Free (or Almost Free) Things to Do with Kids This Summer

8 kid-friendly activities for summertime fun.

girl and boy on a jungle gym

Remember when you were a kid and summer seemed endless -- in a good way?

Funny how things change.

Now it's just a matter of time before your kids start saying, "I'm bored," to you or to your nanny. This summer, get ready to banish that phrase from their vocabulary with this list of free or low-cost summer activity ideas.

For more ideas, read up on 101 Fun Things to Do with Kids This Summer »

  1. Go to the Library
    Most libraries around the country offer free summer reading programs that encourage kids of all ages to read, and they often host other activities like, parties, music and puppet shows. Check out libraries in neighboring towns too -- they might offer something your regular branch doesn't. Visit to find local libraries.

  2. Tour a Local Business
    You may not have to look further than your favorite pizzeria to find an afternoon activity. Local restaurants are often open to giving kids a behind-the-scenes look at a working kitchen during slow times if you stay for lunch. Or, do you have an interesting factory (candy? toys?) in your area? Many factories offer tours, which can come with freebies to take home.

  3. Seek Out Free Art and Culture
    Some museums and cultural institutions, like botanical gardens, children's museums, zoos, aquariums and observatories, are always free. Those we love! But even the ones that charge admission often offer free or reduced-rate days or hours weekly or monthly. Grab a calendar and map out those times so you'll know instantly on a rainy Tuesday where to find refuge.  While you're at it, check their calendars for special summer activities -- many offer classes, concerts and tours just for kids.

  4. Check Out Chain Stores
    Scores of national retailers are now offering free or inexpensive children's activities or classes. (Note: We love this trend, but be careful not to overspend at the store while you're waiting for the kids to finish.)

    • IKEA has supervised playrooms for potty-trained kids. Just drop and shop. Sounds dreamy.
    • Home Depot and Lowe's run free weekend project workshops for kids (ages 5-12 for Home Depot). You needed new bookshelves, right? 
    • Crafts stores, such as Michaels, hold free project demos t that will keep creative kids happy, ages are craft-specific but can start at 3.
    • For the budding tech-engineer, Apple stores run free 3-day Apple Camps where kids ages 8-12 learn how to make films.
    • And the list goes on. Whole Foods and other grocery stores offer cooking classes, bookstores like Barnes & Noble offer free storytime. Check with stores in your area to see what they have planned.
  5. Visit a Farm
    Whether they're petting animals or picking fruit, kids love farms. Check with farms in your area to see if they offer tours, activities or are open to a few hours of help with real farm chores from your pint-size volunteers.

  6. Volunteer to Help
    While the kids are in the volunteering mood, look for places in your community that could use their help. Whether it's cleaning up a local park, walking dogs at an animal shelter or visiting residents at a nursing home, summer is a great time to introduce children to the joys of giving back. Search for opportunities in your area at Volunteer Match, 1800Volunteer or and read our article on 6 Tips for Getting Your Kids to Volunteer »

  7. Catch a Movie
    During the dog days of summer, sometimes you just need to escape to somewhere -- anywhere -- with great air-conditioning. Luckily, several movie theater chains open their screens to little ones for little prices during summer months. Regal Cinemas' Summer Movie Express is offering $1 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this summer, and Cinemark is showing kids' flicks for as little as 50 cents as part of their Summer Movie Clubhouse. Check theaters in your area for similar deals.

  8. Take a Hike
    The great outdoors is always open and waiting for little explorers. Make hikes at nature reserves and parks in your area even more fun with REI's free Kids' Adventure Journal, where young hikers (ages 6-12) can log notes and draw pictures about their experiences.

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Comments (30)
Photo of Gernai B.
Gernai B.
I will keep those ideas in mind. :)
Posted: May 31, 2013 at 11:57 AM
Photo of Angela G.
Angela G.
Here in Houston summer is so hot,but I take my kids to the park early morning,then to the children museum,some times we went to the mall some have play grounds inside so the kids can play .
Posted: April 21, 2013 at 3:40 PM
Natalie G.
These are some great ideas to get out of the house!
Posted: July 15, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Photo of Margaret B.
Margaret B.
Museums often let a child in for free..

