Watch a free movie. Free movies are available on TV (remember the popcorn!). You can also check local listings for community showings in large parks and other venues, particularly during summer. Movie theaters might also offer cheap kid options throughout the year.
Have fun with group storytelling. Have your kids come up with happy, scary, or just plain silly stories through collaborative story telling. This is an ideal activity while waiting at a restaurant, doctor’s office, etc., and can be easily adapted for children with special needs. Everyone takes it in turn to say one or two sentences to progress the story. You can use an object or picture as a prompt, or even identify certain words to incorporate in each person’s turn.
Make a movie. Let your kids use your phone, tablet, or other device to make their own movie. Most devices can download free editing software, including the ability to add special effects.
Play hide and seek. Your kids can play this game at home or you can add some adventure by taking them to a park, where there are more options for creative hiding places.
Play tag. Playing tag never gets old and it’s a great way to burn off some energy. There are all sorts of fun variations for your kids to enjoy, including ‘Freeze Tag’, flashlight tag at night, and path tag in the fall.
Organize a scavenger or treasure hunt. Make an inventory of fun things, then hide them in- or outside your house. Next, give your kids the list, and send them off to see who finds the items first. Have a prize for the winner.
Paint faces. Kids don’t have to go to a fair for face painting. They can do it at home with simple kits.
Have a talent show. Encourage your kids and their friends to demonstrate their greatest talents. You can even make it into a talent competition, with prizes.
Invent something. Gather old household objects and see if your kids can invent something creative. Just be careful about the safety of items and what they might create!
Fix something. One of the best ways to learn is by fixing something. Some parents go to garage sales specifically to look for things their kids can fix. Your kids will learn new skills, and might even be inspired towards a career in engineering, fashion design, construction, or more.
Conduct a science experiment. There are plenty of ways to make science fun at home, such as building a volcano at home with simple ingredients. Look online or visit your local library for simple, kid-friendly science experiments to try with your kids.
Make a fort. Kids love to enjoy their own secret places. Help them to use a sheet, blanket, and other items to build a private ‘fort’.
Make a cardboard box house. Let your kids turn a large box into a house, decorating it with paint, markers, stickers, etc. It’s a perfect personal hiding place for imaginative play.
Decorate the windows. Let your kids use washable window markers or peelable stickers to create their own images.
Have fun sculpting. Your kids can use clay or playdough to come up with fun creations. Note: You can make your own playdough with simple ingredients, some of which can be baked for long-lasting mementoes.
Make popsicles. Forget about store bought popsicles; you can help your kids make their own, using more nutritious ingredients with molds, sticks, juice, and fruit. (You can also use ice cube trays.)
Make paper airplanes. Search online for different designs, then help your kids to cut, fold and fly them to see which goes furthest, highest, and so on.
Make your own puzzles and mazes. Simple paper, pencils, and pens can keep your kids busy for hours, designing their own challenges for family and friends.
Make your own comic books. Every author has to start somewhere! Encourage your kids to create their own characters and story lines. You can keep it simple, or have them bound in a book.
Stage a play. Acting and story-telling support creativity, language skills, and much more. Encourage your kids to come up with a story line and script to stage a play. Let them rehearse and perhaps put together scenery and props. Alternatively, they can make puppets e.g., with wooden spoons or socks. When they’re ready, invite family and friends for a free performance. Your kids can even design the invitations and programs.
Play dress-up. Pull out some fun clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories, for dress-up fun. Encourage your kids to play pretend as the characters they’re portraying.
Enjoy a spa day at home. Set up a mini spa at home, and help your kids paint their fingernails and toe nails, style hair, and apply make-up.
Have a tea party. Lay the table with a fancy tablecloth, napkins, and plates (or disposable items for toddlers), give your kids cookies and drinks, and let them pretend to enjoy a high society tea party.
Have a dance party. Move furniture to create a dance floor, play your kids’ favorite songs, and let them boogie their hearts out.
Have a pillow fight. Pull out the pillows, have fun and giggle away.
Go thrift or dollar store shopping. While not completely free, you can find some inexpensive bargains at local thrift shops and dollar stores. Bargain shopping teaches your kids how to buy more with less.
Make your own instruments. There are plenty of things around the house to make into instruments, such as wooden spoons, pots and pans, plastic buckets, and more. Encourage your kids to be creative and learn about percussive rhythm and tone by creating their own music.
Participate in a ‘do-it-yourself’ workshop. Home Depot has free craft workshops for kids ages five to twelve on the first Saturday morning of every month. Kids get to take their crafts home. Lowes also has free kids’ clinics on the weekends.
Collect bugs. Find a jar, puncture some holes in the lid, and send your kids out to catch (and then release) bugs. Lightning bugs are particularly fun at night.
Play in a stream or creek. Streams and creeks offer your kids a way to enjoy nature, try their hand at fishing, and search for frogs, tadpoles, and more.
Play with sidewalk chalk. Why limit your kids to drawing on paper when they can ‘go big’ outside on the driveway or sidewalks? Sidewalk chalk is designed to wash off after rain storms. If you don’t have chalk, some surfaces (like concrete or unfinished fencing) can be ‘painted’ with just water.
Play hopscotch. There are many ways to play this simple game.
Enjoy a nature treasure hunt. There are plenty of nature treasures kids love to search for, including seashells by the beach, pine cones in the forest, special rocks, and more. Many can be made into art or craft projects later on.
Set up a lemonade or bake stand. Let your kids be entrepreneurs by setting up their own lemonade or bake stand, meeting neighbors, and learning how to ‘keep shop’.
Create an obstacle course. Help your kids set up cones, chairs, and other items available to create a challenging obstacle course. Then let the race begin!
Play in the rain. Young kids love to get wet and do things ‘against the grain’, so let them go outside to stomp in the puddles and play in the rain. Mud puddles can be equally enticing once the rain stops.
Have a water balloon or water gun fight. Enough said!
Make a homemade slip ’n’ slide. Cut up some heavy duty plastic bags or use plastic sheeting to make a water slide at home. A hose, a smooth hill, and some dish soap make for a fun ride for kids of all ages!
Run under a sprinkler. Every kid loves running under the sprinkler on a hot summer day.
Go stargazing. There’s amazing beauty right above you most nights! Lay down a blanket and look up at the stars together. Try to recognize different constellations in the sky. If there’s an observatory or planetarium in your community, ask if they offer free events.
Visit your local fire station. One of the first things most kids love is the firetruck. Arrange a trip to your local fire station to meet the fire fighters, who will often give a tour of the fire engine and may even hand out some fun takeaways. Many fire stations host annual open days for Fire Prevention Week, which occurs in early October each year.
Visit a construction site. If your kids love playing with hammers or watching big machines, take them to a local construction site to see everything in action. Just be careful and be mindful of safety precautions.
Build a sand castle or sculpture. The sandbox and the beach offer plenty of simple and more ambitious building activities with wet sand and some utensils.
Organize a neighborhood Olympics. Bring together a group of kids of similar ages and organize different athletic challenges with prizes or home-made medals for the winners.
Be sure to look at our list of Free Activities for All Ages to get more ideas!