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!” Many of these tips are things I’ve done with my own kids that they still remember as their favorite summertime memories! Sometimes it’s just not in the budget for a big family vacation. But the ultimate summer staycation with kids is easy on the wallet and still full of fun. It just takes a little creativity and planning! Check out the 65+ budget-friendly summer staycation ideas for kids at home.
Summer Staycation Ideas for Kids
Sleeping in. No homework. Warm weather and a wide open calendar. Summer at home with the kids can be a lot of fun – so long as you have a line-up of boredom busters. We don’t have any travel plans this year, so summer staycation it is!
I’m excited about being able to relax. But also worried that I’m going to have four bored kids on my hands after the first week! My plan is to get the kids involved with some special at-home events on the calendar. I’ve gathered over 65 ideas of cheap and free things to do at home. These are ideas to use with everyone from toddlers to teenagers.
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. Enjoy a single theme over the course of the week, leading up to a Friday finale that’s extra special. It really gives everyone something to look forward to!
Strengthening the family bond is ideal in everything you do. Incorporate these 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. My teenagers want to do an art project. Create a summer checklist of things that the kids have been requesting.
- Create a family vision board 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.
- Get fit together with family-friendly exercise sessions. Take a walk or jog outdoors or turn on the GoNoodle app for silly workouts that the kids will love.
- 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.
- 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.
Arts & Crafts Show
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. 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Make sculptures out of craft Pipe Cleaners.
- Use torn pieces of tissue paper and a glue stick on velum paper to make “stained glass” images.
- Recreate a famous painting in your own style.
- Decorate a plain box and transform it into a keepsake box (see this post with instructions on how to make a Memento Box)
More Kid’s Art Projects
Crafting is one of the best summer staycation ideas! Here are more tips and ideas for kids of all ages.
- Paint a scene from your backyard using inexpensive Washable Watercolors
- Set up a still life on the table and have everyone draw the same scene then compare your pictures.
- Read these ideas for how to make two patriotic-themed crafts.
- Make paper bag puppets and have kids create a puppet show with their creations.
- Cut out pictures from magazines. Place the images onto wooden frames or boxes with Mod Podge
- 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!
- 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.
Under the Big Top
After we went to the circus (the animal-free variety) a few years ago, my kids were fascinated with the tricks and skills they saw. Lots of great ideas here to get you off the couch!
- Dress up like a clown in old over-sized clothing and costumes.
- A strip of blue masking tape on the ground makes an acceptable “tight rope”.
- 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.
- Paint each child’s face like a circus animal using Face Paint Crayons
- Enjoy a snack of animal crackers, peanuts and popcorn.
Staycation in Great Outdoors
- If you’re ready to mingle outside with friends, set 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!
- Plant seeds into cardboard egg crates with soil. Water gently and watch them grow.
- Take an early morning “sunrise walk”. This is especially great if you live where it’s very hot once the sun rises.
- Create an outdoor scavenger hunt to look for unusual things like heart-shaped rocks or purple leaves.
- Local campsites generally have inexpensive overnight fees. You could try to catch your dinner in the lake!
- Take an evening walk to explore the sights and sounds after nightfall. See how the neighborhood looks with flashlights
- 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.
- Simply roll out the sleeping bags in the living room and “camp” in the house under the comfort of your ceiling fan!
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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.
- An activity water table is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.
- Wash the car. There is always an opportunity for a soapy sponge fight!
- Set the sprinklers or spray the hose and run through the water. Kids get wet & the lawn gets watered…win!
- Little ones love to play with the watering can. Fill it up and let them water the flowers (and themselves!).
- No place outside to get wet? Get on swimsuits and splash in the bathtub with a new bath toy.
Build a Fort City
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 want to get fancy, a string of battery operated fairy lights would be magical!
- 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!
A Night at the Movies…in Your Living Room
Who hasn’t already done movie night with your kids a million times already? These ideas add a little something extra to just watching a family film together.
- 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.
- Trouble choosing the movie? Write suggestions on papers and then pull out of a hat all summer long.
- Pull out the floor pillows, pop up some kernels and settle down together after the sun has set. Or make a quick and colorful charcuterie board of snacks that are themed for the film
- 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!
- Prepping for a Disneyland vacation? Work your way down this free printable list of must-see movies before a Disneyland trip!
Gather up stuff from around the house for game play in the yard. Kids love to get in the silly spirit!
- Craft blue ribbons for the winners of the contests.
- Empty 2-liter soda bottles and a ball for a knock ’em down game. Or 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!
- Have a mini-pie eating contest.
- Serve hot dogs and potato chips outside, followed up with root beer floats.
Make Sweet Treats and Favorite Eats
If you have a budding baker on your hands (or simply kids who love food!), cooking together is a fun way to get creative and maybe a little messy. 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.
- A bucket of vanilla ice cream, a few toppings and candy from the dollar store and you can all have amazing sundaes!
- Consider making your own no-churn ice cream using one of these easy 2-ingredient recipes.
- 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.
- Make a summer-time themed “gingerbread house” that requires no baking. Use graham crackers, store bought frosting and candies.
Travel the World
Even if you can’t leave the house, there are ways you and the kids can still travel the world (virtually). These culture expanding ideas are great fun, year-round.
- Create a travel “bucket list” where each child can add their dream destinations to the someday-I’ll-go-there list.
- 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 about that place.
- Prepare a dish that comes from that country like chicken adobe from the Philippines or Pico de Gallo from Mexico.
- Learn more about National parks including natural wonders of the world.
- Universal Yums is a monthly subscription box of snacks from various countries around the world. I ordered it last year for my kids and it’s quickly become 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.
Board Game Bonanza
One of our favorite family events is gathering around a few board games for a fun evening of competition and laughs.
- 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.
- Write out your own Pictionary Game or Charades game ideas.
- Simple sandwiches make a great meal and have plenty to snack on between turns. Serve up favorite snacks in between like homemade Chex Mix.
- Find “Minute to Win It” games that use items from around the house.
Learn a Fun New Skill
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 fun if you approach it in creative ways, especially with younger children.
- 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.
- Start vegetable seedlings and watch them grow all summer long. If your child enjoys gardening, consider transplanting outside or create a larger garden area.
- 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
- 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.
Host An Elegant Evening
- Time to pull out the sequins, get glamorous and have a fancy night at home. This is a budget way to do something out of the ordinary but still stay at home with the kids!
- Have a pre-party pampering, including painted nails or mud-mask facials.
- Light a few candles at the table and elevate even the most boring weekday dinner. Play classical music for an added elegant touch.
- Serve up a Shirley Temple (7-up or Sprite with cherry juice) in a fancy glass and the kids will feel so special!
- 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.