31 Summer Activities for Kids When You’re on a Budget

Summer break is exciting for kids, but it can get expensive for parents. The high price of vacations, summer camps, and additional daycare can take a major toll on your finances. Fortunately, you can plan many fun, educational, and budget-friendly activities for your kids to enjoy this summer. 

In this article, we share 31 fun summer activities for kids, grouped into categories to help you pick the best ones for your child. 

Classic summer fun 

Many summer activities you enjoyed as a kid are still fun for kids today. Continue these traditional summer classics with your family! 

1. Foster a love of summer reading 

Sign your kids up for a summer reading program that rewards them for the books they read. If your kids aren’t reading age or aren’t strong readers, find a story time at a library or bookstore. Don’t forget regular visits to the public library to let your kiddos pick out books that interest them. 

2. Camping in the backyard 

This one never gets old. Backyard camping is a great way to create memories to last a lifetime. And, unlike public campgrounds, you don’t have to worry about noisy neighbors at the next campsite or share the bathroom facilities with other campers! 

3. Enjoy water fun 

Visit a local community pool, lake, or beach. Depending on the setting, your kids can swim, build sandcastles, race on water floats, collect rocks, shells, or driftwood, or participate in volleyball or frisbee games. 

4. Have a picnic in the park 

I still enjoy packing a basket lunch and bringing it to enjoy in a nearby park! If you want to make park picnics a regular family outing, invest in an inexpensive, waterproof blanket in case the ground is damp so everyone’s comfortable while seated. 

5. Sign up for day camp 

See if your area offers community park summer day camp programs. Look for enrollment discounts or low-cost summer camp options. Day camps let kids socialize, participate in organized group activities, and go on field trips over the summer. 

6. Spend the day at a zoo or aquarium 

Most kids love animals, so if there’s a zoo or aquarium in your area, visit them on discount or free days. The zoo in my city offers 50%-off tickets for visitors enrolled in various public assistance programs. Check to see if your zoo or aquarium has a similar discount. 

>RELATED: How to Teach Kids About Money 

Outdoor fun 

If you live in a part of the country known for long, harsh winters, you and your kids probably want to make the most of every warm, sunny day of summer. These activities for kids offer outdoor summer fun in urban and rural settings. 

7. Play outdoor games 

Set up a backyard obstacle course, volleyball net, cornhole board, T-ball stand, golf-putting mat, or badminton net. Introduce your kids to kickball, dodgeball, or croquet. You can even make an inexpensive horseshoe pit or a bocce ball court using marking chalk for the boundary lines. 

8. Head into the great outdoors 

Chances are you’re near a state park or wilderness area that’s free or low-cost to visit. Take the kids hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, or fishing. 

9. Get sporty 

Get your kids interested in bike rides, rollerblading, skating, or skateboarding. If they prefer group activities, look online for local events like pick-up basketball, frisbee golf games, yoga for kids, youth running groups, or park sports teams your child can participate in. 

10. Get soaked 

Even a small yard can become a water park with silly sprinkler heads, slip-and-slides, Super Soakers, chalk bombs, water balloons, and an inexpensive inflatable pool. 

11. Set up outdoor structures 

Outdoor play structures entice kids to spend time outside. Set up an inexpensive canopy or sun shelter for shaded play – or help them build an outdoor fort out of cardboard boxes. These temporary structures are ideal if your yard is small or you’re a renter. 

12. Add bubbles to outdoor activities 

An easy way to make activities even more fun for young kids (and pets!) is with a bubble machine for extra festivity. 

Creative fun 

Not all kids like sports. Or maybe your area has dangerously hot summers. If either applies to your family, here are some great indoor summer activities for kids. 

13. Inspire art 

Nurture your child’s artistic spirit by signing them up for craft classes. You can usually find kid-friendly classes in: 

  • Beading 
  • Ceramics 
  • Macrame 
  • Painting 

If you can’t afford classes, YouTube is a great source of craft tutorials for kids. Hit the dollar store for budget-friendly crafting supplies and set up a small studio on your kitchen table. Hit play on the video tutorial and let the creative juices flow! 

14. Get cooking 

Salads, ice cream, popsicles, no-bake cookies, sun tea, fruit sauces, parfaits, smoothies, and gazpachos are all easy summer foods your aspiring Guy Fieri or Rachel Ray can make or help you with. 

