15 Free Summer Activity Ideas For Kids

For many families this is the first full week of summer break and it’s both awesome and stressful to have less structure! The good news is that there are lots of things your kids can do and you don’t need to break the bank to do them. Grab a notebook, review the sources of inspiration in this list, and sit down with your kids (we recommend setting structure each day with morning meeting) to generate an idea list they can refer to whenever they are about to issue the rally cry of “I’m bored!”

1. Summer reading

Seriously, reading is the best! Middle and high schoolers will probably have assigned summer reading but heading to the library for the whole family is a great way to give kids of all ages choice. If you don’t kids don’t have library cards already, take them to the library to sign up for one! Libraries typically offer summer reading programs with fun incentives. The Boston Mamas book category is loaded with book recommendations for all ages!

2. Kitchen Science

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.

3. Host a potluck

Getting kids comfortable in the kitchen will set them up for major life skills! Create a fun opportunity to get together with friends via a potluck! Have 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.

4. 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!

5. Shop local (where kids entertainment is built in!)

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.

6. 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, look up a star chart, and bring a flashlight and your favorite blanket outside for one night for a special adventure.

7. Visit a museum

During the summer, many museums offer free programs with families in mind (check out our free summer event roundup for a ton of ideas). 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.

8. 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.

9. Get dramatic

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.

10. Support the arts

The arts are what will save us and the Boston Mamas free summer event guide offers a ton of free performing arts options! Introduce your kids to different musical styles or take them to a show. It’s amazing that there are so many free options!

11. Be active together

Getting active with your kids has so many benefits: you and your kids will be taking care of your bodies while enjoying some quality time and fun together. Take advantage of the bike trails, parks, and scenic roads in your area. My friend recently 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!). Also, the Boston Mamas free summer event guide includes a fitness section with recurring fitness series all summer long!

12. Watch a movie

Need to just kick back and relax? Movies are a great option and while you can of course use services at home for movies, there are also a number of free outdoor movie series running this summer. Bring a picnic and enjoy!

13. Get crafty

Whether it's simply coloring or engaging in a more complex project, there are endless resources online for craft inspiration and you can also get a lot of ideas from your local arts and craft store. Local libraries often offer free craft programs and there are a bunch of free maker events in and out of the city too.

14. Get gardening

Kids love tactile activities and gardening offers an opportunity to learn about nature too. Learn some budget gardening basics or work with your kids to create a butterfly-friendly garden. Let them dig dirt, plant seeds, water, and watch things grow through the summer.

15. Encourage Work + Community Service

A great way to keep older kids busy during summer vacation is to help them find a volunteer job (or a paid summer job). There are likely many places in your community that need help and many volunteer jobs are flexible with hours. Look up organizations in your town and talk to your kid about what interests them most. For example, if your kid loves reading, see if your local library could use a volunteer.

Free summer activity ideas for kids

Free summer activity ideas for kids