14 Cheap Summer Activities For Kids

“I’m bored!”  It’s the two words every parents dread as school lets out for summer.  Fear not; I’ve put together two weeks worth of fun summer activities for kids to keep them busy, and their parents sane.

The list of summer activities ranges in cost from free to frugal, but each requires extra quality time with kids – something we can all afford to spend more on!

14 Fun, Frugal Summer Activities for Kids

Day 1. See a “one dollar” movie at the theater. Many theater chains around the country offer summer movie programs for kids where they offer a “one dollar” movie every day for a week, or on a particular day of the week all summer. Alternative: Have a movie day at home by streaming a classic from Netflix.

sprinkler funDay 2. Sprinkler day.  Delay your sprinklers for one day so they come a little later in the morning.  This way everyone can get on their bathing suits and have fun jumping through the sprinklers on a hot day.  But not for too long!  This is a good time to teach them about conserving water, reducing utility costs, etc.

Day 3. Attend “story time” at your local library.  My kids love to check out books on all kinds of subjects.  My son currently has three library books on swimming, pirates and going to the dentist (quite a diverse reader, huh?).  Many libraries also have a story time to encourage a summer reading program.  Stories are read out loud and the kids have a chance to interact with the story-teller and answer questions about the book.

lemonade standDay 4. Set up a lemonade stand. This is probably my favorite idea because of the lessons in entrepreneurship involved.  Loan your kids $10 as “seed money” for supplies, or better yet, let them use their own money from savings.  This way they don’t get used to the idea that borrowing leads to prosperity.  Take the kids along to the grocery store one morning and let them pick up the lemons, sugar, cups, and a couple bags of ice to keep in a cooler.  Yes, Crystal Light lemonade works, too, but is less authentic and more expensive.  This is a great way for neighborhood kids to work together, as they can divide into teams to man the lemonade stand, make the lemonade, handle the money, etc.  Please remember that an adult needs to be with the kids at all times, both inside and outside the house, so have a neighbor help.

Bonus: Use the money your kids earn to open a Kids Savings Account at ING Direct, where they can begin to understand the mechanics of banking, compound interest, etc. while earning a decent return on their money.

Day 5. Teach your kids to fly a kite. Check your 10-day forecast and look for a windy day in the coming week.  Pick up an expensive kite for the kids.  I even recommend springing for the extra spool of kite string on a roller because the string and handles that come with the kites are lousy.

Day 6. Make homemade play-doh.  I haven’t run a cost analysis on this recipe to determine it’s “frugalness,” but I can tell you it is a lot of fun!  I suppose the next best option would be to pick up some commercial Play-Doh on sale, but what fun would that be?

pirate birthday cakeDay 7. Bake a cake.  I remember having a ball helping my mom bake something when I was young.  And not all the fun came at the end when I got to lick the icing from the bowl!  Let your kids help bake a cake, and surprise mom or dad when they arrive home that afternoon.

Plenty of teachable moments here with opportunities to teach fractions (four 1/4 cups equals one cup, etc.).  By the way, my wife made this pirate birthday cake for my son’s birthday last week.  Arrrgghhh!

Day 8. Build a “fort” in the living room.  When my son was smaller he got the biggest kick out of playing in giant cardboard boxes.  We would color them, and cut “windows” out for him to look through.  A living room “fort” could be as simple as a few kitchen chairs gathered in a circle with a large bed sheet thrown across them and draped to the floor.  The kids can hide from mom and dad, read books, or pretend they are camping out in the living room.

Day 9. Go bowling. My grandfather and I spent many hot, summer afternoons bowling a couple games at the local bowling alley.  These days, bowling can be an expensive activity.  Call the lanes ahead of time and ask if they have any summer specials (certain days may be cheaper). Also check those coupon mailer packs for coupons for free games.  To keep costs down, just let the kids bowl – you can work on your game another time.

candy landDay 10. Declare a “bored” game day. I learned to play chess, checkers, backgammon, and poker (my mom wasn’t thrilled with that) one summer while staying with my grandparents.  Few kids today don’t realize you can play games without a computer.  Most of these old board games are inexpensive in their basic form – skip the “deluxe” edition, and check out the board game selection at Amazon.com to save even more.

Day 11. Have a water balloon fight.  My son attended a birthday party recently and the parents had filled several dozen mini balloons with water.  The kids participated in games like a water balloon toss – they start close together, but take a step back with each toss to increase the distance.  The last one to break the balloon is out.  With that was left, the kids had an all-out water balloon battle.  Lots of fun, but be sure to pick up the balloon remains, especially if you have very little ones or pets as they could be a choking hazard.

