36 Cheap & Easy Summer Activities For Kids
These have a retro summer-vibe — back from when we had to entertain ourselves without screens for hours.
Ah, summer... it’s finally here. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and — oh my god — the children are out of school. While the last few years have undoubtedly taught parents everywhere how to keep little ones entertained at home, planning your child’s summer can still feel like a daunting task. If you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve got you covered with these out-of-the-box and cheap summer activities for kids, guaranteed to keep them happy and occupied for... well, at least an afternoon.
One of my all-time favorite bits of child-rearing wisdom comes from Walt Streightiff, who wrote, “There are not seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” It is a reminder that, while jam-packed summer vacations and an extensive social calendar are wonderful, a child can be thoroughly entertained with a simple activity and a whole lot of imagination. Some days call for thrilling adventures and labor-intensive activities; others call for an Amazon box fort and a movie. And both types of days are just fine.
Without further ado, here is some summer activity inspiration for kids of all ages, budgets of all sizes, and parents of all creativity levels.
Outdoor summer activities
Nature scavenger hunt
A simple one to put together, this activity takes the soothing sights found in nature and turns them into a cutthroat competition. Compile a list of things your children need to find, like flowers, a perfectly smooth rock, something that makes you laugh — it can be anything! (The trickier you make it, the longer your kids will be occupied, just saying.) Depending on the things on your list, as well as the age of your kids, competitors can either gather or photograph them. As they show you their findings, challenge them to use their descriptive vocabulary. The first person or team to complete their nature scavenger hunt wins!
Have the children look for the prettiest or most interesting-looking things they can find outside. Prep them with a popsicle stick frame and contact paper so they can easily stick flower petals, leaves, grass, moss, sticks, and feathers into their frame. Call it good with what they find outside, or further the art project inside by adding more decorative details like glitter, pipe cleaner, beads, buttons, or gems.
Giant DIY bubbles
Bubbles are a summer staple, and these giant DIY bubbles are seriously next-level. You’ll need to whip up a mixture of homemade bubble solution, and older children can help by making their own large DIY bubble wands. You can find a million and one different recipes for the bubble solution online, but this very basic one courtesy of PBS.org consists of:
- 1 gallon of hot water
- 1/4 cup glycerin
- 1 cup dishwashing liquid
Mix your ingredients together and let the solution sit overnight. Make it at bedtime, and it’ll be ready to go when the kids wake up! To make an easy bubble wand, simply run a strand of twine or yarn through two plastic straws. Tie a knot, so you’ve created a large loop with two straw “handles” on either side. Dip your loop into the bubble solution, and you’re good to go!
When you think of an obstacle course, you may envision the set of American Ninja Warrior, but don’t worry — you can create an intense, energy-burning outdoor obstacle course with whatever you have on hand! The kids have to jump 10 times in a chalk circle drawn on the driveway, do a lap on the tricycle, shoot a basketball, do four somersaults in the grass, chug a cup of water — you get the idea. Make it even more interactive by asking each child to come up with one “obstacle” for everyone to complete, and see who can finish in the fastest time.
Turn your daily walk around the neighborhood into a challenge with the rainbow game! As your kids stroll, task them with finding things in every color of the rainbow: a red car, an orange sign, a yellow dandelion, and so on. You can turn it into a friendly competition, or simply enjoy discovering the many colors of your neighborhood.
Lunch time is instantly twice as fun when you eat al fresco, and it’s at least three times as fun when you let your child plan the menu. If you have multiple children, assign each one a different course to plan and, if they’re old enough, help make. You’ll have a blast picking out and making new recipes together, and your kids will love sharing their culinary creations.
Water play summer activities
Make a frozen ocean
What’s great about this activity is it lasts for hours, plus it’s sort of a two-in-one. The setting up and creating of the ocean scene is an activity in itself, and then once it’s been frozen, the kids can play with it outside until it’s melted. You’ll need a large container, water, blue food coloring, and any kind of ocean-related toys or figures (you can also do this with an entirely different theme). Pour a shallow layer of dyed water into the bucket, then place your bottom-dwelling ocean critters. Pop the bucket in the freezer for a few hours — the time it takes to freeze completely will depend on the size of your container. Then, add your second layer of water and critters and repeat until you reach the “ocean” surface. Playing with the finished product as it melts is just as much fun as building it up!
