Every summer, my wife and I get stumped trying to find low cost summer family fun ideas to keep our kids occupied.
Here are some of the best ideas we’ve found:
From turning your house into a makeshift Wizarding World of Harry Potter to exploring science and nature programs at local libraries and nearby state or national parks, to pool parties at home or at a nearby community pool, there are a LOT of low-cost summer fun activities for you and the kids to get into.
But there’s a lot more to get into about summer fun with your kids and inexpensive ideas the whole family will love.
In this post, we’re getting into several great ideas for adventurous family activities for the summer months. All are low-cost (or even free) options, but we’ll also review some creative DIY ideas and science experiments the kids will love.
Imagine the possibilities with these super fun low-cost summer family fun ideas.
Co-authored with Craig Middleton
What kids should do over the summer?
Summer break should be a combination of many things for our kids.
They work hard all year if they are school-age; homework, reading, math, and depending on your school maybe even things like dress codes.
So summer is an opportunity cut loose a little, sleep in a little, and have some fun.
That does not, however, just mean vegging out on the couch on a screen all summer! So the best summer breaks involve a variety of things, some fun, some educational, and some relaxing.
Getting kids off the screens and outdoors should be a priority too.
What can you do for free in the summer?
While lots of us would love to go check out Disney World and the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it’s not always in the budget, is it?
Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do around town for little to no cash.
In Austin, where I (Jeff) live close to, we have an awesome public library downtown. While you do have to have a membership to check out books, you don’t have to have one just to go in.
Once you’re inside, they have a 3D printer petting zoo, art exhibits, storytime for kids, and an events calendar that is completely full of fun stuff.
Beyond that, consider some of the following ideas:
- Local museums usually offer free days certain days of the week/month
- Do a walking tour of your downtown (pick a theme and maybe go to places that are supposed to be haunted, or historical landmarks)
- Check local websites (in Austin, we have one called Free Fun in Austin that lists all the events. I bet your city has one like it too)
- Find local star parties (star parties are when groups of budding astronomers gather with large telescopes to check out the night sky. We have several of these and they are always free)
- Check your local dance schools for free events (we’ve gone to Bollywood lessons, hip hop dance classes, and see demonstrations of cool dances that were fun to watch, all for free or really cheap)
What can you do at home during summer break?
Summer is all about fun, right?
Kids do a lot of sleepovers, pool parties, afternoons on bikes or at the playground. It’s good to be outside and getting their hands dirty. While it’s OK to relax limits on screen time, we don’t want them sitting on the couch all summer either just vegging out on a tablet or phone.
If your kids do have screens and you don’t currently have any limits, I strongly urge you to set some. My post about the Benefits of Limiting Screentime can help show you why that’s crucial for their development, and help you implement it.
So get those kids outside! Get them playing with their friends.
But one cool thing my (Jeff) wife does every summer with our tween girls is to pick a book (last summer was To Kill a Mockingbird) and read it together over the summer, a chapter or so a day. They rotate reading it out loud and they discuss the chapter after its done for maximum comprehension.
When summer’s done if it’s a book that was turned into a movie, we’ll watch that together. Your kids can also sometimes get bonus points at school for having read over the summer, especially if they do a book report on it.
Plus it’s a great way to keep their minds engaged amidst all the summer family fun.
How do I get the most out of my summer?
Ultimately, it’s not the destinations or expense that make a great summer for you and your family. It’s the renewed connection.
Many of us adults go all year focused on our careers, making money, paying the bills, and keeping the family finances on track (all good things). We do those things for our family, but it’s hard for our spouses and kids to really feel the benefit of those things.
Sure they enjoy the fruits of our labor, but ultimately the real cost is us and our time away from them. So while even though most of us still work in the summer, take advantage of the fact that the kids are home and really spend time with them; connect with them.
While it’s nice to come home after a long work day, relax, grab a cocktail and veg out in front of the TV, spend at least some of the summer playing with, interacting with, and connecting with your spouse and kids.
Family board or card games are a great way to do that. But a walk around the neighborhood as the sun is starting to set is nice also.
Get to really know your kids and allow them to know you better. Trust me; they won’t be this age forever, and once that moment is gone, it’s gone for good.
But now, let’s get into the . . .
13 Low-Cost Summer Family Fun Ideas You Should Try
Low-cost local activities for summer
1. Check your local public library calendar
If you have never gone to your local library, it’s time to make this a regular thing.
