Summer camps, sports leagues, swim lessons--there are all kinds of fun, structured ways to keep kids entertained once school's out. But sometimes they can put a serious strain on your wallet.
If you're not ready to click "Register" on another pricey program, consider these completely free ways to keep your children busy. We promise they'll still love every ounce of their summer days!
Visit the Public Library
Even if your child isn't an avid reader, the local library is still a great place to spend a few summer days each month. There's a good chance yours is throwing a number of free events, many of which have little to do with reading (think arts and crafts, puppet shows or even cooking demonstrations). And if your kid does love having their nose in a book, even better! Most libraries offer free summer reading programs with fun prizes.
Browse the Local Farmer's Market
Farmer's markets are a great place to spend a weekend afternoon because they're one of the few shopping establishments where you can feel completely comfortable spending lots of time there yet not buy anything. Walk around, check out the goods, taste a few things and introduce your children to the importance of eating fresh, local food.
Look for Day Programs at Nearby Museums
Though most museums do offer summer camp options, they're typically not free. However, many will offer much shorter programming during the weekdays that are open to the public. For example, your local art museum may throw a free craft hour for kids every Wednesday afternoon. Research museums in your area and check out their calendars online.
Hit Up City and State Parks
There's a good chance visiting the park right by your house sounds as exciting to your children as watching paint dry, but what about the one only a few neighborhoods over? Or maybe the one over by grandma's house? Strike out from your normal routine and discover a new green space. Parks offer plenty of opportunities to explore, and they're completely free. In the summertime, many even have splash parks and interactive fountains to help keep your kids cool!
Have you ever researched stargazing in your community? If not, you'd probably be surprised to find there is almost always a stargazing group (or two or three) in most cities. Whether it's a community group, affiliated with your local observatory or part of a nearby university, it usually has free programming for families. Check out the calendar to find "star parties" in local parks, especially on clear summer nights. Don't forget the picnic blankets!
Take Up Geocaching
If you haven't heard of geocaching, there's a great chance your child has, depending on their age. This engaging activity has been the rage for years, especially for older kids and teens, and it involves using GPS coordinates to track down buried treasure--yes, seriously. There's even an app now, making it more convenient than ever before. Go hunt for treasure of your own, or leave a sweet surprise for another family.
Volunteer in the Community
Since the kids aren't in school, summer is an ideal time to teach them all about giving back to the community! Not only is volunteering free, but there are so many options you can choose based on your child's preferences. Whether they want to work with animals at a local shelter, pack meals at a community kitchen or visit with the elderly, they can explore their passions in a way that gives back. Plus, many organizations offer specific summer programs for student volunteers.
Is your child at that age where it's time for them to fend for themselves a bit more? Get things cooking in the kitchen by attending a free local seminar or simply using ingredients at home to make their favorite dishes--even chocolate chip cookies count! This is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, and your children will walk away with skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Check Out Community Events
Identify where your most active community is--your church, your neighborhood, your city as a whole or even the next town over--and start following their social media feeds. You will likely learn that they have an active calendar of free community events for the summer, including everything from outdoor movie nights to painting classes to potluck picnics.
Set Up a Summer Training Plan
Does your child live for sports? If you can't afford another summer training program, get them ready for the fall by setting one up at home. Bust out the calendars and write which drills, workouts or other skills they should work on each day. Half the fun will be coming up with the schedule, and from there you can help them execute it. Many conditioning plans are available online, too, if you need feedback. This will keep your child active and ready to tackle their favorite sport when school is back in session!