Frugal Summer Fun For Younger Children

posted by Andrea | 05/22/2018

It sort of snuck up on me this year… but summer break is literally only DAYS away for our family!

I suppose it’s good that I haven’t been counting down the days until Dave and Nora are home on summer break! In the past, I feel like I’ve been counting every day, starting at Spring Break.

Maybe this means I’ve finally moved out of “survival mode”! 

Whatever the case, I’m excited to have everyone home again for the summer; but I also realize our schedule and routine will look very different (which is always challenging for me in the beginning).

I’m trying to prepare by having lots of different fun activities for us to do as a family — many of which are completely free (or very frugal).

I used the Planning Summer FUN printable I got from Organize 365 when I took the 100 Day Organizing Class over the winter… it’s the perfect spot to write everyone’s ideas down. I used a different color pen for each child so they could all have their ideas heard and recorded.

We have a few spaces left, which is good as the kids continue to add more and more to our list, and then our goal will try to do at least one thing from our list each day of the summer (several of these are very simple like “play outside” or “eat cake and ice cream”!)

Obviously, we will not stress out about completing one thing each day — but everything on our list is very do-able for a family with 4 young children, so I’m looking forward to plugging away at our “Summer Bucket List” this year!

I know our bucket list won’t be exciting or doable for every family (particularly working parents or families with older children) but for those of you looking for a few fun, frugal, family activities to add to YOUR summer bucket list, I hope today’s post will help!

1. Eat anywhere but at the table.

I don’t know why, but my kids LOVE eating anywhere other than the kitchen table — there is just something so fun about being somewhere different (and no, it doesn’t need to involve an expensive restaurant bill.)

Here are a few ideas we like to use:

  • eat dinner outside — either at your house or anywhere else
  • have snacks on the front porch
  • pack a picnic lunch and eat at a park (or even just someone else’s home)
  • go out for donuts (SO much cheaper than ice cream or a full meal) and then deliver donuts to a couple friends and relatives
  • make a fort or a “nest” (blankets on the ground) and eat in there
  • have breakfast in bed
  • visit a parent or grandparent at work and bring lunch along to eat with them
  • have popsicles or ice cream cones on the back deck
  • walk or bike to the dollar store and let everyone pick out a special treat… then eat it outside
  • enjoy popcorn, peanuts, candy, and a movie on the couch
  • pack a special snack in the car on a longer drive or while running errands
  • make s’mores and eat them outside
  • bring trail mix, dried fruit, and special water bottles (not their everyday water bottles) along on a hike through the woods

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2. Do vacation things… at home.

I’m sure we will get more adventurous as our children get older, but for now, it is WAY too much work for Dave and me to even consider any sort of vacation with our family right now.

We did venture 1 mile down the road to stay in a hotel for a night over spring break, but even then, I slept at home with James and Clara while Dave stayed at the hotel with Nora and Simon.

That said, we still do quite a few fun “vacation-like” activities at home — and we have several more on our summer fun list this year.

  • camp in the backyard (or even in the house) complete with hotdogs and s’mores over a fire (or in the microwave)!
  • create a “water park” in the backyard with slip ‘n slide, sprinklers, kiddie pool, water balloons, buckets of water, water guns, etc.
  • go on a scavenger hunt (inside or outside) and have a special prize or reward at the end
  • check the local movie theaters to see if they offer free kids movies in the summer (most Cinemark theaters do)
  • drive to a local airport and watch planes land and takeoff
  • pretend to be tourists and walk through a touristy area of your town or city
  • take a cab, train, or city bus somewhere, simply as a different mode of transportation
  • have a slumber party in the living room (or let all the kids sleep in one bedroom)
  • stay up extra late watching a movie, reading, playing games, or even just watching the stars

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3. Take day trips.

Not up for overnight stays or week-long vacations with young children? I TOTALLY understand! We’re not either!

Instead, we’ve enjoyed taking day trips (or even just hour-long trips) to many local attractions — most of which are quite frugal, especially compared to a full-blown vacation.

