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65+ Cheap and Free Summer Staycation Ideas for Kids

65+ Cheap and Free Summer Staycation Ideas for Kids


The ultimate summer staycation with kids is easy on the wallet and still full of fun! Perhaps it’s just not in the budget for a big family vacation or there’s not enough time in the schedule for a long road trip this year. These summer staycation ideas offer lots of tips for creativity and planning memorable adventures for kids at home!

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This article originally posted on May 25th, 2016 and has been updated and republished with a new date.

Summer Staycation Ideas for Kids

Sleeping in. No homework. Warm weather and a wide open calendar. Summer vacation at home with the kids can be a lot of fun – so long as you have a line-up of boredom busters. Don’t have any travel plans this year? Summer staycation it is!

If you’re looking for free and inexpensive summer things to do with the kids, check out these awesome ways to keep them occupied, entertained and help you avoid the dreaded, “I’m BORED, Mom!”

Summer vacation can be so much fun. But I’m personally worried that I’m going to have four bored kids on my hands after the first week! I’ve gathered tons of ideas for cheap and free things to do at home and around your own city. These are fun staycation ideas to use with everyone from toddlers to teenagers.

Many of these tips are things I’ve done with my own kids that they still remember as their favorite summertime memories! There are ideas here for the whole family, as a way to spend quality time together through the summer months.

Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas

There are fun things to do during vacation time without spending a lot of money! These creative staycation ideas include outdoor activities in your own backyard and tips for exploring your local area.

Gas prices being what they are, you may not want to venture far. With a little imagination, there are plenty of things to do from the comforts of home. Here’s how to start planning.

Make a Family Staycation Calendar

Get everyone involved in staycation planning. Request kids give their input on which activities they’d like to do during the break. While younger kids are happy with playing at the local park, older children may want to plan a movie marathon.

Having a staycation plan will ensure you have the time and energy to complete the events. Write up the best staycation ideas on the calendar.

Create Themed Weeks

Having a theme for the week can help narrow down activities. Enjoy a single theme over the course of the week, leading up to a Friday finale that’s extra special. It really gives the family something to look forward to!

Try Not to Overschedule Summer Fun

Even fun things can be too much some times, especially for little kids. Consider spreading out these summer staycation ideas for kids so you aren’t burnt out with planning daily events. Work in plenty of free time where kids can just play without schedules.

5 Budget-friendly Patriotic Summer Crafts for Kids

Staycations are the Perfect Opportunity for Family Bonding

Strengthening the family bond is ideal in everything you do. Now is the perfect time to make memories. If some family members are working during the week, incorporate these fun summer staycation ideas over the weekend when the entire family can participate.

Make a Summer Bucket List

Ask your kids what they want to do. And then make it happen. These can be every inexpensive to-do items. For my preschooler, that means bubble blowing in the yard. My 9 year old wants to get frozen yogurt and look through the family photo album. My teenagers want to do an art project.

Create a summer checklist of things that the kids have been requesting. Print off the list and post it in a prominent place so that the activities can be checked off as you go.

Create a Family Vision Board

A vision board is a creative way to kick off summer! Cut and paste images found online or from magazines on large card stock. Choose things that represent your family values or that you wish to accomplish in the year. 

This is my personal vision board

Family Bonding Summer Staycation Ideas

Take a Day Trip – Day trips to your favorite locations near home are a staycation classic. Choose low-cost or free places you haven’t been to recently.

Exercise Together – Get the family fit together with family-friendly exercise sessions. Take a walk, bike ride or jog outdoors. The GoNoodle app has excellent indoor recess workouts that the kids love.

Play Together as a Family – Play is a very important learning tool for kids. Ditch the electronics. These are some of the best games and toys that don’t need batteries.

Community Craft Project – Paint community rocks together then walk through your area to hide them! Read this post for more ideas on how to start a painted rock project exchange in your neighborhood.

Want to start a painted rocks project in your community? See how painted rocks have fostered creativity and made my kids more active!

Staycation Summer Arts & Crafts Show

Crafting is one of the best summer staycation ideas! Kids love to get crafty and it doesn’t have to be pricey. You probably already have some craft supplies laying around that you could dig out. If not, ask your friends and share what you have.

Set up an area outside where the kids can get messy and creative. Then set them free to create whatever they want. There are lots of ways to inspire creativity in kids, keep reading!

Kid-Friendly Staycation Craft Ideas

Painted Recycled Glass – Save your glass jars from jelly or spaghetti sauce. Use acrylic or Glass Paint to decorate. Fill with a tealight candle to create outdoor luminaries.