You will be surprised by all of the fun activities your children can participate in. You might come across a reading program that gets your children interested in reading to receive prizes.
Libraries often offer special story times.
They may have a calendar full of plays, music festivals, star-gazing, and other events throughout the year.
It’s a fun and cost-effective way to participate in the community too.
2. Nature programs and walks at a nearby state or national parks
Visiting a national or state park is always fun, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to go.
You can pack up your own lunches, snacks, and drinks too.
Exploring national parks offers an excellent way to learn about geology, paleontology, anthropology and a variety of other fields of study. Many have guided nature walks, hikes, dino digs, and other guided programs to keep the kid’s interest going strong.
For other outdoor fun, think of going to the park, hiking, camping, fishing or playing sports.
You can easily pick up sport cones and a ball from the store and head out to the park to play with your kids. You could invite the neighborhood kids and do a barbecue for all of the adults.
Low-cost family staycation ideas
There are ways to have a cost-efficient vacation too. Not sure how to do that? My article I linked to walks you through EXTACTLY what to do to have a great summer family vacation on a tight budget, so take a moment and see if there aren’t some tips you hadn’t thought of.
You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to take a vacation. One of the most cost-efficient vacations is a staycation.
While people sometimes do these purely because money is tight, there are a ton of ways to make a staycation exciting for kids too.
Provide an activity or theme every day.
3. Bring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to your living room
Binge on Harry Potter movies as everyone in the family dresses up as their favorite characters.
Have everyone pull out their mattresses on the living room floor for the night. If you have bed tents, this idea is even better.
Hang up miniature white lights, and have a campout in your living room.
Go all out for breakfast in the morning with pancakes, whipped cream, fresh strawberries, and other delights. But don’t forget the Honeyduke’s Chocolate Frog & Bertie Botts Candy Set!
4. Invite friends over for a pool party
Pool parties are the best.
Even if you don’t have a pool, there are still likely nearby public or private pools or swimming holes where you can invite friends.
Imagine creating a desert oasis around a pool in your backyard, complete with inflatable palm trees, a tiny waterfall, places to lounge and a place to keep refreshments.
You and your kids would want to swim daily. Swimming offers one of the best ways to exercise too.
Make believe is always fun. For younger kids, you can pretend you’re in the ocean with a lot of sea-life around you.
For fun, have pictures of turtles, starfish and other sea-life on the sides and bottom of the pool. You can pretend that your pool floaties are islands. You could also pretend you and your kids are mermaids and merman.
You can even go further and get some special party supplies at a discounted price. Have a look at FDP here to get started. Play “Marco Polo” and other cool pool games.
You can always get a basketball hoop or volleyball net to play in the pool. If you don’t yet have a pool, there’s no better time than now to get that going.
But for those of us who don’t have an extra $40k around for a pool, Intex makes a 12′ round above-ground pool with room for the whole family and then some!
It’s not a cheap inflatable that won’t last a season, and it’s not some complicated metal structure that takes weeks to set up.
It has GREAT reviews, free shipping, super-tough PVC material designed to hold up to rowdy kids, and comes with the filter pump, 6 extra filters and a DVD for fast and easy setup.
The even better news is that it’s currently well under $150! CLICK HERE to check current prices on Amazon.
5. Get a badminton set for your yard
I know that sounds simplistic, but we (Jeff’s family) just got a cheap (under $10 bucks) badminton set and put it up in our yard.
My girls, who love vegging out on the couch, actually LOVE to play this every afternoon after school when the weather is nice.
On weekends, it’s a family affair, complete with our toddler running interference.
Now the set we got at the dollar general or one of those places, is already starting to fall apart (you get what you pay for). But luckily, Amazon has some great sets with outstanding reviews that are still really inexpensive.
The Franklin Family Badminton Set is the one to get.
It has the best combination of great reviews, 4 steel rackets, and an easy to assemble pole system. It’s also the #1 selling new release badminton set on Amazon, and an Amazon’s Choice product.
CLICK HERE to check current prices on Amazon Prime.
6. Family movie night outside!
One of the best investments in fun we (Jeff’s family) made was in getting a movie projector.
While we could have spent a ton on one, we knew we wouldn’t actually use it a ton, so we went with a well-rated, but inexpensive one. The primary difference in projectors, without getting super technical, is how bright they are.
The dimmer the light output, the darker it has to be for the picture to be clear.
