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Camp PBS Parents

Free (or Almost Free) Summer Fun Ideas

a boy playing in a sprinkler

Many parents are looking for low-cost activities to keep kids busy this summer. Playing in the sprinkler, climbing trees and catching lightning bugs don’t cost a thing, but they certainly make for happy childhood memories.

Here’s an age-by-age guide to making the most of the lazy days of summer without dipping into your savings account.

Select an age: Baby | Toddler | Preschooler | School-Age Kids


Everything is new to babies, so they don’t need expensive vacations or structured camps to make important discoveries about the world.

Paper Shred

Babies are thrilled to start developing control over their surroundings and their limbs. Tearing paper appeals to little ones, because it allows them to use their new-found skills to change the way an object looks. It also makes a really cool sound. So gather newspapers, junk mail, magazines or recycled paper and let ‘em rip!

Dine al Fresco

Just because you’ve had to cut back on restaurant bills doesn’t mean you can’t eat out. Drag the high chair into the yard or pack the booster for a trip to the park and bon appétit, now you may eat. You’ll both enjoy the change of scenery, and the squirrels will enjoy the fallen cheerios your darling leaves on the ground.

Beach Baby

Even if you can’t make it to the park, you can set up a beach party in your own backyard or on your kitchen floor. Lay a piece of newspaper or a tablecloth on the floor and fill a dishpan or other shallow container with sand or corn meal. Give your baby a cup, spoon, shovel or sifter and let him dig. He’ll develop his fine motor skills and imagination as a bonus.


Once toddlers have mastered walking and running, there’s no slowing them down. Join in the action this summer by planning activities that will keep them on the move and make them tired enough to settle down for an afternoon nap!

Water Play

No need to join the pool or rent a beach house to let your children indulge in one of summer’s greatest pleasures: playing in the water. Set up a sprinkler or a small wading pool in the backyard and let them splash. Provide cups or buckets to let them enjoy the satisfaction of pouring water into and out of a container (when neither one of you needs to worry about spills). Throw in toys or household objects, from metal spoons to plastic balls, to experiment with objects that sink and float.

Dance Party

Music appreciation classes for toddlers have become extremely popular. While they are fun and educational, they can also be expensive. Save big by cranking up the Ipod or CD player at home and wiggling away the afternoon with your child. Give her some simple instruments (like a shaker made from beans in an empty plastic jar) so she can get the beat. Toddlers like repetition, so don’t be afraid to play the same songs day after day.

Bubble Wrap Stomp

Don’t throw away the packing materials from your last mail order shipment! Spread out leftover bubble wrap on a hard surface like a wooden floor or driveway and let the dancing begin. Several kids stomping together can sound like firecrackers exploding, so it makes a great Fourth of July celebration.


Treasure your preschooler’s enthusiasm. The day will come when she’s too cool to get excited about trips to the playground or grocery store adventures, so make the most of low-key summer fun while you can!

Pudding Paint

Most kids like to play with their food, and this is the season to let them. Tape paper to the sidewalk or a picnic table. Prepare instant pudding and add food coloring in your kids’ favorite shades. Take off their shirts or put on old smocks and let them finger paint with a delicious treat. They can lick their hands clean before you hose them off!

Take Off!

When it comes to vacations, many preschoolers get as excited about the transportation as they do about the destination. If your budget doesn’t allow for a plane trip this summer, you can still take kids to your local airport and watch the jets take off.

Take a Hike

Kids don’t need expensive equipment or the Appalachian Trail to experience the joys of hiking. Just slip on sturdy sneakers and pack water bottles to hit the trail. Whether you live in the city or the suburbs, there are probably interesting walks in your own hometown. Make the adventure even more engaging by putting together a page of pictures for a kid-friendly scavenger hunt with common items — from clovers and honeysuckle to trash receptacles and benches, depending on your destination.

School-Age Kids

Older children are ready to start planning their own summer adventures, but may need a few ideas to get them started.

Flashlight Tag

There’s something magic about being allowed to play outside at dusk on a lazy summer evening. Make it even more memorable with a game of flashlight tag. Played at dark, this classic game combines tag with hide-and-seek. The person who is “it” counts to ten (or higher) while others hide. The person who is “it” must find the other players and call their name while shining a light on them to tag them.

Backyard Camping

There’s no need to send youngsters to sleep away camps to get a taste of the great outdoors. Set up a tent (borrowed from a neighbor if necessary) in your own backyard, roll out the sleeping bags and melt marshmallows in the microwave for S’mores. The best part? If storm clouds or frightened children threaten the success of your campout, you can run inside to your own beds.

Two girls in a tent.

Scavenger Hunt

Set up your own amazing race by sending your child or a group of children hunting for simple treasures in your house, yard or neighborhood. Because it takes a little effort to come up with the clues, enlist an older sibling or neighbor to help out.

Small Business

There has never been a better time to teach your children the value of a dollar, so let kids put the “small” back in small business. The old-fashioned lemonade stand or family yard sale remain good choices. But let your children’s interests and abilities guide them toward a fund-raiser that makes sense: a dog wash, a car wash, bake sale or lawn mowing service.

  • Jose Lozano

    I actually enjoyed this article, and I have another activity that even when it’s not free, it is very low cost and can help not only to entertain but also to educate your children.

    Some of the best RC helicopters today can be found for less than $20 dollars. These devices can help your kid to develop their curiosity and imagination, also, you can use it to explain simple things such as gravity and other classic mechanics concepts.

    The other thing that worries a bit to people is if these things are safe or not for kids, and the good news is that, yes they are safe, but the best way to do it is if an adult flies the helicopter to entertain kids.

    You can actually find more information about these toy-grade devices on my site at, I would love to know your comments about it.

    Thanks for sharing this amazing list.

  • Prielle

    Thanks so much Alexis!!! It works!

  • kidsgardener

    One activity I highly recommend for all ages is to plant and grow a TickleMe Plant. TickleMe Plants are the only house or garden plants that will close their leaves and lower their branches when tickled. Find them on line or at Amazon. Its a great rainy day activity and you and the kids will never forget when the TickleMe Plant moves like an animal.

  • kidsgardener

    you can also see a video of a live TickleMe Plant at

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