Summer is a busy time for us because we just love to play every single day. Since we live in Southern California, summer stretches from the earliest possible moment we can claim a reprieve from school in May until late September. We need lots of fun play ideas — and most of them need to be cheap! Here are 20 of our favorite cheap summer fun activities.
Sidewalk Chalk Maze ($1-4): My 6 and 8 year-olds spent several hours with the neighbor children drawing a rollerblade/scooter maze on our basketball court and played out there for several days afterward. A very large box of generic sidewalk chalk is only $4, and you can also buy a small $1 set. You can even get sidewalk chalk in safari colors now…
Bag of Potatoes ($2): You can plant potatoes anywhere once they have 2 or 3 “eyes” growing. If you live in the city, you can plant them inside, or plant potatoes in a garbage bag for your back porch. Your children can watch them grown and enjoy harvesting them in the fall.
Sidewalk Chalk City ($1-4): These same children just spent a few hours drawing a ‘”city” by drawing roads and stoplights on all of the sidewalks for their roller blades, scooters and bikes. You can also draw few city blocks with roads and buildings perfect for matchbox cars. You can also make your own sidewalk chalk.
Sand Toys ($2-$10): If you don’t have access to sand you can buy a bag for $6 and a cheap tub for $2. Buy one or two $1 sand toys and you have instant fun. You don’t have to buy any sand toys if you have some kitchen scoops you can spare. The last time I was at the dollar section of Target I bought ice cream scoops for sand toys and those work great!
Water Balloons ($1-2): Packages of these can be found at the dollar store or dollar section. We bought two bags — one for us and one for the neighbor kids. I put my eleven-year-old in charge of filling them up.
Balloons ($1-2): Make a game of keeping the balloon off the grass. Grass pops balloons, so the last person with their balloon wins.
Lightning Bug or Ladybug Catchers ($1-3): One empty mayonnaise/peanut butter jar with holes punched in the lid will work, or you can pick up a bug jar/clear plastic jar at the dollar store or amazon.
Bubbles ($1-3): Make your own super large bubble wand with chenille stems and a pie plate; or just keep it simple. Straight bubbles are great for an hour of fun once a week.
Army Men in the Sand ($1-3): Purchase the army men at a dollar store and find some sand. If you already have the sand tub described earlier, here is another use.
Nature Journals ($1): Buy your kids plain notebooks and ask them to draw a bug or animal they see outside each day. If you live in the city, take your kids to the park and look for bugs under a rock or watch for squirrels and pets.
Water Sprinkler ($5): You can buy a cheap one at a store, but why not let your kids have even more fun when they make their own sprinkler?
Read a Book Together ($0-10): Find a great book at the library or bookstore and hand out together reading. Make this something you do each evening, or maybe at lunch time while everyone scarfs down their sandwiches.
Create an Obstacle Course ($0-5): Found objects can make a great obstacle course. A few days ago, my husband had our eleven-year-old build an obstacle course for the three-year-old twins. He placed boards stretched between stools to balance on, cones to run around, and balls that had to make the “basket” and created a course around our yard. All the other kids decided to join in the fun. They had a blast!
Throw a Frisbee ($0-5): It seems like we always have a free frisbee lying around, but if you don’t we found a great $5 flying disc at Target that offered great variety. It is a thin fabric stretched over a plastic tubing and that thing flies! It also gets caught in the wind so you never know which direction it will go.
Build A Box Fortress ($0): If you don’t have extra boxes in the garage from moving like we do, you can always ask the neighbors or an appliance store if you can have one. My sister gets a refrigerator box from the local appliance store every summer for her preschoolers. Let your big kids cut out windows, or take care of that yourself if you have little ones. Give them markers to decorate and the fun will last all day!
Have A Family Sleepover ($0-5): Set up sleeping bags in the living room and have movies, popcorn, banana splits, and games until everyone falls asleep. My kids like to do this once or twice a month. I usually stay up with them for a while, and then let them finish off the evening on their own. The kids almost always come up with a plan for the whole night on their own. They have so much fun, and I love that my children enjoy having siblings as friends.
Kids Bowling ($2-5 per child): Two different organizations and hundreds of bowling alleys across the United States offer free summer bowling for children – two games per day, seven days a week. If you don’t have bowling shoes, you have to rent them. We actually buy bowling shoes for about $25 per child and bowl all summer. We usually buy a size too large so that we have room to grow.
Summer Movie Days ($1): Several theaters across the United States are offering free or $1 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings each week. These are children’s movies from previous years. We always find at least a few that we would like to see.
Board Game Day ($0-5): Pull every board game you own out of the closet and play them one by one. You will remember how much fun board games are and bond with your children at the same time.
Ants in a Jar ($0-2): Use these ant farm directions for catching and observing ants as they build, organize, and use their home in a mayonnaise, peanut butter or mason jar. Great for 2-3 days of fun.