Today, Katy shares a roundup of ideas for free summer fun for the whole family:
It's been so fun this summer to introduce my kids to the things that I loved to do when I was little. Since I left my job last year to be at home with my kids, we make different choices to stretch the dollars from our single income budget. Here are 10 ideas for free summer fun, all with your family and the summer weather in mind.
1. Summer reading. My four-year-old recently signed up for his very own library card (as I beamed beside him and dorkily took about 47 photos). Our library's summer reading program keeps track of every kid's reading time and makes a donation to a special non-profit for every hour of reading completed. The librarians have also generated summer reading lists for each grade in cooperation with the public schools, so my son checked out a handful of books from the list + a few of his own picks. (If you're looking for book ideas, here are some great picks for girls and boys.)
2. Kitchen projects. My mom used to let me stand on a stool in the kitchen and make experiments. She'd let me mix inexpensive ingredients like flour, vinegar, powdered sugar, and random once-used spices with food coloring. The process allowed me to cultivate a sense of fun and adventure in the kitchen that I still rely on today. Little ones can simply experiment as above; older kids can help make yummy things (win!), like these pudding pops, grilled pizzas, and rainbow parfaits or brownie bites and no-bake Greek yogurt tarts.
3. Water play. No expensive day trips required! If you have a hose, some buckets, and maybe a few pots and pans, you can let your little ones create a water park for all of their waterproof friends in the back yard or driveway. Use gravity and overflow to create pools and slides for Barbie, rubber duckies, and Mr. Potato Head. A small squeeze of baby soap in the wading pool gets all of the grubby toys clean, too. (Check out these 10 backyard water play ideas for additional inspiration!)
4. Shop local. The farmers markets in my area have made an effort to turn each market day into something special, with magicians, live music, special kids days, and giveaways. I can get my shopping done and the kids enjoy the free residual entertainment. Fun tip: play a game of I spy at the market. Jot down a quick list of things to find at the market in advance and get your kids excited about all of the amazing fresh vegetables.
5. Backyard camping. Are you hesitant to try a camping vacation with your family? Sleeping outside in the backyard is a great way to introduce your kids to camping with the safety net of the house a few feet away. Potty visits, nighttime fears, and forgotten loveys are of no concern. Drag out that old tent and sleeping bags from the basement (pitch a tent if you have one), bring a star chart (or a cool star chart app!), a flashlight, and your favorite blanket outside for one night for a special adventure.
6. Visit a museum. During the summer, many museums offer free programs with families in mind (e.g., Free Fun Fridays). If you can't find anything online or get free passes from your library, call your local art, science, and discovery museums and ask if they have special events.
7. Explore local landmarks. Here in Massachusetts, we are lucky to be close to many iconic landmarks and historical sites. What do Plymouth Rock, Walden Pond, and Harvard Yard all have in common? They're all free to visit! Take the time to read up on the places you visit in advance so you can help your kids put these amazing places in context. Walden Pond is a lot more meaningful to my little ones after reading a story about it first.
8. Dramatize. Remember in Little Women when Jo and her sisters staged plays using props found around the house and old dress-up clothes for costumes? Give the kids a space for a stage, an old sheet for a curtain, costume fodder from your donation bag, and let them pick a story to act out. If you feel so inclined, make a video recording for non-local relatives. [Sidenote: The Louisa May Alcott Museum in Concord is free for kids 6 and under!]
9. Host a potluck. Let your kids set the theme or menu and participate in preparing your cooking contribution. Kids love parties, let them do the planning too. They can make cards with the ingredients of the different dishes that arrive, pick out party music, and even dress up! Also encourage help with cleaning and setup in advance.
10. Get out and ride. Take advantage of the bike trails, parks, and scenic roads in your area. My friend just took her kids on a gorgeous loop around Cape Ann, giving them a chance to incorporate a beach trip without paying the steep parking fees (free for cyclists!).
I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Hopefully, you'll get a chance to mix up your schedule and try something new. If you have other ideas for free family fun, feel free to share in the comments below!
Image credits: Christine Koh