Day 12.  Create a “mini-me.” Find a piece of large poster board, or large heavy-duty paper (such as a butcher paper) wide enough for your kids to lay down on.  Use a dull pencil (less chance for boo-boos) to trace their entire body to the paper from head to toe.  Now let the kids decorate the kids to look like themselves in the same clothes they are wearing, same color eyes, hair, etc. When they are finished, help them cut out their mini-me for proud display.

Day 13. Pajama day.  I feel like having these days as an adult!  Stay in your pajamas all day long.  Make pancakes in the morning, bake a pizza for lunch, and lounge around watching movies.  Use your Netflix subscription to have a couple kid-friendly movies on hand.

relay for lifeDay 14. Spend a day volunteering your time. A good way to wrap up your two-week blitz of summertime fun is to allow your kids to donate their time to a worthy cause.  Contact a few local charities and find out which ones will allow kids to volunteer some time over the summer (under your supervision).  My daughter has worked with Project Linus in the past – an organization that makes blankets for children who’ve suffered a traumatic experience.

Bonus tip: Get your kids to come up with their own shirt designs, then have a custom t-shirt printing service bring them to life. It’ll be a thrill for your kids to see their ideas put on clothing they can enjoy throughout the summer.

So there you have it; fourteen days of frugal summer fun!  I’d love to hear your ideas as well.

Photos courtesy of StormyDog, rochelle, et. al, Mrs. Frugal, daveparker, skennel


  1. Seeing the pirate cake made me think of another interesting thing to do. Throw a “birthday party” for a historical figure. No need to invite other kids unless you just want to. Games and activities could be tailored to that person’s accomplishments. This would require us adults to learn new things too!

  2. –Here are some other fun summer activities:
    Make a summer reading list of classic books your kids should read. I used the resource books “What Every ___ Grader should Know” to create the list. Set aside reading time during the hottest part of the afternoon. There should be prizes along the way as they complete their list.
    –Our car had a temp display inside. Evey time it got over 100 while we were running errands or going somewhere we would stop and get a 25cent cone at McD’s. Then there was the day the car overheated and went to over 120. -Yes we got an ice cream when Dad picked us up!
    –For younger children-paint with water on the cement, cup of water, brush is all that’s needed.
    –Have them plant a very small garden and tend it. Even one tomato plant can be enough.
    –Get a zoo membership and go often, sometime you can use the membership when you travel to another city. The savings on those tickets sometimes covers the entire cost.
    –Go exploring in a local park and see who can discover the neatest stuff. Bring a container to collect an interesting bug, an unusual rock or ?? Take it home and look up what it is.
    –Be a tourist in your own town and go to a museum you have never been to.
    –After going to an art museum, get a cheap set of paints, watercolors or chalks. Bring your supplies to a park and make some drawings.
    –Make a scale size solar system in your city. There are websites http://www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/solar_system/, http://www.mos.org/sln/wtu/activities/scale.html, that will give you the proportions. Send an e-mail message around to invite friends to come and see it. Both adults and kids will be amazed at the distances.

    • This was an amazing idea! Thank you! I even bought the family pass and even if we only go once…we have already paid for it! Thank you!

  3. We have a local outdoor mall that has a really cool fountain that the kids are encouraged to play in. I take a book and let the kids go crazy. Cheaper than the water park!

  4. How about the ‘learn a new trick’ challenge? My sons, ages 5 and 6 are very into learning how to do new physical things, so every weekend day we try to teach them a new trick on their bike or their skateboard. They are really motivated to learn and to keep practicing until they master it.

    When they’re not inspired, and keep saying ‘I’m bored’ and try to give them as boring a list of suggestions as possible- they usually find something else to do!

  5. @Lisa: I like the idea of having a birthday party for a famous person. You could even tie it into a trip to the library a few days before to check out a biography on that person to learn more about them, and to celebrate their accomplishments. We might do that this July 4th to celebrate our country’s birthday! I see a red, white, and blue flag cake in our future!.

  6. Great list. We used to do a lot of these things when we were kids. I loved playing under the sprinker, but with drought and water restrictions it’s unfortunately a no-no now here. One more to add: who could go the whole summer without backyard cricket?!

  7. On George Washington’s Birthday, we always read a book “George Washington’s breakfast”, and then made traditional biscuits using the centuries old recipe.

