Allison holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and is a mother of two vivacious young girls.
The last few weeks of summer can really start to drag on. If you're home with your kids, you may feel as conflicted as I do—grateful to have the time with them, but desperately out of ideas and patience. You know there are endless activities you could be doing, but maybe you're drawing a blank or struggling to find motivation. Read through the suggestions below for some free and easy time-killers that just might end up as favorite family memories.
If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.
— Abigail Van Buren
1. Pick Up Litter
This is such a simple thing, but a powerful one. There are several benefits—physical activity, fresh air, environmental awareness, and the soul-boosting effect of altruism. If you're lucky, your kids will tackle this activity with enthusiasm and maybe even a little competitive spirit. You may be surprised by how proud your children will be that they've done they're part to help the community. Run with that. After we pick up litter, I always call their attention to the amount of trash we've collected, and I tell them, "Look at all the garbage that isn't in this park because of you! You made the world a better place today."
Of course, this is an activity that should be closely monitored for young children. Give them some guidelines ("no picking up broken glass"), have them wear a glove or use a baggy to grab things, and stay by their side.
2. Visit an International Market
I admit, this one may be difficult to get away with completely for free, especially if you take your kids down the candy aisle. It's certainly possible, though! Some international markets have plenty of fun window shopping opportunities, such as Asian market fish departments with tanks of live seafood. Or perhaps the more likely scenario is you allow your kids to choose one or two inexpensive items to try. Even better, get your grocery shopping done! International markets are a wonderful place to see and taste new things and inspire shy taste buds.
3. Make Your Own Playdough
This one came up out of necessity, as our gross multi-colored clump of playdough dried up on us. Not needing anything else at Target, I couldn't bring myself to pack the kids in the car for this one item. That's when I remembered - making playdough at home is simple! But perhaps more importantly, making playdough at home is FUN. Let your kids measure and stir with you, and divide into batches so that they can experiment with several color combinations. They'll be so proud to have made it themselves, playing with it will be that much more exciting.
I've linked the recipe we use below. This is the slightly more complex version, which requires cream of tartar and has to be cooked on a stovetop. Going to this extra trouble is said to make the playdough last longer. If you'd rather keep it as simple as possible, just google "no-cook playdough recipes" and whip it up in minutes!
- The BEST homemade playdough recipe
This playdough recipe by I Heart Naptime is so soft and squishy and cuts perfectly with cookie cutters.
4. Find a Public Splash Pad
Urban areas often have extensive local park systems, and one of the greatest perks for kids can be a splash pad. If you're lucky enough to live near one, this can be an invaluable part of your summer fun. Safe, free, and open to all who come, these water playgrounds are sure to be a source of joy for kids of all ages. They also might just be the only comfortable way to get some physical activity on those super hot days. So throw on those little swimsuits, rub on the sunscreen, and pack a snack, because your afternoon is taken care of.
Not sure if you live near a splash pad? Just google "splash pad near me". You might be surprised!
5. Visit a Local Farm
This one will enchant your kids, no matter the age. There's something exciting about farm life that still resonates even into adulthood. Many local farms encourage visitors to explore, meeting the animals and even walking among the vines.
U-pick farms offer a special opportunity to experience the joy of harvesting your own food. Some of my favorite memories with my kids include a long afternoon among raspberry vines and that one morning we picked cucumbers and pickled them. Not only can this activity encourage your kids to try more produce, but it also will instill more awareness and appreciation for where our food comes from.
6. Delegate Household Tasks
It's taken me until this year to realize the power of giving my kids a task they enjoy. Children want to be helpful, but not necessarily in the ways we typically ask them to be. They may not jump up with enthusiasm when asked to clean their room, but shelling peas? Yeah, I'll be they'll sit and do that for 45 minutes. Just the other day, my kids spent a good hour peacefully harvesting the coriander seeds from the cilantro plants in my garden, and they will grind black peppercorn with my mortar and pestle for as long as I let them. I may not need a quarter cup of ground black pepper, but I know I'll use it eventually.
Experiment. Maybe your kid loves to sweep, or perhaps squirting and wiping the windows is their dream come true. As long as they're happily busy and being an active member of the household, you really can't lose.
7. Go to the Library!
If you aren't utilizing your local public library, you are missing out hard. Chances are your library system has a wealth of free summer (and year-long) programs that are geared towards entertaining and educating your children. If you're fortunate enough to live near an urban center like me, you may even have several different libraries to choose from. So far this summer, my kids and I have visited five different libraries. We've enjoyed story time, a musical puppet show, a marine biologist presentation on sharks, paper crafts, and an audience-acted play.
Aside from special programs, there are always puzzles and other activities in the children's section, the air conditioning is on point... and of course, there are the actual books. When our day is dragging by too slowly, sometimes grabbing a couple of books and curling up on the couch together is the perfect remedy. And goodness knows, it's nice to have some fresh stories to read.
More Great Ideas to Consider
© 2019 Allison
Leo from USA on July 01, 2020:
Hi! I loved the idea of picking up litter and visiting a local farm. It's not only interesting for the kids but also good for their awareness about environmental safety. You can probably try and organize a kind of party for the local community children to tell them more about this issue in the form of a game. I mean - topical games, activities. I think using some popular music on the background would bring their attention - you can download all the mp3 files easily even from youtube nowadays (personally I use https://2conv.com/en51/, it's quite easy, fast and free).
Allison (author) from San Diego, CA on August 01, 2019:
Thanks for taking the time to comment! My girls would have loved watching the airplanes come and go. And yeah, I think the library is probably my #1 resource these days :)
Liz Westwood from UK on July 31, 2019:
I remember doing some of these activities with my kids. You have made a great list of ideas here. I used to have a list of free places we could visit in our area. In the days before tightened airport security I even remember taking them to the local airport viewing area to watch the planes land and take off. A trip to the library to stock up on some 'new' books was always welcome.