Stained Glass Window Designs – Use torn pieces of tissue paper and a glue stick on velum paper to make “stained glass” images.

Puppet Show Craft – Make paper bag puppets and have kids create a puppet show with their creations.

Toilet Paper Roll Fireworks – This patriotic-themed craft is easy enough for toddlers. Just follow the details on the photo.

5 Budget-friendly Patriotic Summer Crafts for Kids

Decoupage Keepsakes – Cut out pictures from magazines. Place the images onto wooden frames or boxes with Mod Podge glue.

Painting Project – Paint a scene from your backyard using inexpensive Washable Watercolors. Or have kids recreate a famous painting in their own style.

Make a Souvenir Box – Decorate a plain box and transform it into a keepsake box. See this post with instructions on how to make a Memento Box.

Back-To-School DIY Disney-Style Storage Box is Perfect for Storing School Supplies or Disney mementos!

No-Mess Art Projects for Kids

If you’re attempting to avoid the mess of a big crafting project, these mess free ideas are ideal! Look for craft projects that don’t require glue or paint.

Disappearing Sidewalk Art – Use clean paint brushes and a bucket of water outside. Quickly “paint” a picture on the sidewalk and see if everyone else can guess what it is before it evaporates!

Foam Stickers – A piece of paper and some squishy foam stickers are fun for little kids practicing fine motor skills. Have a trash can available to toss out the paper sticker backings

Image credit: Amazon

Quiet Time Drawing – Set up a still life on the table and have everyone draw the same scene then compare your pictures. You just need plain white paper and sketch pencils. These erasable colored pencils are ideal for kids.

Mess-Free Art – Make sculptures out of craft Pipe Cleaners or with WikkiStix, both inexpensive craft items that can be reused again and again.

Save on Crafts with Coupons – Local craft stores frequently mail out 50% coupons, so sign up for your hobby store newsletters. Search for coupons online or shop at the dollar store for cheap crafting supplies.

Art Fair Showcase – At the end of the summer, display everyone’s artwork in the house and hang a handcrafted blue ribbon on each kid’s best work!

READ MORE – 42 unique ways to display kid’s artwork.

Portrait Drawing – Have a ten minute session where you draw the portrait of the person next to you. This is sure to induce giggles! Check out this portrait that my son drew of me.

Oh sure, honey, it looks JUST like me!

Under the Big Top Staycation Theme

If you can’t afford an amusement park vacation this year, these circus themed activities are a great staycation idea to get kids off the couch!

After my family went to the circus (the animal-free variety) a few years ago, my kids were fascinated with the tricks and skills they saw. These are some of the fun things we did at home:

  • A strip of blue masking tape on the ground makes an acceptable “tight rope”.
  • Dress up like a clown in old over-sized clothing and costumes.
  • See who can keep multiple Hula Hoops going at the same time (one around your neck and one around your arm?!)
  • Practice balancing a balloon on your nose! Or just play a game to keep the balloon from touching the ground.
  • Create an obstacle course in the backyard.
  • Enjoy a snack of animal crackers, peanuts and popcorn.
  • Paint each child’s face like a circus animal using Face Paint Crayons.
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Enjoying the sunshine with a fishing pole

Summer Staycation in the Great Outdoors

Weekly Play Date – Mingle outside with friends by setting up a weekly play date at the park. Invite each person to bring a snack to share and have kid-friendly items like Play-doh available during breaks. Kids can play and grown-ups can chat – that’s always a win!

Play-Doh is a great quiet play item for preschoolers.

Morning Walk – Take an early morning “sunrise walk”. This is especially great if you live where it’s very hot once the sun rises.

Nighttime Walk – Take an evening walk to explore the sights and sounds after nightfall. See how the neighborhood looks with flashlights.

Scavenger Hunt – Create an outdoor scavenger hunt to look for unusual things like heart-shaped rocks or purple leaves.

Take Care of Seedlings – Plant seeds into cardboard egg crates with soil. Water gently and watch them grow.

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Summer Camping Ideas with Kids

Book a Campsite – Local campsites generally have inexpensive overnight fees. You could try to catch your dinner in the lake!

Backyard Camping – If you don’t want to stray too far from home, camp in your backyard instead. Pitch a tent, barbecue dinner, roast marshmallows and fall asleep under the stars.

Indoor Camping – Simply roll out the sleeping bags in the living room and “camp” in the house under the comfort of your ceiling fan!

