Boredom busters: 13 budget-friendly things to do with kids this summer

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Even though summer is short, it can seem like it drags on forever if the kids don’t have enough to do. Try these ideas for things to do with kids to help entertain them and keep them happy while school is out without breaking the bank.

Child climbing on wooden playground equipment.
Child on playground. Photo credit: Ksenia Chernaya via Pexels.

Free activities

The more free activities you can find, the more things you can do. A lot of activities have no cost involved and kids often enjoy them just as much as more expensive things. Why spend money when you don’t have to?

The park

If you live in an area that doesn’t get too hot, spend time outside each day and get some vitamin D. Lather up with sunscreen first, of course. Most cities have parks with playgrounds and open fields for kids to get their energy out and play with other kids. Some parks also offer free organized activities. Check your city or county’s website to see if they have any free programs offered.


Research nearby trails and head out for a hike. Make sure to wear proper shoes and take plenty of water. While on your hike, have a nature scavenger hunt. Have your kids look for certain shapes or colors in nature. If your kids are older, look up local plants, animals, and bugs you might see. Let your children look for specific wildlife. 

The library

Let children decide on a topic of interest and head to the library to find books. The librarians can help your children find what they are looking for and may offer additional suggestions that are related. Kids can also check out books to read for fun independently, as a family, or for bedtime stories. Some libraries also have things that can be checked out such as telescopes and microscopes. Many libraries have summer reading programs or activities for kids. See your local library for details.

2 Kids swimming in pool.
Kids swimming. Photo credit: Juan Salamanca via Pexels.

Scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. To keep it simple, have one inside or in your yard. Have kids look for specific objects or collect items of a certain color, shape, or size. It can also be fun to go around the neighborhood and look for specific items (blue house, orange flower, basketball hoop, etc.). While in the car, have kids look for words that start with each letter of the alphabet in order or keep track of license plates.

“All of my kids have loved doing scavenger hunts in the backyard and on walks. This is literally about as budget-friendly as you can get. Sometimes we collect items based on color (brown, green, etc.) Other times we print off a free scavenger hunt page and look for specific things like a blue car or a grey pigeon, checking them off when we see them. We’ve enjoyed this activity in downtown areas and even the middle of nowhere!”

— Sarita Harbour, Thrive at Home

Water painting

Use paint brushes and water to paint the driveway, a wooden fence, patio or deck. This activity can keep little ones busy for quite a while. As the water dries in the sun, the same area can be painted again. 

Michael’s classes

Most Michael’s stores offer free projects for kids and adults once a week. Check the website, call your local store, or ask a staff member for more details. 

Lowe’s and Home Depot workshops

Both Lowe’s and Home Depot offer free projects once a month at most locations. Most stores require advanced registration. Check the website, call your local store, or ask a staff member for more details.

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Low-cost activities

Some activities will cost money, of course, but you don’t have to spend all your cash on one outing or activity. Keep your kids busy with as many free activities as you can, but sometimes you may have to fork over some dough. Your teens may also be looking for something to do too, so check out this list of activities for teens.

Kids bowl free

Kids Bowl Free is an international program that was “designed by bowling centers to give back to the community and provide a safe, secure, and fun way for kids to spend time.” Games are free, but shoe rental is usually required and costs a few dollars each. Age limits and costs vary by location. Check on the Kids Bowl Free website to see if your local bowling center is participating. 

Plant a garden

Buy some seeds and start a small garden. Let your kids choose what they want to grow and learn about how to take care of the plants together. Start with a small container garden or a small section of an existing flower bed. Water as necessary and eat your harvest when it’s time. Make a small salad or vegetable tray with your harvest to celebrate.

Mom and small child picking peppers in garden.
Mom and child in garden. Photo credit: Yan Krukau via Pexels.

Make a treat

Depending on how hot it is where you live, you may want to avoid using the oven. Make a treat such as homemade ice cream or no-bake Corn Flake Cookies so you won’t heat the house. Practice reading and following a recipe and using measuring cups and spoons while working together. Let the kids choose the recipe online or from a cookbook. Have your children choose who to share the treat with such as a grandparent, friend or neighbor.

Go geocaching

If your kids like hunting for treasure, they will enjoy Geocaching. Download the Geocaching app to see where geocaches near you are located. Have your children help decide which geocaches to find and use the app to navigate to them. Bring a pen so you can sign the logbook located inside. Geocaches come in all shapes and sizes so look at the recent activity to find clues. Some geocaches have treasures inside to be traded so bring something to trade, just in case. Others have trackables, which move from geocache to geocache. 

Water table or backyard pool

Set up different water activities in the backyard with containers and materials you already have. Save plastic containers and wash them out so they can be used for water play. Poke small holes in the bottoms of some to make it interesting. Add a small pool or sprinkler attachment to make it even more fun. 

“We love to create a DIY water play area in our backyard to keep our young kids busy during the summer. We use inexpensive materials like plastic tubs, hoses, and sprinklers to create different water activities such as a kiddie pool, a water balloon station, and even a backyard car wash where the kids use sponges and water to clean their toy cars. These activities provide hours of entertainment and help keep the kids cool throughout the day.”

— Sara Nelson, Real Balanced

Summer movies

Many theaters offer low-cost kids’ movies early in the day during the summer. The movies are usually a few years old, so the price of tickets is lower than new-release movie tickets. Call or check online for more information about what your local theater is offering.

Final Thoughts

Keeping kids busy in the summer doesn’t have to cost a lot. Start with the ideas above and go from there. Talk with your friends and neighbors to see what they are doing with their children. It is also important to remember to let kids use their imagination and have some downtime as well. Summer will go fast, so get out and enjoy it. 

Heidi is a Certified Elementary School Teacher in the Inland Northwest and has been teaching for 17 years. She is also a vintage recipe blogger at, where she focuses on recipes that are at least 50 years old, many from her grandparents’ kitchens. When she isn’t teaching or baking, she loves spending time with her husband and three kids.

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