  • various parks, splash pads, water parks, and nature centers
  • local fairs or 4-H events
  • zoos and aquariums
  • play centers (PlayWorld, Rebounders, Chuck E. Cheese, etc.)
  • open gym times for gymnastics centers, dance studios, or fitness centers
  • open swim times at area pools and aquatic centers
  • local outlet malls or special shopping centers
  • local greenhouses (let the kids each buy a flower to plant at home)
  • free play times at local churches, libraries, community centers, malls, etc (you might be surprised how many of these are offered)

If all else fails, contact a friend or relative who lives slightly further than you’d normally travel and see if they’d like to have visitors for a morning or afternoon. Then pack a lunch and “hit the road” for a super-mini road trip!

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4. Plan themed days.

I don’t do this very often because it’s a lot of work, but usually about once a month I’ll plan a theme day where much of what we do, eat, and sometimes even wear is based on a certain theme.

I’ll tell the kids the night before so they can pick out their clothing accordingly, and then we’ll often have special meals and several special crafts, activities, books, shows, etc. all related to that specific theme.

This is getting more challenging for me as the kid’s interests are all SO different. However, during the school year, I could pick a day Nora was at school and cater my themes to just Simon and James (which is much easier to pull off!)

For example: Rainbow day

  • wear multi-colored clothing
  • put hair chalk in their hair or paint nails bright colors
  • do rainbow face paint
  • do a couple different rainbow crafts (these light catchers or even FrootLoop jewelry would be fun)
  • eat brightly colored pancakes and a rainbow of foods for our meals
  • make rainbow colored popsicles
  • we would try to create our own rainbows with water, bubbles, light, etc
  • watch a show and/or read a few books about rainbows
  • play a game with colors (Candy Land)
  • eat Skittles, FrootLoops, Lucky Charms, or rainbow popsicles for a snack

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5. Figure out what your local area already offers.

This might be a no-brainer, but I couldn’t make a list of summer fun ideas without mentioning it. I’m always amazed how many free (or extremely frugal) events are going on within walking distance of my house.

Even if you don’t live super close to everything, there are probably a wealth of family-friendly activities within a short drive… you just need to do a little research to find them!

  • free summer bowling programs for kids
  • library programs like reading competitions, play groups, music and motion, crafts, etc.
  • free movies at the local movie theater
  • free days at the zoo
  • hot air balloon festivals
  • fruit picking (and sampling!) at local orchards
  • window shopping at the mall (with a stop by the play place)
  • thrift store or dollar store shopping where everyone gets to pick a treasure to bring home
  • free project days at Home Depot (typically the first Saturday of every month)
  • events and activities at local farms
  • kid’s days at the mall, at the zoo, and various restaurants
  • free concerts in the park
  • local parades
  • potluck or picnic meals with church, school, or neighborhood groups

If you still can’t find anything in your area, head to Pinterest for a few simple craft ideas or baking projects. Here are some of MY favorite mess-free crafts for younger children.

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I know these activities might not be super exciting for older children, but I can attest to the fact that my 2, 4, and 6 years olds all love every single option on the list above!!

As an added bonus, Dave and I feel we can easily pull off the ideas above without shelling out a bunch of money or spending insane amounts of time planning, preparing, packing, etc.

So, they are basically win-wins for everyone in our family! 

Oh, one more thing I should mention and/or clarify… our kids spend an insane amount of time playing with each other and with neighbor kids outside in our yard.

We most definitely do NOT have extravagant plans for them every day, nor do they expect us to have special outtings each day. They would get totally worn out if we were doing special things every single day. 

We mix in some of the smaller summer fun ideas (popsicles on the back deck or a picnic lunch in our backyard) with some of the bigger ideas (visiting friends for a day or going to the zoo) for a well-rounded, non-exhausting, frugal and fun summer! 

Now, I’d love to know… what are some of YOUR favorite frugal summer fun ideas?

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Filed under: LifeFamilyChildrenFrugal Living

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20 comments

  1. Amy P

    05/29/2018

    My girls and I have done a 100 things of summer list for the last several years. I never heard I am bored etc – I just said go pick things off the list. Similar to what you are doing – Some were easy like getting breakfast in bed, ice cream for breakfast, go have lunch on Grandma’s deck. We also have had harder ones – like visit an island, eat at counter at a diner. Some were goals that I didn’t want to forgot about doing in the summer – the list started because one summer I realized we never flew kites! We have had some summers we didn’t get to it all – but its fun trying!

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    Andrea Reply:

    What a great idea! We might have to do this in future summers!

