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Summer’s here, and the holidays are looming – which, if you’re a parent of school-aged kids, means kiddoes everywhere, all the time – argh! Someone pass me the gin.
Before you start with the sand and the shovel, though, I have good news for you: here are 100 free or cheap summer activities for kids which are super fun, won’t break the bank, and don’t (all) rely on the weather either. (Yep British summer, I’m talking about you.)
Easy summer activities
I don’t know about you, but I need Stuff Up My Sleeve for the inevitable refrains of “I’m bored”, or even just to fill in the gaps between the holidays and planned days out. And I need it to be no fuss too – with no/little preparation required.
‘Make a scrapbook’? Sod that, far too much hard work. ‘Plan a neighbourhood street party’? Er, no. These ideas are fun, for sure, but they’re hardly going to lower the stress levels of any parent over the summer holidays.
Nope. This list has been very carefully curated to include everything FUN and frugal which also doesn’t take a huge amount of advance prep. In fact, many of the ideas have been specifically designed to use up stuff you’ll already have in the home.
And whether your kids are tots or teens or anywhere between, this list contains some of the all-time best things to do. Winner.
A small disclaimer, before we start. As many of these activities are open-ended, they may last for hours/days. Great. But some kids (ahem, MINE) feel like they’re ‘done’ within a few minutes.
This is OK, of course, but if you want to lengthen an activity, try setting a challenge or a time limit or a fixed goal – lots of kids (hopefully not just mine) need a little bit of structure to help them get the most out of open-ended play.
Another disclaimer: I’ve added lots of (affiliate) links, in case you want to buy some of the stuff I’ve mentioned. This technically stops the activity from being totally free!
But most of the activities can be done with what you already have, or easy alternatives you can find around the home. The links are simply to help anyone who has a few pounds spare and wants to buy some new things this summer for their kids.
So – what can you do for free in the summer? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. Here goes.
Summer bucket list for families
Click the links for more detail:
1.Freeze and excavate small toys. I love The Imagination Tree’s tutorial on this!
2. Set up a tin can alley and shoot with Nerf guns or water guns.
3. Paint with water – surprisingly addictive! All you need is a container of water, some paintbrushes, and something like a fence or outdoor toy.
4. Make mud pies – set out flowers, herbs and leaves for decoration.
5. Go to a free museum – research your closest museum/s which is also free. Bonus points if you’ve not yet been (or not for a long time).
6. Create ice-cream sundaes with one catch: all the toppings must be things you already own. Raid your food cupboards and experiment with dried fruit, nuts, syrups and sauces, chopped chocolate and sweets!
7. Learn a circus skill – juggling, diablo, etc.
>>> BUY JUGGLING BALLS <<< (although you can also try sock balls!)
8. Try origami. There are gazillions of YouTube tutorials and helpful blog posts. All you need is square paper!
9. Do some potato printing. Older kids can try cutting the potatoes into shapes. Younger kids will appreciate you doing this for them, but will probably have Opinions as to what shapes you cut!
10. Set up a timed jigsaw challenge. Choose 3 or 4 jigsaws you haven’t done in a while, and time yourself doing all of them, one after the other. Compete with a sibling or friend.
11. Make stripy jelly. Choose your colours, and make each layer individually, leaving to set before adding the next colour.
12. Research (and go to) a church holiday club. These are usually free or very cheap, and loads of fun, not to mention amazing child-free time for grown ups! You don’t need to belong to a church to take part, so get Googling your local holiday clubs.
13. Make pizzas. Kids as young as 1 or 2 enjoy throwing their choice of toppings on a base you’ve made or bought.
14. Melt down old crayons into new rainbow crayons. These are particularly effective when you have some fun shaped ice cube trays. We’ve made Lego brick crayons and starfish crayons before, using this method.
15. Write a letter or postcard to a distant friend/relative/godparent.
16. Go to a free local event – check out your local listings for free music in the park, free footie kickabouts, sample/taster sessions and so on. If in doubt, head to your nearest town and watch the buskers!
17. Attend a ‘pay as you feel’ cafe. Super fun, as you never quite know what you’ll be eating! So many of these are springing up all over the place, and are often hugely family-friendly.
18. Design a banner for your favourite team/sportsperson who is competing over the summer or autumn.
19. Make slime. (Sorry friends, had to put it in there. At least I’ve linked you to a decent recipe from the amazing Anna at the Imagination Tree.)
20. Go on a scavenger hunt. Give your kids a list of 10-12 small items to find around the house or garden (or park) and whoever comes back first with a complete set is the winner!
21. Learn a piece on a new instrument. If you have a piano, guitar or other instrument kicking around at home, why not teach your child a few chords or a simple piece? If not, why not ask a friend with an instrument whether you can go and have a play?
