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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

20 Free (or Low Cost) Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer

School is out for the summer. Now what? 

This is a question most parents, including myself, face every year. Trying to entertain your children 24/7 for two months can be daunting. No matter what you try to do or plan, they will inevitably say at least once (or in my case 100 times!) "I'm BORED!" 

The key is to keep some sort of a routine and plan, plan, plan and then have a Plan B! Murphy's Law will always give you a rainy day the one time you plan to go to the beach. Try allotting 30 minutes before the start of each week to schedule in some fun activities for the week ahead; and don't forget to get their input. They're more likely to get up out of bed, ready to start the day when they know what's coming instead of plopping down in front of the television watching cartoons, sitcoms or playing video games.  

Use it as a guide. It gives them (and you) something to look forward to. If you're going out for the day, enlist a specific job for each person, this way they're more vested into the days events and gives them something to be responsible for.  Here is an example: 

Monday-Local Beach/Pool/Lake (pack towels, sunscreen, water shoes, floatation devices, etc)

Tuesday-Bowling (pack socks)
Wednesday-Doctor appointment (don't forget those yearly physicals!)
Thursday-Movie (pack a light jacket, sweater or sweatshirt in case it's too cold inside)
Friday-Kids in the kitchen (have them pick out the menu or choose which food to purchase)

This summer, it will just be G and I most of the time since R will be working. So in between college visits and cheering practices, I'll be filling our days with some of these fun activities. 

Here are 20 Free (or Low Cost) Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer

1. Take them bowling. With, registered kids get two free games of bowling every day all summer long. Click on the link to find a participating bowling alley in your area. Shoe rentals are an additional cost. 

2.  Visit a museum. If you own a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card, you can get a free ticket on the first Saturday of every month with their Museum on Us Program. Each cardholder gets one free admission to over 150 participating museums nationwide. 

3. Home improvement workshops. Home Depot's program teaches children DIY skills, tool safety and gives them a sense of accomplishment. They get to keep their creation and get a certificate of achievement. Lowes also had a kids clinic on weekends called Build and Grow. 

4. Free Movie Program. Many movie theaters offer free movies from July through August and are generally held weekday mornings. Check with your local movie theater to see if they offer this program and pick up a movie and time listing. It's a nice way to cool off the kids on a hot summer day! 

5. Kids in the Kitchen. Kids LOVE to be in the kitchen. Go to your local farm stand or market, have them pick out a new food to try or recreate one of their favorite dishes. Let them be the chef and help them out where needed depending on their age. 

6. Scavenger Hunt. I used to love these when I was younger. You can either hide specific items yourself or look around the area for items that are already there for kids to find. Stay local in your backyard or neighborhood or venture out to your local park. 

7. Ice or Roller Skating. Rates are generally under $10/pp (depending on age) for a 1-1 1/2 hour open skating session (skates not included). It's great exercise and fun, but be sure to bring a helmet and safety pads for those elbows and knees!

8. Go on a picnic. It's fun to eat a meal on a blanket outdoors and gives the kids a change of scenery. Bring a frisbee or wiffle ball and bat for some entertainment. 

9. If you have a scout, the Girl Scouts have a list of online activities for girls ages 5-9 and Boy Scouts have a list of games as well. 

10. Water fun. Don't have a pool, lake or beach at your disposal? Turn on the sprinklers and run through them, squirt each other with the hose or fill up balloons and have a water balloon fight! 

11. Local sports and activities programs. Check out your local parks and recreation department for offerings. Many have free or nominal fees for sports, arts, culinary instruction, etc. for kids. 

12. Free tours. Ask your local television station, hospital, fire house, vet or pet groomer, supermarket, sports stadium, etc. to give you a tour of their facility. They may offer such tours individually or in groups, so bring some friends along for a fun outing. 

13. Pictures/Scrapbooking. Do you have albums and albums of pictures nestled away from years gone by that you're kids haven't seen? Break them out and reminisce over the fun times (and crazy clothes and hairstyles!). My kids love to look back at their baby pictures from time to time, but generally don't go much further back than the last few years. If you have loose pictures, sort them out by occasion or year and enlist their help in putting them into a photo album or scrapbook. It can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. The key is you're working together and you'll be amazed at how many hours go by once you start digging in! 

14. Volunteer. Teach your children the importance of helping others by leading by example. Visit your local animal shelter if they love animals, elder care facility to read or play cards with the elderly, help out at your local church or civic center or Feeding America to help out at your local food bank. You'll feel great knowing you helped someone else! 

15. Reading and Library Events. Many libraries offer free summer reading events where the children read a certain number of books; then get rewards or prizes. Barnes and Noble offers their Summer Reading Program as well. Kids read any 8 books and record them in a Reading Journal, bring the Journal to their local B&N store; then they get to choose a free book. 

16. Computer Camp. Apple offers a Youth Program where they offer Apple Camp for kids ages 8-12. They will learn how to shoot their own footage, create an original song in GarageBand on an iPad, and put it all together in iMovie on a Mac. This free workshop, held at the Apple Store, spans three days and ends with campers debuting their masterpieces at the Apple Camp Film Festival.

17. Online Education. I'm not recommending that they spend hours on the computer each day, but computers do offer a wealth of information and learning capabilities, especially if it's a rainy day. Most websites break out their site by age group so click on the one that is most appropriate for your child. Check out sites like, Leap Frog, Jump Start, PBS Kids, Fisher-Price, and Disney

18. Concerts. Many towns offer free or nominal fees for local music concerts. Grab a blanket, pack a picnic dinner, dance and listen to some new music. 

19. Have a Stay-Cation! Does your town have a museum that you drive by every day? Stop in to see what's inside. A local park with hiking trails or row boats? Find out what you've been missing. Many of us (me included) take our local surroundings for granted and there is a wealth of information right outside your door. I for one have lived in NJ for 99% of my life, 40 minutes from NYC and have yet to visit the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. (Yes, it's on my list for this summer!)

20. Local Sports Club. Check with your local sports club for kid activities. Many have special rates over the summer (i.e. 30 days for $30) where kids can swim or take certain classes where age appropriate. 

These are just a few things you can do to keep your kids busy this summer. If they attend a Summer Camp during the day, use this list as a fun weekend guide for the entire family to enjoy the fun.

Enjoy making memories together this summer! 


  1. this is an AWESOME, awesome list... there are a few that I did not know about; thank you so much for sharing. I thank you ---my kids thank you.

  2. Wow...great list and good for many different ages.

    You're the bomb, girl!

  3. Carrie,
    Great list! Many smaller museums offer free admission to military families during the summer, so we'll plan to check out a few of those.
    Since I was lucky enough to win a ecopy of your cookbook, and my spouse left me his iPad to view it on, the kids and I will be investigating your recipes using the contents of our CSA farm share box.
    I'm looking forward to them doing more cooking.
    But first, they need to get through exams and summer school.


  4. I'm so glad you all like the list! I plan on adding these to our summer to do list with my youngest this year. It helps to break up the weeks a little bit with something new. :)


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