet was printed on paper.
31. Wash the car
If this sounds like a chore, it’s because you’ve forgotten what happens when you combine kids and a hose.
32. Have more fun with water
Think back: Were you ever bored when squirt guns, sprinklers or water balloons were involved?
33. Camp out
Whether it’s in a national park, the backyard or under a dining room table draped with sheets, it’s fun to sleep where you normally don’t.
34. Take a scenic drive
The country, the mountains, the shore: There’s a lot to see out there.
35. Be an astronomer
Learn a few constellations or other points of interest in the sky, then teach them to your kids on a moonlight walk. Astronomy.com and other sites offer easy-to-find objects for which you can search on the next clear evening.
36. Play charades
There’s a reason variations on this game have been around for hundreds of years.
37. Become crafty
Michaels craft stores sponsor classes for kids. The cost is $5 per session, or $12 for three sessions, supplies included.
38. Hammer out some fun
39. Try a free workshop at Toys R Us
Wouldn’t you love to make your own Jurassic Park gate to contain all your dinosaurs?
That’s the free workshop coming up on June 20. Here’s where to register or learn more.
40. Let the Disney store entertain your kids for free
Disney stores host events for kids such as trivia, story time and showtime fun. There is no registration necessary; just check out your local store’s schedule and go.
41. Let your kids go to Lego
Kids ages 6 to 14 can build a free Lego project monthly at participating stores. While these stores aren’t as plentiful as some, there are more than you might think. Check it out and register here.
42. Make free crafts at Lakeshore Learning
Kids ages 3 and up can attend free craft classes at the learning materials stores every Saturday from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. No registration necessary.
43. Read to earn free books and cash
Children in first through sixth grades who read eight books in Barnes & Noble summer reading program earn a free book from a special list. Kids from kindergarten to fifth grade can have $10 added to their TD Bank Young Saver bank account by reading 10 books. Half Price Books’ Feed Your Brain summer reading program, from June 1 to July 31, lets kids from preschool through eighth grade who read for 300 minutes (15 minutes a day) earn $5 worth of Half Price Books Bookworm Bucks each month.
44. Stargaze during the day
Your local planetarium may offer free admission days. Search on the Web for “free planetarium days 2015” and your city’s name.
45. Do something charitable
There’s no time like summer to teach the value of giving. Have your kids prepare meals for the homeless, collect or make things for those in need, or visit a retirement facility. In addition to calling local charities, you can also look for causes that need help at websites like Volunteer Match.
46. Put on a play
Turn your backyard into a stage, and help your kids put together a play. Puppet shows also are fun.
47. Attend free sports clinics
Check at your local colleges for free summer sports clinics for kids.
48. Check out activities at the parks and rec center
Go to the website of your local county parks and recreation department and see what programs are being offered this summer. From art to sports, there’s probably something fun happening.
49. Pick some berries
A pick-your-own farm is a fun place to spend a hot summer day. And after a day of hard physical work, your kids may better understand why it pays to stay in school.
50. Go to the zoo
While zoos aren’t cheap, there are often discounts available so kids can visit the amazing and unusual residents. Do a Web search for “zoo discounts” and the name of your city.
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