Sponge ball water fight
Water balloon fights might seem like a great idea — until you’re frantically pulling the rubber balloon remnants out of your dog or toddler’s mouth. A sponge ball fight is just as much fun, plus you can reuse the sponge balls all summer. To make them, simply cut cheap kitchen sponges into strips lengthwise. Once you’ve got your strips, tie them tightly around the middle with a piece of string. Once the knot is secured, pull the ends of sponge strips to separate them and create a ball. Throw several of your homemade sponge balls into a bucket of water, and let the kids go for it.
Color mixing sensory table
This activity requires a water table or large tub that you can fill with water. Honestly, if you have a young child, I highly recommend getting a water table anyway. If you’d prefer the lower effort version of this activity, you can pick up a pack of those colorful bath tablets. If you want to stick to homemade, create colorful ice cubes by adding different food colors to an ice cube mold. Let your child experiment with colors and color mixing by putting the bath drops or colored ice cubes into the water table.
Shaving cream twister
There isn’t technically any water involved this activity, but your children will end up covered in colored shaving cream and definitely need a hosing off, so it’s going in this category. This hilarious Twister game was featured on the blog This Grandma Is Fun (How amazing is that name, BTW?) and will be a smash hit with any kids who like to get dirty. In short, you’ll be adding a big scoop of colored shaving cream to each dot on a classic Twister board, making the game slipperier, messier, and definitely funnier. Head to This Grandma is Fun to get all the details on bringing this game to life.
This is one of the laziest activities you can do, and that’s exactly why it’s also a daily activity in my household. Give your child a cup of water and a few different sized paint brushes. Then, find an area of smooth, light-colored concrete and let them “paint” it with their water and brushes. There’s zero mess (except maybe some wet clothing) and it’s every bit as satisfying as real painting... at least it is for my 2-year-old. On a hot day, it’s a thrilling challenge to try to paint a full scene before the water strokes evaporate — or “paint go bye bye,” as my daughter says.
Water table fishing
This is another easy peasy way to spice up your trusty water table. To create a DIY fishing game, all you’ll need are a magnet, a string, some paper clips, and a pack of cheap sponges or foam. Create some simple fish cutouts from the foam or sponge, and attach a paper clip to each one. Then, create a “rod” by tying a magnet to one end of your string, and tying your string to a stick. Toss the foam fish into your water table, and let your kid “fish” by picking them up with his magnet fishing rod. To make it educational, you can add numbers, letters, and shapes to your fish and have your child fish for specific things.
Rainy day summer activities
Cardboard house building
Anyone else have a slight online shopping problem? With this cardboard house craft idea, you can repurpose the packaging and feel a bit less guilty about the vice. While you may choose to use hot glue to hold together the walls of these houses, some slightly less aesthetic masking tape can do the trick. Help your kids build the bones of the houses, and then let them go wild decorating them with stickers, paint, photos from magazine, or any other craft supplies lying around.
What is it with kids and wanting to serve you food (real or not)? Let them practice their chef skills using colorful PlayDoh and a DIY menu. You can spend time together looking at pictures of real *fancy* meals on Pinterest and have them pick their favorite few that they want to feature at their restaurant. Then, it’s time to color and create the menu or menus if there will be multiple patrons ordering today (siblings, your partner, etc). Sit down at the table and have your little one take your order from the menu so they can go back to the PlayDoh station and create their masterpiece to serve you. Just be sure to remind them you can’t *actually* eat the stuff.
If you’re looking to use up time and entertain kids on a rainy day, indoor camping is the perfect activity. Also, if you’re like me and hate the idea of sleeping in the wilderness ever, indoor camping is the perfect activity. To pull it off, task your children with building an awesome fort with blankets, cushions, and whatever else they can find. Make sure it’s big enough to fit everyone’s sleeping bags! Spend the day “camping” in your indoor fort, eating picnic meals on the floor, and telling ghost stories by the light of a lantern. (Bonus: If you trust the big kids, let them sleep in there all night. For whatever reason, this will be the highlight of their day.)
DIY spa day
For a child who loves to be pampered with their parent, an at-home spa day is the sweetest activity when you’re cooped up on a rainy day. Or any day, for that matter! Spa treatments on deck can include manicures, pedicures, homemade face masks and hair masks, and massages. If you’re a really cool parent, you can even give funky hair highlights with a bold-colored, semipermanent dye.
