Having fun, free family activities with your kids doesn’t always have to be expensive. Check out these great ideas for fun, free, and unique activities to do with children
Go on a Nature Walk
Go on a nature walk. Have your kids collect treasures—berries, leaves, twigs, pods, seeds, and whatever else catches their fancy. When you get home, you can make a collage by gluing the found objects onto sturdy paper. For a variation, try a mixed-media approach, adding paint, pastels, and ripped up pieces of magazines.
Send Mail to Family
Make a list of friends and relatives who live far away. Young kids can make pictures to send them. Older kids can actually write letters. Decorate the envelopes with stickers. Make the trip to the post office or mailbox part of the fun for younger kids. They’ll feel proud dropping the letters into the correct slot by themselves. Plus, the sight of the postman or woman making the rounds the following week will take on a new little thrill as kids run out to the mailbox to see if a letter is waiting for them.
Wait for It
Sure, you buy that expensive sunprint paper that makes prints in just a few minutes, or you can … wait for it … yes, that’s it! Wait for it! Because that’s something no one ever seems to do these days anymore. But you know, waiting for things actually makes time slow down. Remember waiting for the ice cream man? For the friend from down the street to come over? For the pool to open? Yes! Waiting is when that sense of time expanding gets to happen. The old-fashioned way to make prints is this: Take leaves, flowers, shells, or whatever you want to make a “print” of and arrange them artfully on dark construction paper. Leave it in direct sunlight for at least 4 hours. When you check again you should find “prints” of the objects. (What actually happens is the paper around the objects faded out.)
Make Reading Fun
Join a library summer reading program or make your own. Take lined paper and make three columns: one for title, one for author, and one for number of stars. Kids can keep track of the books they read along with how many stars they give each one (five being the best). When they read ten books, they pick out a sticker to put at the top. You can come up with a book list in advance if you’d like and make the library search part of the fun.
Bake with the Community
Hold a bake sale with other local kids. Make easy stuff (nothing beats brownies from a mix) and pick a date and time to sell it. As a group, agree on a place to donate the profits—local animal shelter? Your school? A poor school in another country? Make signs featuring whichever place you pick. You may be able to get a table at a local farmer’s market.
Map Out the Fun
Make a map of the local neighborhood—remember to include: ice cream spots, the bus stop, public benches, lookout spots, conservation lands, wood trails and playgrounds. Make copies for neighborhood kids (comes in handy for spy games and treasure hunts especially).
Find Nature Souvenirs
Besides all the obvious fun to be had at the beach (swimming, sunbathing, sandcastles, flinging seaweed at people), there are lots of treasures to take home to extend the fun. Look for interesting shells, rocks, sea glass, crab shells, and egg whelk cases. At home, compare what you found against a beachcombing book. Make a little natural history museum for your friends with index cards showing the names of each item.
Freeze Your Fun
Freeze little toys (little model dinosaurs work well) by placing them in cups with water. On a hot day, bring them out to the porch or front yard. You can play with them like you normally would, with the added advantage that it will cool you off. Take guesses as to how long it will take for the ice to melt.
Write Your Own Neighborhood Review
Plan a playground hop. Pack a picnic and bring notebooks for kids to write (or draw) their observations about a given playground. Include places you might not think of, if they are open to the public such as school playgrounds, libraries, and state or city parks. Is there a scary slide? A great climbing structure? Does the plastic or metal get too hot in the summer? Are there sprinklers? Bathrooms nearby? A place to have a snack? At home, write up your reviews and make a handout for families new to the area. Maybe you could even send it to the to local paper, include in a newsletter, or post to a neighborhood blog.
Create Old-Fashioned Fun
Remind your kids (and yourself) about that old-fashioned thing called playing. There’s always tag (plus flashlight tag at night), hide and seek, sardines, What Time is It Mr. Fox, Mother May I, and a million others. We loved those games as kids—just because there are videos, TV shows and organized activities galore for kids today doesn’t mean they’d love them any less. Here are some books to give you ideas: 1,444 Fun Things to Do with Kids by Caryl Krueger, The Big Book of Happy: 500 Games & Activities by Michelle Kennedy, and Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get out of the House and Connect with Your Kids by Rebecca Cohen.