Cheap Ways to Entertain Kids During Summer Vacation

With summer fast approaching, you need fun and creative ways to entertain the kids without breaking the bank. Here are dozens of ways to amuse them all (from babies to big kids!) without spending a lot.

Create a Summer Bucket List

At the start of summer vacation, have everyone in the family give you input on the things they’d like to do during vacation. I have four kids, aged 1 to 13. My teenage son has requested we play basketball as a family. My preschooler wants to go to the beach and build a sandcastle. My teen daughter would like to learn how to use a sewing machine and sew up a few projects during the break. We’re writing them all down on a list and hope to complete them all over the summer!

Make a Splash

Waterplay and summertime go together like ice cream and sprinkles! If you don’t have your own swimming pool, here are some ways to cool off and get wet:

  • Soak small sponges in a bucket of water & throw them at each other.
  • Create quick-disappearing sidewalk art using a plastic cup filled with water and an old paintbrush.
  • Visit a local splash pad or community pool.
  • Run through the sprinklers while watering the lawn.
  • Get your swimsuits on and have a bubble bath party in the tub!

Have a Set Schedule That Allows Flexibility 

Having a general schedule in place helps our vacation days run more smoothly. I’m much happier with a schedule so I know my kids aren’t going to tempted to watch television all day. Also, my kids like to know what we’re doing that day so they aren’t asking me a hundred times! If I have a schedule for them to refer to, attitudes are much more cooperative.

I start by referring to our local community calendar so I’ll know what activities are happening that week. I print out a calendar for the month and fill in the days with the daily happenings (Story time at the library on Monday, open gym on Tuesday, picnic in the park on Wednesday, etc.) I post the calendar on the fridge so my kids can see what we have going on that week.

Don’t feel like you have to fill each moment of the day, however. Allow free time for reading, free play, and napping in between activities.

Stay in the Shade

Some days, it’s just too warm outside for adventure or excursions. Last year, my daughter was only a few months old, so we spent most of our summer months inside the house. There are some fun things you can still do inside:

  • Build an extreme fort using blankets, chairs and pillows. Snuggle inside with books and a snack (maybe even take a nap!)
  • Play balloon games. How many taps can you make on the balloon without letting it touch the ground?
  • Pull out your favorite family board games or puzzles. Trade games with another family for a week so you’ll have some new games to play.
  • Host an art session. I’ve set up still-life displays and had each of my children draw what they see. I love to see how each child interprets the same scene.
  • Make no-bake desserts like a fridge pie or smoothies.
  • Have a movie afternoon. Time to pull out a classic Disney film, munch popcorn and enjoy a favorite flick.

Get Moving with Family Exercise

Get out of the house and enjoy a good workout at the same time. Use caution when exercising outside in very hot weather. Early mornings and late afternoons before the peak heat of day are ideal. Bring plenty of cool water and a towel for wiping sweat. Here are some ideas to get you outside and moving:

  • Have a ball. Shoot hoops at the basketball court. Kick around a soccer ball. Lob pitches to your kids with a baseball to let them practice their swing. Give little ones a big bouncy ball to throw and retrieve!
  • Get off the park bench. Kids love it when Mom and Dad join their play.
  • Ditch the car and walk or bike instead. If you live close enough to the park or store, don’t drive. Almost daily, I walk my baby daughter in her stroller and let my preschooler ride his bike alongside me.
  • Have a scavenger hunt. Make a list of easy things to find at the park that kids can collect in a bag (a green leaf, a pinecone, etc).
  • Make a play date with friends. Have each person bring a fun outdoor activity to share, like a hula hoop, beanbag game, or bubbles.

Find Cheap or Free Places to Visit

Many kid-friendly locations will offer specials or discounted rates during the summer to attract families on break.

The local libraries often have great kid’s programs during the summer. Our library offers regular events like story time as well as special activities like concerts and live shows.

Check out local indoor playgrounds for summer specials.

Our city museums have a rotating schedule of days during the week when entry is free. Check with your local community and see if something like that is offered as well.

Many movie theaters offer $1 kid-friendly double-features during summer afternoons.

Create Themed Weeks

If you choose a theme for each week of the break, this can create more of a “summer camp” atmosphere on the cheap. For instance, a theme of “Farm” could mean that you choose books at the library about farming, plant seedlings in a pot, visit a local farm or garden, and bake a pie with fresh berries from the farmer’s market.

Other theme week ideas could be “Circus,” “Outer Space,” “Zoo,” “International Travel,” or “Art.”

Leave Free Time for Boredom

Don’t feel that you need to schedule every single moment of your children’s summer vacation. Boredom is okay… it’s actually a good thing! Some of my most creative moments as a child came in the throes of summer boredom. Allow free time for your kids to entertain themselves.

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