15. Make and hang bird feeders 

Get your child interested in the birds visiting your yard by teaching them to make bird feeders using natural materials like sticks or pinecones coated with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed. You can also make hummingbird food and fill drinking feeders (just be sure to skip the red food dye!). 

16. Dig in the dirt 

Sure, summer gardens are in full swing, but now’s the perfect time to plant a fall garden with your mini farmer. You can also gather natural materials to make fairy gardens in repurposed containers using items you’ve sourced from your backyard. 

17. Make messy art 

If your child enjoys getting messy while being creative, turn them loose outside with some homemade chalk paint, sidewalk chalk, air clay, tie-dye, or rock painting projects. Just be sure to supervise your artist so there are no installations on your home’s siding! 

Nighttime fun 

Summer nights are warm and magical. Create lasting memories for your kids with special activities during the twilight hours. Remember to wear mosquito repellent if your area is prone to them! 

18. Attend an outdoor movie 

Movies in the park are popular in cities nationwide – and they’re usually free. If you’re near one of the 300 drive-in theaters still operating in the country, it’s also a fun experience for kids and a low-cost alternative to regular movie theaters. 

19. Get cozy with a bonfire or firepit 

Kids are fascinated with outdoor fires, especially if s’mores or campfire popcorn is involved! Serve creative campfire snack recipes, set up comfortable seating for safe flame viewing, and let the storytelling begin. 

20. Backyard scavenger hunt by flashlight 

A scavenger hunt at night with flashlights sounds like fun at any age! Let your kids hunt in their pajamas if it's warm at night. 

21. Enjoy a change of scenery 

Bring game night outside. Set up your favorite board or card games outdoors and play by the light of twinkle lights, lanterns, or candles. 

22. Head out for stargazing 

Drive away from the city lights to view the stars. Before leaving, dress the kids in pajamas and bring sweaters or light jackets if it’s cool after sunset. Pack pillows and blankets so little ones can snooze on the drive home. 

>RELATED: Can You Get an Instant Cash Advance Online? 

Fun for the entire family 

More households are foregoing pricey family vacations in favor of budget-friendly staycations. This summer, you can pretend you’re on vacation by treating your home like an Airbnb or doing things tourists enjoy in your area. 

23. Support locally sourced food 

Visit a U-pick fruit farm in your area. Make sure everyone is dressed appropriately for picking and the weather. If you’re a city dweller, visit an urban farmers market and teach your child about the difference between locally grown food and what’s available in grocery stores. 

24. Free cultural settings 

How many museums are in your area, and how many have you visited? Look for free museums or art galleries your kids will enjoy visiting this summer and start crossing them off your list! 

25. Capture memories 

Popular as team building and birthday events, photo scavenger hunts are also a great family activity. Look online for photo scavenger hunt ideas. You might even find ones tailored for your city. 

26. Family Zen time 

Set up yoga mats and a Bluetooth speaker playing relaxing music for an outdoor yoga session. Or have the kids sit cross-legged for a calming, intentional breathing exercise. 

27. Animal love 

Get up close and personal by visiting a petting zoo in your area. Check online for recommendations about clothing and footwear to keep your kids and the animals safe. 

28. Alfresco dining 

For a resort-at-home feel, have family meals outside, including breakfast. Reinforce the vacation vibe with fun food presentations like rainbow fruit and veggie trays, creative garnishes, or inexpensive paper cocktail umbrellas. 

29. Support local teams 

Attend low-cost or free sporting events in your community to show support for minor league or school teams. 

30. Family walks or bike rides 

Many urban areas have trail systems for walking and bike riding. See if your family can cover all the trails before the summer ends. 

31. Free or cheap movies 

Look online to find wallet-friendly movie tickets at theaters in your city. This may even be an opportunity to visit theaters operating in beautiful historic buildings. 

Plan affordable summer fun for kids 

Budgeting doesn’t mean a boring summer for your family. By taking advantage of these affordable and fun summer activities for kids, your child will have fun while you keep finances in check.

Looking for other budget tips for parents? Check out our article on planning and hosting a kid’s birthday party on a budget.

About the Author

Bree Ewers has contributed to Advance America since 2023. Writing from her home office in Portland, Oregon, she shares a relatable perspective on the financial triumphs and challenges many readers face.

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