Water Activities to Get Wet During a Summer Staycation

Summer’s all about staying cool when the weather is hot! Getting wet and swimming is a big part of our warm weather fun. These summer staycation ideas incorporate that. Always make sure children are supervised at all times near water, even small buckets or a kiddie pool.

Sponge Toss – I’m not crazy about water balloons because of the mess they leave behind. However sponges soaked in water are perfect for a good super-soaking! Fill a bucket with water for refilling the sponge.

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Splash Table – An activity water table is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. It’s a nominal investment that can be used in multiple years.

Car Wash – Wash the cars together, where there is always an opportunity for a soapy sponge fight!

Water the Plants – Little ones love to play with the watering can. Fill it up and let them water the flowers (and themselves!).

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Water the Lawn – Set the sprinklers or spray the water hoses to let kids run through the water. Kids get wet & the lawn gets watered…win!

Take a Bath – No place outside to get wet? Get on swimsuits and splash in the bathtub with a new bath toy.

Swimming Pool Fun

Our local YMCA has a great zero-entry pool, water slide and play area for just a few dollars per person. Check at your local pools and find out when open-swim time is available. High schools often open their pools in the summer for a nominal fee.

If you don’t have your own pool, perhaps a family member or friend will let you “borrow” theirs for the day, especially if you volunteer to bring snacks!)

Build a Fort City Indoors for Hot Weather Fun

When it’s too hot to play outside, take refuge in the house under a homemade fort! Fort-making is my one of my kids’ favorite summer staycation ideas.

  • Sofa pillows and blankets are fair game for fort making indoors.
  • Pull out the dining room chairs, drape sheets and use binder clips to hold them up.
  • If you have a few cardboard boxes, take the time to paint and decorate them, cutting out windows and a door flap.
  • A quiet evening of reading is in order under your forts because horseplay would make your city fall down!
  • Get fancy with a string of battery operated fairy lights to make your fort city extra magical!

A Night at the Movies…in Your Living Room

Who hasn’t already done a family movie night with your kids a million times already? Movie nights are still a perfect staycation idea when you make it extra special. These ideas add some bonus value to just watching a family film together.

Movie Theme Night

Put a new twist on an old favorite movie. Host a themed movie evening complete with handcrafted posters, and costumes.

Prepare a themed dinner around the film. Watching Mulan? Make Chinese stir fry and rice. For a Snow White movie night, make Bavarian foods like German stew and apple strudel.

READ MORE: Getting ready for a Disneyland vacation? Work your way down this free printable list of must-see movies before a Disneyland trip!

Disney movie DVDs

Hard Time Choosing What to Watch?

Trouble choosing the movie? Please kids of all ages by having each family member make suggestions for movies that are appropriate for all. Write suggestions on papers and then pull out of a hat all summer long.

Serve the Best Snacks

Pull out the floor pillows, pop up some kernels and settle down together after the sun has set. Take the movie theme the extra mile by creating a charcuterie board of snacks that are themed for the film.

My kids got into the spirit during a viewing of A Nightmare Before Christmas

Summer Staycation Backyard Carnival 

Gather up stuff from around the house for game play in the yard. Kids love to get in the silly spirit and a carnival theme offers fun activities on a budget. This is a wonderful staycation idea to do with friends, neighbors, and extended family!

  • Empty 2-liter soda bottles and a ball for a knock ’em down game.
  • Fill 2-liter bottles with water and use them for ring toss.
  • Toss a ball into a bowl or a coffee can.
  • Have a watermelon seed-spitting contest.
  • Pull out the face paint for added fun!
  • Make mini-pies for a pie eating contest.
  • Serve hot dogs and potato chips outside, followed up with root beer floats.
  • Craft blue ribbons for the winners of the contests.

Make Sweet Treats and Favorite Eats Together

Cooking together is a fun way to get creative and maybe a little messy. If you have a budding baker on your hands (or kids who just love food!), cooking is great way to spend your staycation.

If you’re like me and cook at home everyday, this might be more of a chore than a fun activity. But a staycation offers more leisure, which allows you to invite children to help without the rush of every day life.

Every kid loves to wield the mixing spoon, add ingredients and use safety knives to cut fruits and veggies. Pull the step stool up to the counter and let kids learn and help with these ideas.

Cook with Kids During Staycation

Make a delectable over-the-top recipe from Pinterest. Did you “nail it” or was it a Pinterest “fail”?

Is the hot weather ripening your bananas faster than you can eat them? Try this delicious Disney Banana Bread recipe.

