If you need Inexpensive Summer Activities for kids and families this year, we’ve got 13 great recreation ideas that you’re going to love. Most of these activities are perfect for kids and adults.
As Covid restrictions ease you should be able to find some safe and fun activities for your kids this year.
It’s June and school’s out …what do you do to help your kids have healthy fun in the summer? Is it an afternoon at the movies, a visit to an amusement park, or an afternoon at the mall? How much will that cost you?
Perhaps you might want to consider tackling a large project, learning a new skill or participating in community service. These activities can also be fun and more rewarding.
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Avoid Summertime Overkill
We’ve seen parents sign their kids up for a crushing load of summer activities that have both parent and child exhausted (and broke!) by the start of school. Are expensive camps, clinics and planned activities all there is to having summertime fun? Spending gobs of money to keep your kids entertained isn’t necessarily the solution.
We’ve compiled a list of suggestions — most of which we’ve done — to stimulate your thinking about inexpensive summer activities that are fun.
Activities That Are Not Just for Kids!
All of these ideas are not just for kids! As we said earlier, kids often know how to have fun in a way that adults don’t, and we think folks of any age will get some enjoyment out of these ideas.
We know that if both parents are working, your options are more limited, but there are still activities that you can do together. Consider “co-oping” with a couple of other working families and coordinating days off to do activities with the kids.
A. Indoor Fun
If you live in an area where daytime temperatures make daytime outdoor activities more difficult, consider some of these great indoor activities. Indoor activities can still be fun.
1. Free Days at Museums
People often think of museums as great places to visit. And while they can be very educational, we’ve found that they can also be over-stimulating, especially to young children. We try to limit our time there to no more than four hours for younger kids. Some museums schedule occasional Free Days. Contact your local museums to see what they offer.
2. Quiet Afternoons
We schedule a couple of afternoons each week from 2 to 4 p.m. as reading or artwork time. Even Mom needs a break and staying inside during the heat of the day can be refreshing.
3. Watch Educating Movies at Home
We don’t “live our lives in front of the TV,” but during the summer, we’ll schedule a weekly time to watch a two-hour movie borrowed from a friend or the library for some excellent “Edu-tainment.”
The old Disney classics like:
- Old Yeller
- Swiss Family Robinson
- Treasure Island
- The Apple Dumpling Gang
- Homeward Bound and many others are wonderful to watch.
Also, historical movies hold our kids’ attention, educate them and provide better role models and heroes than most of today’s movies:
- Davy Crockett
- Johnny Tremain
- Gary Cooper in Sergeant York
these 3 movies are just a few examples.
Keep reading to see theaters that offer discounted summer movie programs for kids
This is a wonderful avenue of service, which we believe could be instilled in kids at a very young age.
Check out food banks, soup kitchens, city parks, and recreation areas, Habitat for Humanity and other low-income housing organizations, animal shelters and rescue organizations.
At different times members of our family have also volunteered at an adoption agency; helping them organize a storage room and helping at a thrift store that benefits the same agency.
Many charitable organizations have age limits due to liability, so if you have young children, visiting nursing homes or helping at a church may be the only outlets available to you. If you have teens, many non-profit organizations can use their help.
Remember to look for the needs of those in your neighborhood — widows and senior citizens. We’ve done yard work as a family for our sweet neighbor, Martha, and it was a blessing for her and all of our kids.
We’ve learned of numerous volunteer opportunities from our involvement in Boy Scouts and their focus on community service. Volunteering as a family is a great way to stretch your comfort zone and to see parts of the world and society that you normally wouldn’t be exposed to.
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B. Outdoor Fun
When the weather permits, these outdoor ideas are a lot of fun.
5. A Walk in the Park or Hike in the Woods
When the weather is pleasant, spending time outdoors is wonderful and provides great opportunities for exercise and a little bit of science, too. Many botanical gardens and arboretums have fascinating exhibits and trails. Numerous state, city parks or forests also include interesting features and exhibits. Don’t forget hiking in the woods, rollerblading through a park, biking, flying a kite or picnicking.
Many botanical gardens and arboretums have fascinating exhibits and trails. Numerous state, city parks or forests also include interesting features and exhibits. Don’t forget hiking in the woods, rollerblading through a park, biking, flying a kite or picnicking.
6. Fun in Lakes and Pools
Maybe you’re partial to spending summers by the water. Try boating at an urban lake, waterskiing or just riding with a friend who has a boat, camping, or hosting barbecues with juicy corn on the cob and watermelon.
