24 Cheap Summer Activities for Kids

Looking for affordable ways to keep your little ones occupied this summer? We've rounded up free (and almost free) activities that can be done inside and outside of the house.

Father and son fishing with fishing net in river
Photo: Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty (1)
01 of 24

Build a Backyard Obstacle Course

Obstacle Course Girl Jumping Rings
David Roth

Construct a backyard obstacle course with hula hoops, jump ropes, sticks, stones, hoses, and other materials from around the house. Your kids can take turns completing it—and the person with the fastest time wins a prize!

02 of 24

Camp in the Yard

Camping Destinations Girl Laying Down Inside A Tent
Daniel Hennessy

No campground? No problem! Pitch a tent in the backyard and spend the night underneath the stars. This free summer activity has one major benefit over normal camping: There's a working toilet merely feet away!

03 of 24

Plan a Bike Parade

Bike Decor Power Puff
Paul Thorburn

Encourage your kids to decorate their rides with streamers, stickers, flags, and more—then let them cruise around the neighborhood to show off their creation.

04 of 24

Make a Bird Feeder

Girl and three-tied stick bird feeder
Photograph by Barbara Peacock

Invite summertime birds to your yard with a DIY bird feeder. To make it, simply coat sticks with peanut butter and roll them in birdseed. It's the perfect opportunity to teach kids about nature and animals.

05 of 24

DIY Chalk Bombs

Chalk Bomb Craft
Dane Tashima 

Kids will have a blast with this idea from mom Lorie King Kaehler, author of Chalk on the Wild Side. Use a clean soap-dispenser pump to fill water balloons with a washable chalk-paint mixture (1 cup of water, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and a few drops of food coloring). Have your child draw targets on the ground with chalk or just let them go wild. Fire away!

06 of 24

Learn Cooking Skills

Mother and Daughter Cooking Healthy Dinner
TijanaM/Shutterstock

This fun summer activity for kids also has a practical purpose: Teaching little ones to cook. Choose a favorite food—such as grilled cheese or cookies—and make it with your child. They'll feel proud while eating the finished product.

07 of 24

Organize an At-Home Picnic

happy couple and toddler having a picnic
Shutterstock

You can host a picnic lunch without leaving your property! Choose a mealtime destination, whether it's a patio table or blanket in the backyard. Prepare picnic staples like sandwiches, load them into a basket, and enjoy dining al fresco.

08 of 24

Paint Outside

Girl painting block of ice
Photograph by Kim Lowe

When painting outside, there's no need to worry about making a mess. Just use washable paint and the medium of your choice, whether it's construction paper, cardboard, or blocks. You can also create outdoor artwork with sidewalk chalk.

09 of 24

Tour a Police or Fire Station

Fireman Gear on Firetruck
mat277/Shutterstock

Do you have an aspiring firefighter or police officer? Take a tour of your local emergency station! Since some locations don't have set visiting hours or rules for making on-site visits, call ahead to arrange an appointment.

10 of 24

Go Fishing

Man and Boy Fly Fishing
Tara Donne

Fishing is a classic free summer activity for kids. Brush up on the basics at takemefishing.org, teach the proper techniques to your young angler, and find a place to cast off. Make sure you check local laws about fishing; you may need a license.

11 of 24

Play Games Outside

Friends Holding a Soccer Ball
Monkey Business Images/shutterstock.com

Designate one evening per week to some friendly family competition (think kickball, softball, and capture the flag). Keep everything fair by dividing into new teams for each round.

12 of 24

Participate in Community Park Activities

happyschoolchildrenplayi_191303.jpg

Community parks offer an endless array of free and low-cost summer camps and activities—including swimming, sports leagues, improv, arts and crafts, music, archery, tennis lessons, and nature programs. Contact your local park or check out the National Recreation and Park Association website for more information.

13 of 24

Decorate Rocks

paint palette
Kuznetcov Konstantin/Shutterstock

The next time you embark on a hike, have your children collect rocks. At home, they can decorate the stones with paint, stickers, markers, glitter, and other art supplies. Display the finished products around the house, use them as paperweights, or give them to relatives!

14 of 24

Make Homemade Goop

homemade slime
jarabee123/Shutterstock

Mix up a bowl of Oobleck, a mysterious matter that kids can shape into balls or let ooze from their fingers. Here's how:

  • Pour 1 cup of water into a large mixing bowl
  • Add a few drops of food coloring (any color)
  • Slowly stir in 2 cups of cornstarch (use a spoon at first, but you may eventually find it's easier with your hands)

Your kids can do this fun summer activity either inside or outside the house!

15 of 24

Enroll in a Craft Class

Leaf Wreath
Tara Donne

Many crafts stores offer hands-on activities for kids like scrapbooking, box decorating, bead stringing, pottery, and more. Some classes are free and others require a nominal fee (typically $5 or less). Call around to find stores that are offering such classes.

16 of 24

Tour Your Hometown

Father Carrying Son On Shoulders As They Walk In Park
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

You don't have to leave town to go on a vacation! Visit local landmarks, call the historical society for hometown trivia, and ask a neighbor for their favorite restaurant recommendation to try somewhere new.

17 of 24

Swap Toys

baby girl with toys scattered
Apeloga AB/Getty Images

A "toy swap" is a unique and fun summer activity for kids. Here's how to organize it: Invite friends and neighbors to come over with toys (in good condition) that they no longer want, then let them draw numbers to see who gets to pick a "new" toy first.

18 of 24

Volunteer Your Time

family volunteering
Shutterstock

Volunteering teaches compassion and responsibility, and it also keeps kids busy on slow summer days. Little ones can clean up parks, collect canned goods, and more.

19 of 24

Check Out Wildlife Refuges

Mother and kids hiking in sunny forest
Imgorthand/Getty Images

Lace up your boots, pack a bottle of bug spray, and play naturalist for the day at one of the nation's wildlife refuges. These are public lands and waters set aside to conserve animals and plants. You can hike through lush forests, swim in pristine rivers and lakes, and identify hundreds of native species (including endangered ones). With more than 150 million acres to explore across the country, getting into the wild is easier than you might think; visit fws.gov/refuges to find one near you.

20 of 24

Arrange a Scavenger Hunt

scavenger hunt game
Steven Vote

What adventurous child doesn't love a scavenger hunt? Whether you set up this free summer activity for kids indoors or outdoors, the objective remains the same: find hidden objects using clever clues.

21 of 24

Build a Backyard Bonfire

Kids Roast Marshmallows Open Fire At Camp
Andy Lyons

Bring out the s'mores supplies and gather around the bonfire! Kids can recreate the feeling of summer camp by telling stories, roasting hot dogs, and singing campfire songs.

22 of 24

Watch Movies Outdoors

Family Fun Autism Sophia Laying On Blanket In Grass Outside

Every Friday and Saturday, parks across the country sponsor free outdoor family film nights. Visit your parks department website to find if there are any screenings taking place near you.

23 of 24

Tour a Factory

Zumbini
Zumbini

Many factories offer tours so kids can see their favorite products created from start to finish. Learn about visiting more than 550 factories across the nation at factorytoursusa.com.

24 of 24

Read a Story

Teacher Reading To Children
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Many bookshops and libraries host story times for little readers. You can feel good about this free summer activity because it fosters a love of reading.

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