22. Attend a farmers’ market. Lots of fun, and you’ll end up with some interesting foods and new varieties of fruit/veg to cook at home.
23. Bake three easy cakes/traybakes/fridge cakes and set up a play bakery for your grown up or some friends. Use nice plates and cake stands to make the bakes look as appealing as possible!
24. Learn a new card trick. Plenty of inspiration on YouTube!
25. Play hopscotch – mark it out with chalk (outdoors) or masking tape (indoors).
26. Try out some YouTube hair tutorials.
27. Do some watercolour painting – most kids paint with ready-mixed paint, so watercolours are a new and interesting medium for them AND can often be picked up in the pound shop.
28. Make smoothies. Use your favourite fruits and experiment!
29. Set up ‘playschool’. Before you cast this aside as an idea only for young children, let me tell you my Mum used to do this for me as a primary-aged child and I used to LOVE IT! Banish your child to their room while you prepare. Then set up around 4 different ‘stations’ or activities, using what you own already. Setting things up ready to play is soooo much more appealing than having to get the stuff out yourself! You could set up drawing, colouring, painting, Duplo, small world play, nerf target practice, bean bag throw, book corner, jigsaws, board games, water play…there’s no limit!
30. Create an upcycled desk tidy. Find some old boxes, containers and/or cardboard tubes and cover them with nice paper, paint or stickers. Use on their own, or stick together for the ultimate back-to-school organiser!
31. Have a charity shop clear-out: sorting through books, DVDs, games and toys is a great summer holiday activity, leaving space for upcoming birthdays and Christmas, and also nurturing a spirit of generosity in your child, as they know other children will be benefiting from what they’re giving away.
32. Learn a new recipe. Older kids can start building up their repertoire of easy dinners, while younger kids can choose a new cake to bake or pizza topping to try.
33. Play hide-and-seek or sardines. Classics which never grow old. Hide-and-seek is where everyone but one hides, and the one goes to seek. Sardines is where one person hides and everyone else goes looking (separately). When someone finds the hidden person, they hide with them, until everyone has found the hiding spot!
34. Make some play dough – Anna’s 4 minute play dough recipe has served us well for years! But if you really can’t, then buy some. And play with it, of course 😉
35. Take a bus ride to a new place and explore. (Just going on a bus is a treat for my kids.)
36. Make ice lollies from your favourite juices/squashes/cordials. (Don’t forget to make your own Prosecco lollies for after the kids are in bed!)
37. Take part in the library’s summer reading challenge. My kids LOVE doing this, especially racking up all the prizes!
38. Create a chalk mural on an external wall – a garage or shed is great for this.
39. Make a DIY mobile library box. Choose a selection of 10-20 of your books which you’ve already read, put them in a box, then take round to a friend’s house and swap for some of theirs.
40. Go to a Pick-Your-Own farm and enjoy some fresh produce.
41. Pool your building blocks, Duplo/Lego, train sets, small world play and make a HUGE city/metropolis. See if you can cover the whole floor!
42. Make some toothbrush flick art. Simply dip an old toothbrush into the paint, then flick across the paper. Use different colours for the best effect. Fluorescent paint on black paper looks awesome. Best done outside.
43. Make a volcano explosion with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and vinegar. The easiest way to make a volcano shape is from play dough or plasticine. Simply make a dent into the top, add your bicarb then pour your vinegar over the top. Best done outside – or at least on a tray!
44. Go on a charity shop crawl to find a new toy or game to play.
45. Design a new salad. Set out a few different ingredients – the following would work well: cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, sweetcorn, cheese cubes, tuna, cooked ham/chicken, olives, sundried tomatoes, peppers, nuts, croutons, cooked pasta/rice/cous cous. Kids can have fun mixing and experimenting.
46. Run a games marathon. Choose 3 or 4 of your favourite games, or those you haven’t played with in a while, and play them one after the other. You could even keep a leader board.
47. Host a sleepover – invite a friend for the night.
48. Make bunting – from fabric scraps (use pinking shears for a super-speedy effort) or paper/card. Use to decorate your bed, a playtent or trampoline.
49. Make some cloud dough and have a good ol’ play! This super-soft sensory material feels AMAZING.
50. Put on a puppet show. You don’t need puppets: soft toys will do. Go behind the sofa, a large cardboard box, or pin up a blanket in a doorway.
51. Create some colourful fruit skewers.
52. Change your room round.
53. Invent some new mocktails, using your favourite fruit juices and lemonade or fizzy water.
54. Sort out your old clothes – pass on those which are too small to a younger friend.
55. Learn cat’s cradle – so addictive! I used to love this as a child.
56. Check out free library events and storytimes. Libraries are awesome. They often have free summer holiday events for kids, so check their websites for details.