We initially got it for Halloween. We used to go all out (even my wife and I) and then one year, we decided, what if we got a projector, showed kid-friendly Halloween movies on our garage door, and passed out candy from a comfy outdoor chair instead of getting all dressed up and trekking through the neighboorhood till we were exhausted.
It was the BEST IDEA EVER!
We passed out candy for the kids and a little alcohol for adults and never left our driveway!
The projector we got was the Apeman Projector. It has 3500 lumens (how bright it is), supports 1080p HD video, has GREAT reviews, free Prime shipping and is currently well under $100 bucks!
CLICK HERE to check current prices on Amazon Prime.
We just hooked up a laptop with Netflix on it using an HDMI cable and then connected the audio out to a portable speaker we got at Sam’s Club. We also just projected it onto a sheet I taped to our garage door.
But if you have a few extra bucks, consider getting a projector screen like this one we eventually bought:
Vivo 100″ Indoor Outdoor Projector Screen.
It’s an Amazon’s Choice product, has great reviews, with free Prime shipping too, and also currently well under $75.00
CLICK HERE to check current prices on Amazon on the screen.
DIY Summer Family Fun Ideas
You don’t have to go to a theme park every day for your kids to think you’re the best parents in the world.
In fact, some of the best ideas are low-cost or free.
Think back to your childhood when you had the most fun. It could have been at a slumber party, having s’mores in the backyard or fishing with grandpa.
You can also figure out some awesome ideas on your own.
Don’t get into the mindset that you are not creative because that will block all your ideas. Start small. Think about what your children are into.
7. What if life really IS all about fairies and unicorns?
If your kids like fairies, they might like the idea of having their room decorated with giant flowers and grass to give the effect that they’re fairy-size.
You could make “fairy foods,” which could include tiny sandwiches, flower-shaped jello, “nectar” from small cups.
Check out all the great but inexpensive options for Fairy Wall Art on Amazon.
All you have to do is think of what your kids like and incorporate ways of making that a reality. For example, if your kids like action heroes, put on capes for the day. Wear them, even if you’re going to the store. It’s fun to pretend.
8. Build a backyard fire pit for s’mores parties
I (Jeff) just recently built a fire pit in our yard.
Now, of course, you might live in an area where that’s not OK with an HOA or maybe the local fire department has a burn ban in effect, so always check that stuff.
I just used a shovel to level the ground and then got some concrete blocks from Home Depot and placed a ring around the circle I had leveled.
Then I went back and did a 2nd layer that overlapped and then the 3rd layer. While I could glue them together or use some type of mortar or grout to connect them, it’s really pretty study as is.
Now, on evenings where it’s not too hot or too cold, our family sits around the fire and tells ghost stories and chows down on s’mores. We just got some nice Adirondack chairs so everyone is comfortable.
While you can buy those cheap plastic ones you see at places like Home Depot, I have found that it doesn’t take much for them to break if a full-grown adult sits down too hard.
Luckily, Amazon has some great wooden ones that will really last and amazingly, most come with free shipping!
The Cape Cod Natural Wood Adirondack Chair by Teal Island Designs has the best combo of price (important since you’re likely buying a few of them), reviews, options, and look. Unlike the plastic ones, it can also adjust to 3 different positions, so recline away!
CLICK HERE to check current prices on Amazon.
9. Build a backyard ninja course!
American Ninja Warrior took everyone, kids and adults alike, by storm a few years ago.
Suddenly everyone wanted to learn how to be a ninja, or at least a really cool gymnast with some sweet parkour moves.
If you have a little space in your backyard, you can easily and affordably turn it into a cool ninja obstacle course.
While you can buy a lot of cool stuff, you can also do it cheap with junk like old tires. You can also build a few simple things and end up with something the kids will play on for years.
Dive in deep, see specific plans and suggestions in one of my newer posts which details everything you need to know about building a Backyard Ninja Obstacle Course.
Summertime Science Experiments for Kids
Kids love things that turn on, explode, fly and many other things that science experiments do.
They’re awesome learning experiences, and your kids will most likely say, “I’m glad you’re not like other parents.”
It’s okay to get messy and have fun in the process. Your kids can always help you after the fact to clean up. Then, you can sit, eat popcorn and watch a movie.
10. Soda geysers
We (Jeff) did this for one of our daughter’s science classes and it was a LOT of fun!
We actually conducted a test to see which type of soda would shoot the highest when we dropped 2 Mentos into the bottle.
