Beat Boredom on a Budget with 17 Cheap Ideas for Summer Fun with Kids

You don't have to have a large budget to have a fun summer

By Jennifer Hill, publisher of Macaroni KID Fremont, Calif. June 24, 2024

Before summer arrives I like to sit down with my kids and talk about some ideas of what we would like to do during summer break. We make a list and highlight things that seem really important. Then we pull out a calendar where I've already added any scheduled travel, appointments, and camps to see what we can make happen. 

You don't have to have a large budget to have a fun summer. There are many free or low-cost ideas and activities out there. Plus, the Macaroni KID event calendar is FULL of local family fun as well.

Here are some free or inexpensive ideas to get you started, or to fill in some gaps. Whatever you choose to do, make some memories and have some fun with the kids!

1. Visit Local Parks

We have so many great parks to explore. Different playgrounds, walking trails, and more. Create a list and visit a different one each week all summer long.

2. DIY Crafts

Use recycled materials or items collected from nature (tip: take a bag on a hike and find some great items to use). Create some crafts such as nature collages, bird feeders, and rock painting. Here is an idea for using objects found in nature to paint.

3. Take a Hike... or Two

From local trails to county and state parks, there are lots of fun options to get everyone moving. 

4. Backyard Camping

This is an easier option (or go all out and plan a camping trip) that will make the kids' summer! Pitch a tent in the backyard and enjoy checking out the stars, telling stories around a fire pit, and don't forget to roast some marshmallows.

5. Scavenger Hunt

This can be simple or elaborate. Plan one for indoors if the weather is unbearably hot or raining. Plan for one at the park or while hiking and exploring. There's no limit to themes and ideas for scavenger hunts.

6. Visit a Splash Pad or Pool

Find local splash pads and pools to visit. Playing in the water is a great way to spend a day together.

7. Go Geocaching

Combine this one with your planned hiking trip or bike ride and enjoy a treasure hunt with the kids. Find out how to get started here.

8. Outdoor Movie Night

Check the Macaroni KID event calendar for local community movie events or organize your own outdoor movie night in your yard for your family and friends – invite the neighbors too!

RDNE Stock Project from Pexels | Canva

9. Outdoor Games

Teach the kids those childhood favorites such as Red Light, Green Light and Mother May I or gather the neighborhood kids for a fun game of tag, hide-and-seek, jump rope, or kickball.

10. Visit the Library

Did you know the local libraries host free events all year long? From storytime events and crafts to movies and themed activities. Be in the know – you guessed it – by checking the Macaroni KID event calendar!

11. Bike Rides

Get the kids out there on their bikes. Find a bike trail or a park with a nice path or other area with room to ride and enjoy bicycling. Stop at the ice cream shop for a fun, sweet treat.

12. Community Events

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy local festivals, fairs, farmers markets, and outdoor concerts. You can check the Macaroni KID event calendar for events as well.

13. Science and STEAM Fun

There are lots of simple science experiments and activities you can do with the kids (or set them up to do on their own if they are old enough – tip: a table in the backyard is perfect for potential messes). Some of our favorites include 5 Fun Experiments Kids Can Do with Candy, A DIY Lava Lamp that Will Amaze and Teach Kids, and Make Giant Bubbles in your Backyard!

14. Gardening

Involve the kids in planting a small garden – or even a few pots – with veggies or flowers. Our kids love finding blueberries to eat on our bushes!

15. Splash in a Creek or Stream

Spend the day cooling off in nature while they splash and play. It's fun to see how creative kids can be playing in nature.

16. Have a Picnic

Kids love anything out of the norm. Eating a picnic lunch at the park or anywhere other than at the kitchen table is sure to be a hit. Pack a lunch, pick a place, and GO!

17. Community Service

Volunteer together as a family for community clean-up events, food drives, or other local opportunities to give back to the community.

These activities provide opportunities for kids to have fun, learn, and bond with family and friends while enjoying summer break – and without spending a lot of money. Enjoy your summer adventures!

Jennifer Hill is the publisher of Macaroni KID Fremont, Calif.