    Where I live in NY, there are no cheap movies- the going rate is 11 bucks, but you can get coupons to bring that down to 7.50 for matineees. Insane!

  8. BOO HOO
    I wanna be little again!!!Adulthood is ENTIRELY overrated!

    “Was for this I uttered prayers
    And kicked and screamed and stamped the stairs?
    That I domestic as a plate
    Should retire at half past eight…”

    Emily or Edna I can’t remember which!!

  9. Making playdough works wonderfully! It last a LONG time. We make a cook version (there are non-cook versions, but the texture is never as nice) and you keep it in the fridge when not in use and it lasts for months! The batch makes up quite a bit, easily enough for two-four children to play with. I agree, it is more fun than buying and I’m certain it costs less. Plus, you know you put only edible ingredients into it, so while it tastes horrible, if they decide to eat some along the way you know they’ll be just fine 😉

  10. I love the idea of making summertime, volunteer time for the kids. Some of my favorite memories are of making a fort in the living room. How about camping out in the backyard on a warm summer night?

  11. Great list! We’re doing “Home Summer Camp” this year and I’m ready with arts/crafts/activities/sports everything – including my clip board and daily planner.

    ALSO, I have found a very cool e-learning site http://www.BigIQkids.com that offers a summer special for $29.99 (3 months unlimited) which includes all their K-7 learning programs. My kids love it! They are happy to be “online” and in doing so, I’m over the moon they are actually learning and getting ahead for next year’s spelling words, vocabulary, math and US geography. Week 1 of Home Summer Camp is going well!

  12. Great Ideas! I actually really like to just send the kids off to a summer camp. It really isn’t just a cop out. Camps provide a variety of activities each day and camp counselors who have to energy to keep up with them. Besides that, there is the whole social aspect of it. For 8 months, kids spend several hours a day locked indoors. At a camp, they get to socialize in a much more relaxed environment. There are also a lot of camps that are for families so parents can get some quality time and the kids have a blast without the headache of planning.

  13. These are some great ideas! I’m a nanny and I’m always trying to find some fun things to do with the kids I take care of in the summer so they aren’t just sitting around watching TV.
    Something else I’m going to do with them is to paint t-shirts. You can get really cheep plain shirts at craft stores. I’m going to wait for some coupons and get fabric paint on sale. They love doing crafts like this. They get to wear them afterwards too!

  14. Love the ideas,too bad my kid’s will want to do do them all in one day lol

  15. U can also do the following things
    1.go to iams nature center (go on a long hike and get a great workout)
    2.go swimming @ the YMCA (have fun and enjoy time with the family while getting a great workout.)
    3.Go yard sale shopping ( get a map and newspaper and find all the yard sales going on that day spend the whole day going to them and getting great things for great prices.)
    4.go to Cades cove for a picnic(go to cades cove and basicly have a picnic and bring some fun games to play.)
    5.create an @ home movie theater(decorate ur living room/den/ random room with a tv and DVD player and get all ur favorite movies u have and play them all day.)
    6.have a yard sale(sell anything that doesnt fit u dnt wnt,etc. and includee ur kids so they will have fun too and let them sell there own stuff that they’re not interested in anymore so they will have some spending money for the summer too.)
    7.create ur own drive through(this is really simple just take a tabel and go to the end of ur driveway with some drinks and snacks preferebly healthy, but u can choose and sell it for low prices.)
    8.have an all game day and invite some friends to come over and ask them to bring video games, board games,etc.)
    9.make candy( go to the Dollar Tree and get all ur favorite candies and create ur own candy and sell it @ ur yard sale or drive through 10.create ur own house hold aplliances ( use cardboard, or anything u might have just lying around thats not useful and create ur own miniture house,and all the wonderful appliances too.)

  16. These are some great ideas! I’m a nanny and I’m always trying to find some fun things to do with the kids I take care of in the summer so they aren’t just sitting around watching TV.

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  17. We love to hook up the hose to a Slip and Slide and declare a beach day. Hot dogs on the grill for lunch and popsicles for dessert. It’s become a bit of a Thursday tradition around here!

  18. Make your own movie…..you never know if you have a future filmmaker lurking in your house….
    1. Storyboard/script it out 2. Choose your location settings 3. get cast together for wardrobe/makeup 4. Film it 5. Post production (there’s plenty of easy access software for this) 6. All finished! enjoy the show.

    It is also fun to set up your own theater productions at home. What kid doesn’t like playing dress up and make believe?