Beaches also provide a healthy atmosphere for hours of exploring, building sand castles and discovery, and don’t forget swimming — we do lots of this.
Just remember the sunscreen! One of our favorite mini-dates is to escape to our pool and sit and talk after the kids are in bed.
7. Music Festivals
Many cities also sponsor music festivals or provide free outdoor concerts —check your mailbox for flyers that come from the shopping centers near you or just do a Google search.
8. Gardening in the Summer
Maybe it’s time to start a garden. Digging in the dirt, amending the soil, planting and then harvesting in early fall can be a productive way to spend time this summer. Check out the book Square Foot Gardening or visit www.squarefootgardening.com for simple gardening ideas.
If space is limited try container gardening or EarthBoxes.
9. Life Skills
We think it’s important to invest in teaching our kids real-life skills. Why not plan some house projects? Try cleaning up and reorganizing bedroom closets; cleaning out the garage or tool shed; ironing and mending clothes, or organizing linen and bathroom closets (watch this video where Annette goes through how she reorganized our linen closets).
We’ve also taught our kids to help with menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation.
When our youngest, Abbey, was seven years old, she was determined to prepare an entire meal she found in her Beanie Baby cookbook. We all pitched in, and the memories and photos still bring her a proud sense of accomplishment. She prepared olive penguin appetizers, piggies in blankets (small hot dog pieces wrapped in pieces of dinner rolls), fruit kabobs and cookie cupcakes. It was a smashing success.
10. State and County Fairs
If you have the inclination and it’s not too far to travel, research your state or county fair.
You and your kids may enter artwork and craft projects. We have spent many a summer’s day working on these. We’ve done this for years, and the kids always feel a deep sense of accomplishment when they receive ribbons and prize money.
If the county or state fair in your area is in the summer, then you may need to prepare craft projects over Spring break. Our Arizona state fair is in the Fall so working on projects over the summer worked great for us!
11. Splash Pads and Public Parks with Water Features
In our area there are several outdoor malls that have splash pads where lots of parents take their kids to cool off. And we also have some smaller public parks that have water features that kids can play in and cool off.
C. Summer Holidays
Our extended family and lots of our friends love to get together for holiday celebrations. It’s a great time to play, talk and eat together. And during this time of year, there are a few good opportunities for holiday celebrations.
12. Father’s Day Celebration with your Kids
Celebrate Father’s Day in June with the dads in your life or visit a man of character who has influenced you in a positive way.
One year Annette and the kids sent Steve on a treasure hunt . . . looking for the rest of the family. It started with a note left at home directing him to go to our favorite Chinese buffet to pick up egg rolls (his favorite appetizer). John was waiting there and gave him the next clue. John and Steve drove to a restaurant (where kids ate free with an adult meal) to meet the rest of the family.
After dinner, Steve was blindfolded and taken to his favorite ice cream shop for dessert. It was a smashing success — especially for the kids — they loved fooling good old dad.
13. Fourth of July with Your Family
Fireworks are shown at several resorts nearby.
There is one nearby our house where the lake backs up to a grassy area and a business park. We pack up blankets and folding chairs for everyone in our group who joins us. The Fourth of July is the time for fireworks and picnics!
One of our favorite memories is celebrating Independence Day in a small Arizona mountain town that was celebrating the holiday as a town for the first time. The veterans’ band played — reminiscent of the Mayberry town band from the Andy Griffith Show. The fireworks were spectacular, the people friendly and the weather cool.
Recently we’ve found a spot near a golf course lake to sit on the grass and watch a fireworks display. We bring a boom box and play patriotic music while we oooh and ahhh at the dazzling skyward spectacle.
There have also been years when we’ve hosted a potluck BBQ in our backyard and had organized pool games in the afternoon before dinner. This has proved to be a lot of fun for everyone that comes. We always play games that can fit every age group, so all can participate in the fun. Of course, we provide drinks, paper goods, main dishes, and some side dishes, to get the event started. Then many dishes are added as the guest list grows.
14. Labor Day with your Kids
A three-day weekend for camping, barbecues, or getting caught up on projects around the house.
Take a little time to do some planning, a little talking, and a little creative thinking. This summer can be a time of excitement, adventure and real connection. Be daring and try some new experiences, you might just have fun!
D. Library and Movie Theater Programs
Most public libraries and movie theater chains have summer programs for kids.
15. Summer Reading Programs
We love reading at our house – always have! With more than 4000 books on our shelves, we’re usually highlighting and turning down pages on at least 2 or 3 books at a time. It is so amazing to glean information from current-day experts to those who lived generations before us. The most successful people we know are voracious readers.