Fitness and dance videos
Nothing makes my daughter feel more like a big kid than doing a fitness video with dad in the living room. Plus, this is an excellent way for kids to burn off some energy when the weather doesn’t permit any swimming or trips to the park. With their kids’ input, find a fun looking workout video (there are a ton of free ones on YouTube) and clear out the living room for a workout sesh. Pro tip: Hip hop dance tutorials are especially hilarious.
Water (or juice) pong
You may have spent a night or two (or 6,294) in college playing beer pong, but have you ever considered what an easy and entertaining game idea this is for children? Seriously, with a stack of Solo cups and a ping pong ball, you’ve got hours of fun. You can fill the cups with water, or spoil your kids with something like juice or even chocolate milk. Your kids will have a chance to practice their hand-eye coordination, and you’ll get to dust off your skills from your glory days.
Educational summer activities
Fireworks in a jar
Sometimes getting kiddos stoked about science is a bit of a tall order, but when you combine it with something artsy and colorful, it can really grab their attention. Learn all about density in a super fun way by creating “fireworks” in a jar with water, oil, and food coloring. Pour water into the jar first, then add a little cooking oil. Next, drop in little specks of color and watch them sink and “explode” into the water.
This brilliant idea comes from speech pathologist Rachel Hicks, M.A., CCC-SLP, and it’s a perfect way to help children work on narrative language skills and creativity with preschool and school-age children. Best of all, you only need some chalk and pavement. “For preschool age, think about retelling an event — like the time you went to the park or zoo — and draw together and talk through what you did together using time words ‘first… then… next… last,’” Hicks tells Romper. “For school-age children, take turns with each family member, or just you and your child, drawing events in a story. Include characters, a setting, a problem, and eventually a solution. Each ‘drawer’ gets to choose what happens next in the story. Make the story as silly, surprising, and long as the pavement will allow!”
Backyard garden (or indoor herb garden)
Parents with a green thumb can facilitate this enriching activity, ideal for giving children their first introduction to botany. Help other children pick out the types of things they’d like to grow in their garden, picking suitable plants based on things like sunlight, temperature, humidity, and necessary care. If you’ve got younger children, teach them the basics like planting and watering. They’ll love watching their plant babies grow and flourish with their help — and maybe even wind up on their dinner plate.
Sock puppet theater
Ah, sock puppets are a classic. Buy a cheap pack of men’s tube socks from the dollar store, or scrounge up some loner socks from the back of your drawer. To make this an educational activity, let your child pick their favorite book from the bookshelf. With markers, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and whatever they can find in the art supply bin, have your child create the characters from their book of choice, using whatever pictures or descriptions they can find in the story. Then, using the book as their script, have them put on a sock puppet show.
Science experiment competitions
Forming a hypothesis is a crucial part of the scientific method, and if you turn it into a game, it’s also the most fun part. Work on your child’s prediction skills, and help them come up with scientific questions they want answered: How long does it take an ice cube to melt on the hot driveway? From how high can you drop an egg onto grass without it cracking? Have your kids make their hypotheses, and then put them to the test.
Frozen animal rescue
This is another engaging activity to work with children on their prediction and sequencing skills. To set up, place small plastic animals in ice cube or muffin trays and fill them with water. “Include your child in the preparation to work on sequencing,” Hicks instructs, walking them through each part of the freezing process step-by-step. Once the ice is frozen, take the frozen animals outside in a large plastic container and use eye droppers with water, some salt, and tools to “rescue” the animals. “Hypothesize what strategies will work best to get the animals out and why,” says Hicks. “To make it even more interesting, you can add baking soda to the water mixture and use vinegar in the eye droppers to make the ice fizz!”
Crafty summer activities
Nothing says summer like playing with bubbles in the sunshine (which is why they make several appearances on this list). In this craft from Studio DIY, your children can create abstract bubble paintings while they blow. As paint bubbles pop on a sheet of paper, they’ll create colorful and unexpected patterns. Head to Studio DIY’s bubble paint tutorial for all the details.