Sometimes the child himself will come up with an idea: Eleven year old boy recently came up with the idea of making a cat house for my cats. All he needed- boxes, strong tape, marker, help with cutting...He created a neat two story cave-like house for my cats! Another suggestion - play board games. We flew a kite, went on free nature hikes, visited kitties at Pet Smart (fell for a calico and visited her daily), we went to museums, a movie, cafes for hot chocolate, a lake hike, the zoo here for rescued wild animals and birds, and twice to the library. The only thing we missed out on was a rescue facility for wild burros! All of this covered a 4 day period and I cannot remember having this much fun!! I miss this child terribly now and am glad I got a few pictures!
Posted: April 08, 2012 at 10:18 AM
Photo of April M.
April M.
wonderful ideas i'll be sure to try. <3
Posted: April 05, 2012 at 5:42 PM
Photo of Loren P.
Loren P.
@Jennifer T... great ideas! So nice to see the creativity is still flowing in addition to the great suggestions for movies and tours... there is a zoo is most backyards and scavenger hunts are like a where's waldo in New York.. arm your kids with little cameras and have them print their pictures and catalog what they find with notes. HAPPY SUMMER!!
Posted: April 04, 2012 at 7:52 PM
Christina S.
@ Patsy B. Have you looked into getting a YMCA pass, maybe a family pass? I know they have a gym for basketball and other sports, as well as swimming, air hockey, etc. There are also other great things to do there for you when you are not babysitting, such as exercise area, free classes for workouts, dance classes, etc.
Posted: March 30, 2012 at 7:17 PM
Photo of Melissa L.
Melissa L.
for fellow child care providers in Amarillo. local parks have summer activites you just need to sign up for and wild cat bluff has activites too. the zoo is only $5 and adult(12+)and $3 for kids.they also have some things to do at times.
Posted: March 30, 2012 at 1:02 AM
Photo of Jennifer T.
Jennifer T.
Gotta be creative!
On hot summer days, blow up a couple beach balls, lay out beach towels, make your own water park...turn on the sprinkler!
Scavenger hunts are fun most anytime...all you need is a list of things familiar to the child/children to find. They can be ordinary household items, like a cotton ball, q-tip, paper cup...or things found in the backyard...a blade of grass, a leaf, a pincone, etc.
Play make believe games like "postman" where you let the children be letter carriers...first, dress them up like a postal worker...with a backback or bag to carry letters in...then, let them draw or write on paper or cards, put them in envelopes, or not, add a sticker (as a stamp) and deliver them to Mom and Dads pillow or dresser, or take their special little greeting to a friendly neighbor or playmate...saying, "special delivery!"
Play dress-up! Cooking or baking can be so much fun if you make a big deal out of it... like making a menu, dressing up like chefs or waiters/waitresses. Making and then, dressing up in paper aprons, hats, etc. can make all the difference in turning work into fun!Go for a picnic...indoors or out. Have a tea party!
Do a cultural themed foods from a foreign country, learn about a foreign country, read books about children from other lands, learn to say hello and good-bye in a foreign language, dress-up in traditional clothing from the country, create art and listen to music in the style specific to that country, if applicable.
Do a holiday-themed week...learn about the holiday's beginning, tradition, date, if and how it is celebrated in other cultures and their customs. Make holiday crafts, dress up in holiday style, make food and decorations for the holiday you're celebrating!
Instead of going to the library at home...set-up a desk, use index cards and make little library cards, set up a reading corner, etc.
Go camping...set-up a tent indoors or out...and pretend...go for a hike with a backpack and boots on. Like I creative. Learn about bugs, trees, leaves, butterflies, etc.
Hope I've got your mind spinning with more great ideas! :)
Posted: March 29, 2012 at 9:04 AM
Dan Q.
A local Chicago area bowling alley chain, Pinstripes, has 2 hours of morning bowling for tots and free for caregivers, M-F, 10:00-12:00. Great fun, super deal!!
Posted: August 05, 2011 at 12:09 AM
Photo of Tiffany C.
Tiffany C.
WOW. Those are great ideas for summer.
Posted: August 03, 2011 at 7:47 PM
Debra S.
Use paintbrushes and let the kids "paint" outside with water in their pails on the sidewalks or patios! They cool off and have fun at same time!
Posted: July 20, 2011 at 7:47 PM
Photo of Briana C.
Briana C.
Posted: July 18, 2011 at 5:57 PM
These are great ideas for the summer that I am sure I will use with my kids. If you are looking for free summer movie tickets I found a good deal here
It says that it is for Breaking Dawn, which I will not be taking my 10 and 7 year old too, but you get a free fandango gift card that you can use for any movies. Thought I would share!
Posted: July 14, 2011 at 4:50 PM
Photo of Danyelle S.
Danyelle S.
WOW those are some great ideas!
Posted: July 13, 2011 at 11:44 AM
Michelle S.
these are great ideas look for coupons in the kids stuff booklet to
Posted: July 09, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Photo of Tawanda R.
Tawanda R.
Can also schedule playdates with other moms in the area for kickball, picnics...etc. Are there any mom's in Mobile, AL?
Posted: July 09, 2011 at 2:56 PM
Photo of Karina H.
Karina H.
I found that children I've cared for enjoyed working together to make water balloons and playing the in backyard listening to fun music outside while I fixed up some yummy fresh fruit! :)
Posted: July 05, 2011 at 1:05 PM
Photo of Julie H.
Julie H.
Ways to make it a cool fun and wet time, Freetown State Forest has a fountain-pool area for the kids to play in. Its Free, fun and a great way to keep cool.
Posted: June 27, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Photo of Charnise M.
Charnise M.
Great, and you can also check out Central park as well.
Posted: June 25, 2011 at 2:12 PM
Lori P.
thanks for the ideas
Posted: June 25, 2011 at 11:13 AM
Photo of Erica A.
Erica A.
@Stephanie, "The dog days of summer" are the hottest days. It's a saying :)
Posted: June 22, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Photo of Patsy B.
Patsy B.
what else is there to do when the kid you nanny for is only into sports?
Posted: June 21, 2011 at 12:15 PM
Photo of Ephiteo E.
Ephiteo E.
Great ideas.. most local libraries also have free and/or discounted tickets to local musuems for library card holders. Some places include New England Aquarium, Boston Children Museum and art museums..
Posted: June 18, 2011 at 8:21 PM
Photo of Stephanie Z.
Stephanie Z.
Great ideas! but I did notice something... the dog summer days or the hot summer days? LOL
Posted: June 10, 2011 at 8:56 AM
Angela E.
Thanks for the info, this is great!!!
Posted: June 10, 2011 at 7:56 AM
Photo of Toby G.
Toby G.
Where we live in north carolina there is nothing at all to do it sucks.
Posted: June 09, 2011 at 1:56 PM
Andrea U.
Wow! Perfect ideas!
Posted: June 07, 2011 at 3:16 PM
Photo of Helen C.
Helen C.
ABSOLUTELY great ideas there are also parks with water activites like the one in Moreno Valley off Moreno Beach Blvd and John F. Kennedy.It also has a covered patio for parties, benches, playground, and a basketball court.
Posted: June 07, 2011 at 10:29 AM
Angela C.
Great ideas for summer!!! Super
Posted: June 07, 2011 at 8:54 AM
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