Bake cupcakes and have fun creatively decorating them. Spoon frosting into plastic baggies and snip off the corner for quick and easy pastry bags.

Allow Older Kids Kitchen Freedom

Older children that are reliable in the kitchen can make a recipe from start to finish without much assistance. Have kids find a recipe from one of their favorite restaurants, then prepare the meal for the family. Try The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs for more ideas.

No Oven Required for These Eats

Make a summer-time themed “gingerbread house” that requires no baking. Use graham crackers, store bought frosting and candies.

Consider making your own no-churn ice cream using one of these easy 2-ingredient recipes.

Keep it easy with homemade sundaes! A bucket of vanilla ice cream, a few toppings and candy from the dollar store to have amazing sundaes.

Travel the World from the Comfort of Home

Even if you can’t leave the house, there are ways you and the kids can still travel the world (virtually). These ideas are great fun, year-round for exploring different cultures.

Travel Bucket List – Create a travel “bucket list”. Have each person add their dream destinations to the someday-I’ll-go-there list.

Research Locations – Use the travel idea list you come up with to find out more about each location. Read books about cultures far and wide. Or watch a family-friendly movie or documentary about that place. 

Explore the Beauty of Travel – Learn more about National parks, including natural wonders of the world.

Eat Like the Locals

Try new recipes and prepare a dish that comes from that country. Kid-friendly bites include chicken adobe from the Philippines, coconut rice from Africa, or Pico de Gallo from Mexico.

Snack around the globe in a super fun way that’s also educational! Universal Yums is a monthly subscription box of snacks from different countries around the world. It’s reasonably priced and offers entertainment for all ages.

I ordered Universal Yums for my kids and it quickly became one of our favorite things to do together. Our first box was filled with sweet and savory goodies from the United Kingdom. The box also comes with a booklet to learn more about that country with fun games and trivia.

Staycation Board Game Bonanza

One of our favorite family events is gathering around a few board games for a fun evening of competition and laughs. Here are a few additional ideas for a family game night:

  • Stock up on new games – Borrow some games that you don’t have from friends or family so you have a nice variety for all ages and host a game day at home.
  • Create your own games – Write out your own Pictionary Game or Charades game ideas. Find “Minute to Win It” games that use items from around the house, using these ideas from my friend Britni at Play Party Plan.
  • Summer Theater – Give the kids a task of recreating a favorite film in their own interpretation. Come up with a script and costumes and present it to parents!
  • Serve easy snacks – Simple sandwiches make a great meal and have plenty to snack on between turns. Serve up favorite snacks that don’t result in sticky fingers, like homemade Chex Mix.

Learn a Fun New Skill During Your Summer Vacation

Summer is a great time to teach kids a new skill and it’s one of my favorite summer staycation ideas. What might be a chore in actuality can be both fun and education. Approach learning new tasks in creative ways, especially with younger children.

  • Learn to sew – Sewing is a must-know lifelong skill. Even if you’re not following a sewing pattern, just knowing how to sew on a button, repair a rip or iron on a patch is helpful.
  • Summer garden – Start vegetable seedlings and watch them grow all summer long. If your child enjoys gardening, consider transplanting outside or create a larger garden area.
  • Musical talents – If you have a musician in the house, borrow an instrument from friends or family. Use YouTube Kids videos to help learn technique and gain new skills to play music
  • Basic kitchen skills – Cooking lessons can start with a basic recipe like these Fluffy Pancakes. Teach older kids how to use the stove top and proper flipping techniques.
Little boy holding a stack of pancakes on a plate

Host An Elegant Evening

Close out your summer staycation with a glamorous evening at home with the family. These are simple, budget-friendly ways to relax and enjoy each other’s company. An elegant evening something out of the ordinary but can be extra special and memorable!

Spa Day – Have a pre-party pampering, including painted nails, foot soak, and mud-mask facials.

Dress Up – Time to pull out the sequins, get glamorous and have a fancy night at home. Every kid has a dress up box or can at least borrow something dressy from mom and dad for the evening. Use the tips on this DIY Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique to create an at-home princess look.

Set the Mood – Light a few candles at the table and elevate even the most boring weekday dinner. Play classical music for an added elegant touch.

Evening Treat – Serve up a Shirley Temple (7-up or Sprite with cherry juice) in a fancy glass and the kids will feel so special!

Looking for MORE summer staycation ideas for kids?

Check out this roundup list of 65+ things to do with kids at home.

Read this for little ones, the 25 Things to Do with a Toddler at Home

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