57. Make a folded paper spring – so simple, but can be used to make decorations galore.
58. Go on a bike ride.
59. DIY sushi. Don’t bypass this one just because your kid doesn’t like seaweed! A great way to do this is the DIY way. Lay out small squares of seaweed (supermarket seaweed sheets cut into quarters), a bowl of rice, and a variety of different fillings, for them to assemble their own lunch. Those who dislike seaweed can stick to the rice and fillings. Our favourite fillings are: frankfurters, tuna mayo, cooked chicken/ham, smoked salmon, seafood sticks, cucumber sticks, bell pepper strips, sweetcorn and thinly sliced raw carrot sticks.
60. Grow your own herbs. These grow so quickly and easily, so even if you haven’t got a garden, try some pots on the windowsill. So satisfying to pick and eat!
62. Design and make a chocolate lolly. Simply melt some chocolate, place a lolly stick on some greaseproof paper, and use a spoon to spread the chocolate in a circle around/over the lolly stick. Decorate with sweets of your choice, refrigerate – and, once firm, eat!
63. Go on a teddy bears’ picnic – in the park, or just your garden.
64. Write three goals for the new school year – these could be focused on work, hobbies, friendships and/or faith.
65. Have a BBQ. If the weather isn’t your friend, grill some burgers and hot dogs indoors instead.
66. Hold a birthday party for a favourite toy – you could bake a cake, play party games, wear party hats and enjoy party snacks.
67. Turn a cardboard box into something cool. Grab boxes free from your local supermarket, then decorate them with whatever crafty bits you have lying around. My kids can easily spend an hour transforming an old box into a car, sofa or gaming chair!
68. Fill in a simple ‘new school year’ questionnaire. Put together a few questions such as: What’s your name/nickname/age? What’s your favourite subject? And your worst? What are your hobbies? What would you like to be when you’re older? Ask your kids to complete this (or do it for them if younger), and keep it safe. If you do it each year, you’ll be amazed (and amused!) by how the answers change!
69. Utilise cheap days/times to go out. Check out the websites of your local leisure facilities. Is it cheaper to bowl on a Tuesday? Go to the cinema before 11? Make a note, and make the savings.
70. Make a tall tower or impressive structure out of junk
71. Have a photography challenge. Give your child a camera and a theme, such as ‘nature’ or ‘wheels’ or ‘summer’ and invite them to take photos. Older kids can then put the photos into a Powerpoint presentation if motivated.
72. Learn a song you don’t know well.
73. Get creative with pavement chalk.
74. Learn some new sewing stitches, then test them on a piece of scrap fabric.
75. Build the biggest sandcastle – if not at the beach then in the sand tray, or buy a sack of sand if not. It’s a worthwhile investment for a six-week summer break!
76. Fill a box with food for the food bank – raid your cupboards for what is long-life and still in date.
77. Decorate a cloth shopping bag. These are cheap to buy, easy to decorate with pens, and will even be useful at the end of it.
78. Go on an outdoor rainbow trail: try to find a natural material to match each colour of the rainbow.
79. Design a series of ball/beanbag challenges in the garden or in each room of the house. Is it a distance throw? Or an accuracy test? Set up different containers to aim your ball/beanbag into, or mark out a section for throwing distances.
80. Play pooh sticks. Find a local stream or river with a bridge, grab a stick each, count to three, let go on one side of the bridge – then hurry to the other side to see whose stick comes through first!
81. Turn old magazines into a collage.
82. Go on a bug hunt.
83. Make some upcycled greetings cards.
84. Have a YouTube karaoke contest.
85. Teach a grown-up how to play a video game.
86. Hold a bake-off competition.
87. Use up craft leftovers to make a picture for a special person.
88. Play with a toy/game you haven’t played with for ages.
89. Camp overnight in the garden.
90. Create an obstacle course – indoors or out.
91. Decorate a photo frame for your first-day-of-term picture. Scour your drawers for a spare frame, or find one in a charity shop or pound shop.
92. Learn solitaire – an absorbing one-player card game!
93. Find a fact book – at home or in the library – and become an expert at something! Teach your grown-up a few facts about your chosen subject.
94. Visit a new park.
95. Hold a movie afternoon with popcorn, special drinks, hot dogs and PJs.
96. Invent a dance routine for your favourite song.
97. Go foraging for berries, mushrooms, wild garlic, nuts or whatever your local area grows.
98. Run a coloured and/or scented bath (using food colouring and essential oils) and enjoy playing! (The link will take you to The Imagination Tree’s creative ideas!)
99. Build a den – indoors, you’ll need blankets and clothes pegs. Outdoors: get creative!
100. Make a cuppa for a grown-up. And….relax!
There you have it! 100 of the best things to do for families and kids this summer!
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