Entertaining kids during the summer is easy—if you have unlimited funds. But if you don’t, it can seem challenging. Theme parks, water parks, summer camps, sports programs: all expensive. And if you’re already dropping a significant chunk of change on a family vacation, you may feel there’s nothing to spare for day-to-day activities. So what’s the solution for “bored” kids, short of unlimited screen time?
Here are 10 budget-friendly summer activities that are fun for the whole family:
- Throw a backyard beach party. Even if you don’t have a pool or a sandbox, you can transform your yard into a summer fun zone with lawn chairs, strategic use of sprinklers and a bucket of water balloons. Break out the bocce and croquet sets, set up a net for badminton or volleyball, play some favorite tunes (Disney-themed if your children are small) and soon you’ll have a classic summer party for the whole family.
- Organize a scavenger hunt. Make a list of items in nature for your kids to find—butterflies, ladybugs, lizards, dandelions—then set them loose to start scouting (in your own backyard if they’re too young to roam the neighborhood on their own). Or, collaborate with other parents in the neighborhood for a hunt that takes the adventure from house to house.
- Camp in the backyard. Pitch a tent, lay out a few sleeping bags and tote a flashlight or lantern outside. With supervision, light a fire in a backyard pit or barbecue for s’mores and popcorn. Share ghost stories (for big kids) or fairytales (for smaller ones). Then snooze under the stars. You can even bring the littlest ones inside after dark without spoiling the campfire fun.
- Get cooking. No one wants to turn on a hot oven in the summertime, but there are countless healthy recipes kids can make without the heat. Toss summer salads with fruit and herbs, prepare tea-party-style sandwiches or whip up a batch of tasty frozen treats. No matter what you choose, you’ll work in some bonding time, too.
- Nurture their green thumbs. Kids and gardens are a natural fit. Digging in the dirt, planting seeds and watching the fruits of your labor grow into something you can savor can be a magical experience. Plant your child’s favorites—strawberries, peppers, snap peas and mint—then help them harvest the goodies when they ripen. A bonus: gardening is a great way to sneak in some exercise for the whole family.
- Go bowling. Many bowling alleys offer free bowling in the summer time through a program called Kids Bowl Free. Not only do kids get to bowl two free games each day all summer long (and learn how to wield a bowling ball), but they’ll also get air-conditioned relief on sweltering hot days.
- Take advantage of your library. Many libraries offer a full calendar of summer activities from reading clubs for tweens and teens to story time for the little ones. It’s free, fun and you’ll teach your child a love of books and learning new subjects. No local library? Bookstores like Barnes & Noble also have kids’ programs and weekly story times.
- Get crafty. Get your child’s creative juices flowing with crafts and day-camp-like activities. Retailers such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby offer classes and workshops that appeal to the whole family. Your child can make birdhouses, picture frames, even their own pirate hats or tiaras. And in some cases, the materials are free or available for a low cost!
- Game night. For kids accustomed to video games, iPads and other high-tech gadgets, the idea of game night may be greeted with groans instead of applause. But once you get the party started with old favorites like Yahtzee, Monopoly, Pictionary or playing card games for pennies (think Black Jack, poker or gin rummy), even the techiest teenager will have a blast.
- Free concerts. Many towns offer a slate of free movies and concerts in the park during the summer months. Pack a picnic blanket and some healthy snacks and entertaining your kids for the evening is a snap. A bonus: You’ll teach them to appreciate music and live performance without having to glue them to their chairs.
Our family’s motto is building memories, not buying things. What kids really want and need during the summer, and any time of year, is quality time with you. So while a picnic in the park or a water balloon battle may not seem extravagant, to kids they’re memories in the making.
This summer, create boundaries around screen time by choosing to focus on how you and your kids can share time together—minus the electronic devices. In fact, screen time should be the last thing on your kid’s priority list, after chores, reading and spending time with family.
For more healthy, family-friendly ideas, download the free app — 5-2-1-0 Kids! The app provides healthy indoor games and teaches children the importance of healthy habits.