Painted rock garden
Rocks are one craft supply that virtually everyone has at hand. Have your kiddos collect a variety of rocks and spend an afternoon creating a beautiful painted rock garden. With a little creativity and acrylic paint, you’ll have a lovely assortment of rocks that you can use to line your sidewalk, position around plants, or even distribute around the neighborhood to spread a little joy. I love the look of these mandala dot rocks from 30 Minute Crafts — head to their page for the full tutorial.
If you’re the proud parent of a toddler, you may be familiar with the toddler activity guru known as @BusyToddler. Her giant outdoor painting activity is ideal for a warm summer day. Simply deconstruct a large cardboard box, doodle a few images on it using a black marker, and hang it up on an outdoor fence or lay it flat on the driveway. Then, let your little ones paint a giant masterpiece.
Homemade sidewalk chalk
Want to craft something that your family will actually use? Make your own sidewalk chalk! This fabulous recipe from blogger Princess Pinky Girl only requires three ingredients, and it’s simple enough that your children can help with every step. You’ll end up with completely custom sidewalk chalks — you can even layer colors — in whatever shape you want. Princess Pinky Girl has step-by-step instructions (and I promise, they’re easy enough for anyone).
Shibori-style tie dye shirts
You can’t let a summer pass without doing the quintessential summer craft: tie dyeing shirts. Instead of using the typical technique, make it a bit more interesting with this shibori dye tutorial from crafty blogger Lovely Indeed. Unlike typical DIY tie dye shirts, these turn out with a polished looking pattern, and they look like something you could even buy from a trendy clothing store. Of course, if your child crafts (and follows instructions) like mine does, the finished product will likely still have plenty of character.
Chalk art on paper
Sometimes, regular colored pencils and markers can get old for bored kiddos. Get extra creative with your kids’ art by using water, a baking tin, chalk, a cheese grater, and paper. Pour your water into the tin and grate different colored chalk over top. Then lay your sheet of paper down to gather up the colorful dust. When you pull the sheet out, the kids can put more chalk on top or use it as a pretty background to do more art on top of.
Nighttime summer activities
Flashlight hide and seek
A summertime classic, this version of hide-and-seek is way more exciting than the typical game, simply because it’s played in the dark. Whoever is It is armed with only a flashlight as they seek the other players in the dark. To tag someone else as It, all they have to do is shine their flashlight on them.
Strobe light sprinkler party
As a child, my favorite part of vacation was the extremely special after dinner swim. There’s just something exhilarating about doing a daytime activity after the sun sets! When it gets dark, set up the sprinkler for a late night water party. Turn it into a water party rave and make it even more exciting by adding a strobe light. You may end up getting the kids totally wired right before bedtime, but isn’t it worth it for the summer memories?
If you live somewhere with a clear night sky, you can’t miss the chance to stargaze with your little ones. Lay out a few blankets on the grass and cuddle up with your family, keeping an eye out for shooting stars. If your child is interested in astronomy, you can search for the various constellations. This is the perfect opportunity to slow down and relax together after a busy day.
This might not be your top choice activity if insects make you squeamish. When it gets dark, hang up a white sheet or towel and aim a flashlight at it. Like moths to a flame, different flying bugs and creepy crawlies will flock to the bright white. With your amateur entomologist, identify and discuss the different insects you observe.
Backyard movie night
When the weather is nice, who wants to waste it inside? With a projector and a white bed sheet, you can easily turn your backyard into an outdoor movie theater. (They’re both worthwhile purchases, because your kids will want to do this again and again!) Take this activity to the next level with themed snacks, printables, and inspiration with this colorful backyard movie night tutorial from Studio DIY.
This is a fun (and delicious) enough activity as a stand-alone, but it also goes great with a movie night. Get the kiddos involved in the kitchen for some yummy dessert with chocolate popcorn. Microwavable popcorn is the most kid-friendly way to complete this project, but it can be done with stove-top kernels as well. Pop the popcorn and then have your children sprinkle chocolate chips into a pot before you place it over low heat to melt. Let the popcorn bag cool down so the little one can handle it before pouring the melted chocolate in. Next comes the fun part! Ensuring that the bag is securely closed (you might want to tape it or use a rubber band), the kids can go nuts with shaking the thing up to distribute the chocolate all over the popcorn.
Whether it’s hot and sunny out, raining, or just before bedtime, there’s an easy and cheap summer activity for everyone. The kids will be making core memories, exploring, and learning all summer long.
This article was originally published on