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  2. Megan

    05/25/2018

    Have you written before about what kind of schedule or routine you follow over the summer? This was my son’s first year of school, so it’s our first “real” summer break. I think I need to put some structure in place (for both our sake!) and I was just curious how other moms handle this without being too rigid.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Not sure if I have a specific post about it — but with Dave home all day for the entire summer (and a vast majority of our friends and relatives being teachers), we pretty much never have a “schedule” during the summer. We just do whatever we want based on the weather, what family or friends are in town, what errands we need to run that week, what house/yard project we’re in the middle of, etc.
    Dave and I actually just talked about if we should try to come up with more of a daily schedule (bike rides or walks in the morning, TV time books, or family games in the afternoon, etc.) but decided it would never work based on how our summers run 🙂

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  3. christine

    05/23/2018

    I may have mentioned this before, i’m not sure…when my kids were younger they loved freezing little toys (cars, plastic dinosaurs, etc), in blocks of ice. We would use margerine containers and fill them with water. Sometimes with toys inside, or sometimes with just water. Once frozen they liked playing with the ice outside on hot days. They would put it in their little pools, or on the grass, or pavement and see how long it would take to melt. They would ‘paint’ with the water on the sidewalk with paint brushes.

    They also loved (and still do) water guns. We invested in a few decent ones and they’ve lasted years. Every playdate involved waterguns for many years.

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh good idea — we will definitley have to try this! The kids will love watching their toys defrost 🙂

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  4. Lisa

    05/22/2018

    Library!!!! Lots of FREE things to do. Our library has children’s center with lots of toys and puzzles. The books are free and you can rent movies for free. Also we are fourtunate that we have free day passes to various places like science museum and botanical garden. Also we have free days to various museums.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, so much free library fun every summer!

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  5. Chris

    05/22/2018

    How fun! I think it is invaluable in rearing children to enjoy the simple things in life!

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  6. Leigh

    05/22/2018

    Our family favourite is “contained children paint themselves” in a fenced yard combine children in old swimsuits, washable paint mixed with dish soap, and brushed. Kids paint anyone who conscents, trees, and the play equipment. Add popsicles, then wash up.

    We also like dinner picnic at the lake beach and going at about 3pm to the zoo or children’s museum, after the crowds are leaving.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — this sounds AWESOME!

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  7. calliope

    05/22/2018

    I always admire the time you dedicate to entertain your children!
    as we live in a small coastal city, going for a swim daily is a must. if it’s insanely hot (80% of the time) we spend the whole evening there until late at night. usually we meet up w other friends with kids.
    also now that my son is old enough, we like to play card games. we set up the veranda table with snacks, music and wine for us and spend countless nights like this.
    when we visit my hometown we like to go to the children’s library almost everyday. now that my son and niece are old we can leave them there by themselves and we go for errands, coffee break etc
    also, it is very common in the mediterranean, where is so hot during the day , for families and friends to meet pretty late, after 9 in the evening. we meet in piazzas or by the sea, eating and drinking things that we brought from home (think wine, beer, bread, olives, cheese, easy things like these). sometimes we sit in a cafeteria while the kids play nearby and sometimes we plan a dinner in an open air restaurant.

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    Jenny Reply:

    Calliope, these ideas sound wonderful! I like hearing about what you do in your area- what is your city?

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    Andrea Reply:

    this sounds so dreamy — like on a movie! What a fun lifestyle (at least from my perspective!) Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Gaynor Williams

    05/22/2018

    All great ideas Andrea! The stand-out thing for me though is that you and Dave are giving your children the most important thing you can give ; your time and attention (and love, of course). As you so rightly say, almost any activity can be made fun for smaller children; it’s the parents’ attitude and engagement that’s the important thing.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Gaynor 🙂
    It’s not always easy or fun, but having Dave home all summer is a HUUUUUUUGE help. We are able to do a lot more things than if it were just me at home while he was working.

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  9. Mary in Maryland

    05/22/2018

    Putting up card tables in the living room and draping sheets over them to make tents. We started this after reading a book about a Civil War hospital, but it morphed into many other scenarios.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha –forts are always a hit at our house to 🙂

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  10. Ann

    05/22/2018

    I fill old soap pump containers with water that has a couple of drops different colors of food coloring in it and let my daughter fill up other small containers with colorful water and mix colors-it sounds simple but gets a lot of play time around our house and I’ve sent clear soap pump container so several family members and friends whose kids loved it too.

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow that sounds like fun!

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