When you have a large family, entertaining kids all day every day can get very expensive! A trip to the movies can easily set our family of seven back more than $100, so we are always on the lookout for low cost, or even better, FREE summer activities for kids. The good news is that with just a little bit of research, you can find whole bunch of completely free stuff to do!
Our kids range in age from 7-12 and these are the low-cost things we’ve done so far this year that have added up to save us a ton this summer! We live in the York/Lancaster area of PA (and are moving to Tampa, FL NEXT WEEK…eeek!). These are the activities local to us, but the general ideas apply everywhere.
Free and Low-Cost Summer Activities for Kids
We love participating in our library programs during the summer. In our area kids can earn prizes by loging their reading minutes, but there are also lots of free events that don’t have anything to do with opening a book. So far this summer, we’ve participated in a virtual reality event, seen “Ryan the Bug Man” and held tarantulas and scorpions, and done a LEGO builders club. Our library is also hosting several spaced-themed events at the local planetarium and observatory this summer that are free to the community. They also work with local parks to hide stamps in different locations around our county and families hike to try to find and collect them.
In the past, we have always been able to participate in the free or discounted Summer Movies programs for families that ran at two of our local theaters. Many areas still have Regal theaters that offer this program. Unfortunately, this year neither of the theaters near us are participating. BUT we do have one local discount theater that offers $3 tickets for matinees and they are running a summer line-up that is family-friendly. We go to the earliest showing and buy 6 tickets (me, plus all the kids) and the largest bag of popcorn. I take brown paper lunch bags in my purse and divide up the popcorn for the kids when we get there. This allows us to take 6 people to the movies for less than $25.
Kids Bowl Free
Kids Bowl Free is a program that is offered all around the U.S. and Canada. Just sign your kids up on the website and they are eligible for two free games of bowling every day for the summer. You do need to rent shoes, which is a few dollars, but the lane rental is free. We have signed up almost every year since my oldest was a toddler.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
We were fortunate this year to purchase tickets to Hershey Park at half price through a fundraiser at our daughters’ school. Hershey Park is an amusement park in our area, but right next door to the rollercoasters is a completely FREE attraction called Chocolate World. You don’t need to buy tickets to Hershey Park to visit Chocolate World. Inside, you can ride through a simulated tour of a chocolate factory and learn all about the process of chocolate making, and they give you free samples at the end! My younger son says this is his favorite part of the day.
If you do decide to purchase tickets to the adjacent amusement park like we did, they come with free admission to Zoo America. So our half price tickets to Hershey Park let us do the amusement park (which also has a water park), the zoo, and Chocolate World all in the same day! And the zoo and Chocolate World were totally free.
We have visited splash pads all around the country, many local parks have them available in warmer weather. A splash pad is basically just a playground made entirely out of sprinklers. We like to pack some water bottles and snacks and spend the morning running through the water.
Eddie and I both grew up near the water, so fishing and crabbing are a natural part of summer for our families.
Throughout the month of July, there are lots of opportunities to see fireworks. We take a picnic blanket and spread out at a park or in the back of my husband’s pick up truck.
We take advantage of our local playgrounds and parks several times each week. One of our favorite things to do is go rock climbing at our closest state park. Some state parks also offer beaches, fishing lakes, and swimming pools. Check the website before you go, because there might be a small fee for some activities. Many parks and rec departments also offer music festivals, food truck events, and affordable summer camps!
In Lancaster, PA Long’s Park has a free petting zoo as well as a completely free summer concert series. Check out your Parks and Rec Department website to find some awesome programs near you.
Our family has often taken day trips to local (and not so local) beaches. The closest ocean is about 4 hours away, but we have done day trips several times. We will leave around 6 am, get to the beach by 10, and pack a cooler. Then we will leave at dinner time. The kids fall asleep in the car because they are exhausted. Some years we also take advantage of the much closer lake-front sandy beach at a local state park.
Finding free offers/Customer Appreciation Days
Be sure to follow local businesses on Facebook and sign up for their emails. They will let you know about free events in your area. When we are eligible for free offers, we try to make sure to support the business without breaking the bank. For example, the other day my daughter Abby was eligible for a free slushy. We went and got her free drink, and I also bought a larger slushy and split it among our other kids. I only bought one thing, but all the kids were happy. Sometimes businesses have events where they give out free hotdogs or do face painting or other things. Following them on social media keeps you in the know.
Vacation Bible School
If you aren’t familiar with Vacation Bible School, also known as VBS, it is basically a bible-themed summer camp run by churches all over the country. It is usually free and runs for about 2.5 hours for a week in the summer. Different churches run different programs, but there is always a theme for the week and there are lots of crafts, games, singing, etc.
Tennis 4 Kids
The Tennis4Kids program is local to the York, PA area, but I wanted to include it for all my local readers. This is an amazing and completely FREE tennis camp, and all children ages 7-16 in York and Adams Counties are eligible. It meets for 2 hours, 3 times a week and runs for a month every summer. There are locations spread all throughout the county. It’s supported completely by donations and has been running for over 25 years. My children have participated each year since 2014.
Music & Food Festivals
My husband’s band has played in many local music festivals, and most of them were completely free to attend. Often they offer family-friendly activities like face painting or tractor rides as well.
Church or Community Events
Many churches and community centers host festivals, antique car shows, or similar events. Check your local paper or join a community Facebook page to see what’s happening in your area.
Just Stay Home
Of course, you don’t have to go anywhere to have fun at a very affordable price! You always have the option to stay home and do things that are available to you for free or with just one trip to the dollar store or thrift shop. Our favorites are:
Exploring our own neighborhood
I took this picture in our back yard.
Family Board Game or Card Nights
I picked up this Mall Madness game at the thrift store for a few dollars, but games also make great holiday gifts that the whole family can use all year.
Our kids like to play basketball, kickball, and home run derby in the yard.
And other classics like:
How does your family like to have fun on a budget? I would love to hear your ideas!
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