Looking for cheap activities for your kids? Try these 5 year-round tips

Cheap family fun isn’t an oxymoron: Try volunteering, staycations, the great outdoors, and more.

Movies. Summer campsAmusement parks. You’re familiar with all the ways to keep your kids busy while spending a fair amount of money. But are there any cheap activities for kids that will keep them occupied? If only there were inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy year-round that could be just as fun as the oh-so-popular budget-busters…

Enter the experts. To help you build a cost-savings toolbox for activity time, two parenting experts share their thoughts on cheap activities for kids that encourage both creativity and family bonding. Danielle Smith, author and founder of a lifestyle website, and Margaret Rice, founder of a website that offers free and low-cost online children’s activities, have come up with some cure-alls for lulls in activity while keeping wallets in check.

Get started with these five inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy:

1. Do some good

For about 15 years, Smith, a mother of two, has been sharing her best real-world advice for parents online. One tip that always comes to the forefront is finding affordable ways to spread generosity that can also keep kids busy. 

“I’ve always believed one of my primary responsibilities as a parent is to raise good citizens of the world,” Smith says. “Keeping kids busy doesn’t always mean they are the beneficiaries of full-time entertainment, but rather they are learning to help others.”

Three young kids place cans of food into a cardboard box marked “Food Drive.”

For Smith, doing good is as simple as having kids clean out their closets and toy bins to donate less-used or outgrown items to a neighborhood drive or charitable organization. If you’re looking for other ideas to get your family involved in doing good for the community, consider spending time volunteering at a local animal shelter or devoting a half-day to a charitable cause your kids find interesting.

2. Look beyond typical toys

Looking for cheap family fun? Rice, a mother of six, loves to look beyond what you might typically consider toys to find ways to keep kids busy on a budget. Why? Imaginations are limitless—and bank accounts are not.

“It still surprises me what children play with for hours at a time, and they are not traditional toys,” Rice says. “The next time your kids are bored, encourage them to create playthings from household items.” This could be as simple as making art or musical instruments out of odds and ends they find in the garage. Parents can lead the way by grabbing an object and laying out the rules of the game.

A mom and young daughter play on the floor with doll house furniture and figures.

Remember that game when you were young, where you had to climb around on furniture and avoid the floor or you would melt in “hot lava”? Parents can also pick a room of the house and encourage kids to reimagine everything in it. Maybe the sofa becomes a car, or a bed becomes a raft on the Amazon River. When you’re pondering how to keep your kids busy on a budget, never underestimate the power of their imaginations.

“It still surprises me what children play with for hours at a time, and they are not traditional toys. The next time your kids are bored, encourage them to create playthings from household items.”

Margaret Rice, founder of a website for children's activities

3. Choose staycations

“Taking a far-away trip always sounds like a good time, but flights, hotels, and food can be pricey,” Smith says. “Consider a staycation instead.”

While it might not seem like a brag-worthy trip when compared to an international vacation, a staycation in your local area can end up being the best find of all. Start by making a list of all the things your family could experience in or close to your town, Smith says. You may be surprised by the number of inexpensive things to do that are close to home. Think historical monuments, picnics, and libraries. When you’re thinking about cheap activities for kids, be sure to also explore your park and museum districts, as they typically have special deals for locals and seasonal offers. Plus, when there is an admission charge, tickets for kids may be free or come with a steep discount.

4. Go outside

“As parents we constantly say, ‘Go play with your toys,’ but find our kids wandering around begging for screen time,” Rice says. Instead of buying the latest video game or a new tablet, get the kids out the door and into wide open spaces. Talk about inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy on a budget—Mother Nature is ready and waiting.

“Most children will entertain themselves for longer periods of time when they are outside versus inside,” Rice says. “Whether they toss a ball, blow bubbles, or play tag, kids can increase their physical activity, get fresh air, and play independently.”

5. Embrace boredom

When it comes to cheap family fun, boredom can be a great strategy. If you’re at your wit’s end trying to find inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy, Smith thinks parents can turn to boredom as a cost- and sanity-saving resource.

“I truly think teaching children to embrace boredom is a gift. From that gift springs imagination, creativity, and the ability to slow down and appreciate their surroundings,” Smith says.

To kick-start the “embrace boredom” idea, try making each of your children “captain” of a theme—like the outdoors, water, food, downtime, game playing, the family room—and ask them to come up with an idea for an activity in that category the family could do together. Endeavors like art projects (downtime) and family hikes (the outdoors) are perfect ways to add to your list of cheap activities for kids and introduce kids to the power of decision-making.

“Keeping kids busy doesn’t always mean they are the beneficiaries of full-time entertainment, but rather they are learning to help others.”

Danielle Smith, author and founder of a lifestyle website

Smith also suggests having “yes days” where the kids are in charge. Letting the kids make the decisions for the day turns their thinking around and shifts focus from the expected to the unexpected. Maybe this means saying yes to breakfast for dinner or transforming the living room into a fort and inviting the family to hunker underneath to read by flashlight. Whatever it is, it’s a day filled with, yes, inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy.

Keeping kids busy doesn’t have to be expensive

Just because you’re giving your wallet a break doesn’t mean adventure has to dwindle. The tips above are inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy while also encouraging your family to kick the creative process into high gear. Along the way, you’ll keep your entertainment costs down. 

If you liked learning about these inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy, you’ll also want to check out seven of the best money saving tips for families.  

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