We had regular Coke, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Sprite, and Root Beer.
We recorded the event and we used a measuring tape to measure how high the geyers went. Ultimately we were surprised as we’d always heard Mountain Dew had the most caffeine and we though that might impact how high it went.
Instead, the winner was Diet Coke (must be the reaction with the artificial sweetener?)
We used the 2-liter bottles which made it easy to drop the Mentos into and gave us plenty of geyser action!
Dry ice instead of Mentos is a fun alternative as well. And, of course, make sure you do this outside!
11. DIY Lava Lamps
Those wacky hippies in the 1960s may have been on to something when they first invented the lava lamp.
The swirling colors can mesmerize us and it’s fun to stare at for a long period of time.
Amazingly, it’s not hard to make your own, and the kids will love getting creative with them. All you need to make your own lava lamps are:
- Vegetable oil
- Food coloring
- Alka Seltzer tablets
Just mix 1/2 cup of water with the food coloring of your choice. Then get a large glass and fill it up about 3/4 full with vegetable oil. Then add your colored water, making sure to not get too close to the top of the glass (leave at least an inch at the top).
The food coloring will only change the water, not the oil, which is where the lava-like effect begins.
Then break the Alka Seltzer tablets in half (it doesn’t have to be exact) and drop a piece into the glass. The Alka Seltzer causes bubbles to rise and fall, swirling the colored water and oil as it goes.
12. Make your own slime
There are never-ending ideas for slime. Even if your kids are already making this, you can think of some fun variations for summertime.
You can make glow in the dark slime, slime that has other items in it, bubbly slime and more. Look up how to make the kind of slime you want and head to the store for your supplies.
The easiest slime involves using borax and glue. You can add glitter and food coloring for extra-pretty slime, as weird as this sounds.
Here’s a basic slime recipe:
- Mix 8 oz water and 1 tablespoon of borax
- Pour 8 oz of white glue (like Elmers) into a bowl
- Add the 8 oz of plain water to the glue
- Add food coloring to make colored slime
- Slowly begin to add the water/borax mixture to the glue/water mixture
- Mix the slime by hand like you would knead bread dough
- Stop adding the water/borax mixture when you get the consistency the kids like
13. Make GIANT bubbles
Kids of all ages love to blow bubbles. But let’s face it, once they hit a certain age, it’s no longer cool.
But if you are blowing bubbles 3 times the size of their heads, it suddenly gets cool again, real quick!
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
- 6 cups of water
- 1/2 corn starch
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder (make sure to not substitute soda)
- 4 oz Dawn dish liquid
- 1 tablespoon glycerine
Start by mixing the corn starch and water and mix well. Then gently stir in the remaining ingredients.
Then you let the entire mixture rest for about 60 minutes (or more). Just give it a gentle stir a few times during the resting period.
This is also a great activity on an overcast day as too much sun can cause the bubbles to pop early and often.
You’ll want to mix it in a large container or 5 gallon bucket so you can get big bubble wands. Google how to make a bubble wand, or just get a few of the E-Know Giant Bubble Wands on Amazon.
How to organize all your fun low-cost summer family fun ideas
A fun way to organize all of these ideas is to use coupons.
You can create coupons by writing all these ideas on pieces of paper. Categorize your coupons by cost so that you can keep them within budget.
Did we cover all the low-cost summer family fun ideas you were looking for?
In this post, we dove deep into the world of summer fun for the whole family.
We looked at some great low-cost ideas for the adventurous types ranging from fun destinations to cool science experiments the kids will love, creative character ideas and DIY fun too.
Ultimately, we listed out the best low-cost summer family fun ideas.
That way even if money is a little tight this year, you don’t have to worry about the kids getting bored and while your kids won’t be forever young, your memories will be.
What is your favorite summertime activity?
If your summer budget does allow a little wiggle room, I highly recommend you check out my list of super Affordable Family Vacation Destinations. Some of these will blow your minds! But for sure, they WON’T blow your pocketbook!
About the co-author of this post:
Craig Middleton graduated from UC Berkely with a bachelors degree in marketing. He works as a business consultant for InnovateBTS.
As busy as he is with his career, Craig is a single dad and has made his family a priority and has found creative ways to give them the time they deserve.
Whenever possible, he writes about his experiences and shares them to help others.
Want to write for Middle Class Dad too? Check out everything you need to know on my Guest Blog Page.