Encouraging our kids to love learning and to love reading books is critical to their success also. Every year, when our kids were younger, they would sign up for Summer Reading Programs at our city and county libraries (yes, we often involved them in two or three reading programs).
Why Summer Reading Programs are important
These reading programs provided encouragement for our kids to broaden their horizons. Because you had to check in several times each month to log the books or hours spent reading, our kids tore through books like crazy.
The accountability and rewards were super motivating. They also met other kids who were crazy about reading—teens who volunteered at the library to help run the program. Summer reading programs are one of the best activities out there because they are free!
Keep reading for businesses that sponsor summer reading programs with rewards
Most public libraries have summer reading programs. The programs in Phoenix reward kids with prizes for each reading benchmark they achieve. They’ve won things like Major League Baseball tickets, movie, restaurant, ice cream, smoothie, and miscellaneous treat coupons; pencils, creepy plastic insects, bookmarks and other little trinkets. They loved tracking their progress and eagerly anticipated their next reward.
Bonuses: Libraries often schedule story times, clowns, magicians and other kid-friendly entertainment on a regular basis . . . especially in the summer. Get the schedule and be there to expand your horizons.
How we check out books at the library
When we checked out books with five kids, it was a massive operation. So each child came to the library equipped with his or her “Book Bag,” usually a canvas tote bag that could hold 10 to 20 books. When the kids were too small to carry that many books, we’d bring our red Radio Flyer wagon and load the book bags and a kid or two into it and pull it through the library. At the checkout, each kid stood in line with Mom or an older sibling to scan their books and put them in their book bag with the due-date slip.
Watch the renewal date
Checking out large quantities of books can be a budget buster if you miss the due date. Our libraries allow phone or Internet renewal, which makes it much easier to avoid fines. And recently they’ve even started doing automatic renewals on books that have no “hold requests” on them.
A couple of afternoons each week were set aside for quiet reading or art time from 2 pm to 4 pm when the kids could devour their books. We also had story time each evening before bed—reading programs for younger kids rewarded them for time spent listening to books as well.
16. Business Summer Reading Programs
Not only do public and private libraries sponsor summer reading programs for kids, but so do several other booksellers and businesses.
- Barnes & Noble For the past 20 years they have hosted a summer reading program where kids can receive a free book for participating.
- Pizza Hut Book-It program – during the summer this program offers all kinds of reading challenges, tips and games through their website.
- Half Price Books Summer Reading Program called Feed Your Brain, gives student participants a $5 gift certificate if they read for 300 minutes in June or July.
- Chuck E. Cheese Reading Program – this one runs all year long and kids earn 10 free tokens for reading every day for 2 weeks (get the 2022 form here). They have lots of other Summer Fun reward programs listed here.
RELATED ARTICLE: Free Educational Websites for Kids
17. Movie Theater Passes (2022 update)
pricing during the summer for kids again. We’ve seen prices as low as $1 per movie. Summer Movie specials for kids are terrific activities for kids to choose from.
Check out the programs at these theater chains:
- Harkins – 10 weeks of movies for about $3 per movie.
- AMC – They aren’t doing a summer camp this year, but they are promoting a number of family-friendly movies this summer for $5.
- Regal Cinemas – Summer Movie Express – Kids’ Movies – Tuesdays and Wednesdays for $2.
- Marcus Theaters – From June 5th – September 1, 2022. Each Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday morning at 11 am. You can watch a family-friendly movie for only $3!
- Cinemark/Century Theaters – Summer Movie Clubhouse – 8 Weeks of Movies for Kids. $1.5 per movie. June 15 – August 3.
- Bow Tie Cinemas – No Summer Specials are listed for 2022
- Showcase Cinemas – no specific summer discount program for kids, but they do have Bargain Tuesdays and Senior Wednesdays.
While summer should be a time of relaxation, reading, and fun for your kids and you, it doesn’t have to be a time of spending a lot of money. Send us an email if you know of other summer reading programs or discount movie programs for kids.
If you are looking for more recreation ideas that the whole family can enjoy, consider reading the recreation chapter of our first book, America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money.
Take a little time to do some planning, a little talking, and a little creative thinking. This summer can be a time of excitement, adventure, and real connection. Try some new experiences and summertime can be fun! We hope this list of summer activities will keep your kids busy, but still give them time to just be a kid!
If you have more ideas please add them below in the comments section.