It’s on everyone’s mind – when the dust of the school or work day settles. Your family ambles downstairs and asks “what are we doing this weekend?” Sometimes you look around, and everyone’s heads are down; buried in their electronics. You know you should do… something. In America, we’re getting farther away from actually doing activities together. We've researched free things to do with kids to make your weekends more fun.
What are your options when your checkbook won’t foot the bill for an outing? The mortgage just got paid, a new medical bill popped up, and Christmas is just around the corner, so there’s no extra money for, well, anything. If you look back on your childhood, it’s not the “stuff” that gives you the warm and fuzzies; it’s the memories you have from the time you spent with people that mean the most to you. Money doesn’t make memories, and these free things to do with kids are the building block of cherished memories.
Your kids will only be this age this one time. The greatest gift you can give them is your time. Take pictures if you want but don’t spend time on your phone applying filters or posting it to social media. What you’re doing with your kids matters, so give them your attention, and they’ll give it to you.
Recreating High-Dollar Experiences
Inevitably your kids will ask to do something that requires money. If it’s nominal and you can afford it, then go for it. If they’re asking for a trip to Disneyland, that’s a tougher request to fill. Be honest with them. Tell them it’s a little too expensive but that, as a family, you could save for something closer. Their little faces might drop, but they’ll appreciate that more than a no.
If you really want to score points, enlist them to recreate what they imagine a place like Disneyland to be in your living room. Go all out by grabbing old sheets and draping them over chairs for the castle, get out your Christmas lights and string them around the room. Play soundtracks from your phone and pop a movie in.
You can set up a snack stand with popcorn and drinks you have on hand. If you have old t-shirts, you can each take some washable markers or finger paint and draw your own logos on the shirts. Make up your own rides:
The possibilities are endless, and it will show your kids you heard them and you want to make their wishes and dreams come true, even if you can’t afford the real thing. This can take an entire day. There are smaller free things to do with kids if you don’t have an entire day.
Free Things to Do with Kids Indoors
Rainy days, snowy days, humidity; these things can keep the family indoors. This can lead to frustrated kids with a lot of pent-up energy and parents with thinning patience. Never fear, there are many free things to do with your kids, and you probably have everything you need already in your house.
Thumbprint Family Tree
Grab some blank paper and green finger paint if you’ve got it, although any color will work. Draw your best tree but leave off the leaves. Have your child dip their thumbs in the paint and place their thumbprints on the branches as leaves. Then write in family member names, start as far back as you can and end with you and the kids on the outer branches.
This craft opens the discussion for history about your family and opportunities for recounting your own memories through storytelling. If you have pictures, show them to your kids as they write in the names. Hang them on your child’s wall or on the fridge to help them feel connected to a larger group.
Paper Airplane Terminal
Look up different airplanes to make online and have each family member make their own. It’s great to let the children decorate them with their own art. Then let each plane take flight. Whoever’s flies the farthest in the biggest room you have gets to be the pilot of the day. Remind everyone that each person on the crew is important, so there aren’t hard feelings lingering in the house.
Go outside and have each person gather a handful of small rocks. Clean them off and place them on a towel in a prepared work area. Have each person paint pictures on the stones and explain their story to you. Put their stones in their room so they can keep imagining parts of their stories.
DIY Race Track
If you have a hardwood or laminate floor, grab some colored tape or duct tape and create a race track in whatever shape they want. Have them grab their toy cars, give them fun race car driver names and let them loose. The tape easily comes up when the races are over.
DIY Temporary Tattoos
If you’ve got marker or colored pencils and scotch tape, you’ve got tattoos. Have everybody draw pictures or symbols on the tape and have your kids decide where they’d like the tattoos. Take pictures of them sporting their temporary body art.
Ask your kids what their favorite restaurant or dish is. Grab what’s in your fridge or pantry that comes closest to resembling that dish. Have your kids put on an apron and open your kitchen for business. Explain each step of the meal and have them help where they can. If they’re too young to help, have them write out a menu for their new restaurant.
They can set the price. Setting the price is another opportunity for the kids to get creative. The cost of a dish could be a hug or picking out their favorite show, book or movie. Next, figure out who will play what restaurant role. Younger children can play host or hostess and seat the adults at the ready-made table. This will get their creative juices flowing and make them feel like they’ve contributed to something that the whole family enjoys.
Free Outdoor Activities
There are free things to do with kids outside. Get them to soak up some sunshine and vitamin D—don’t forget the sunscreen!
Make a Fairy Garden
Almost everyone has that stray, empty pots for plants. Take a walk in your neighborhood and dig up any stray plant you see. You can even sift off dirt into a bag. When you get home, have them plant their loot in the empty pot in the yard. Once it’s planted, it’s time to spruce it up and lure the fairies in.
Get your kids to put something small and cute in the pot next to the plant. Something like a small toy house, a small barrette or even jacks or a rubber ball. They can imagine it is a small playground for fairies. If you have any glitter, sprinkle some over the pot when the kids are asleep. Imagine their surprise when they find out fairies played in their garden all night long!
Cloud and Star Animals
Grab a blanket and sunglasses and lay outside in the yard. Have your kids stare up at the sky and tell you what shapes they see. Point out any animal shapes you find. You can do the same at night with the stars. This can foster a lifelong fascination with the sky.
Kids love the excitement of school field trips, so why not go on your own special field trip? Pack a snack or picnic lunch and head to a playground or park in the next town over. The new surrounding will be exciting and different. Take funny pictures while you’re there. They can tell their friends or another family member all about their outing.
Water Balloon Batting Station
Take all those spare balloons, fill them with water, and place them in a bucket. If you have a bat, let your little slugger have it and whack away at the balloons you pitch to them. If you don’t have a bat, a broomstick will work. Let them know this is the first step in making it to the big league.
This is one of our favorite free things to do with kids. Go to the geocaching website and sign up. This site will send you on treasure hunts using geographical locations where other members have buried loot for your kids to find. Be sure to bring something simple to replace the little trinkets you might find. Anything you have in your junk drawer will work:
Once you find the treasure, you log it in your geocaching online log book. It helps kids understand maps and coordinates. It’s exciting for them to find the treasure and it may even lead to your very own backyard time capsule.
Free Activities in the Community
Every community has great free things to do with kids. Big cities and small towns have different varieties of these great activities.
Visit Galleries and Museums
Visiting galleries and museums is one of the free things to do with kids that is often overlooked. Whether you're next door to the Museum of Modern Art or a few miles from your town’s historical museum, this is a great sensory and learning experience for you and your kids. Discuss what you see and what their favorite aspects of the trip are.
Explore Historical Sites
Do a little searching online for the historical sites in your area. It could be the first building erected in the county, an old cemetery or an abandoned mill. This is a way to tie your kids to the past and open a conversation about other histories they may be interested in. Your kids can teach a mock history class when they get home about what they’ve learned.
Visit a Library
Yes, they still exist. Show your kids where the group of books are that would interest them and have them pick one out. When the due date comes around, bring them with you to return the books—it will help teach them responsibility. Libraries often have free workshops, readings or classes that may interest your children.
There are so many free things to do with kids in various places in your community. Check the calendar of your chamber of commerce for free events and workshops. Stores like Home Depot, Williams Sonoma and Sephora have free workshops for adults and kids. Check out their schedules and sign up early—they fill up fast!
Volunteer work is always available and always fulfilling. This is one of the free things you can do with your kids that is both fun and rewarding. Even though you’re doing free things, this will help your child to be grateful for what they have and how important it is to give back. Some ideas for volunteering:
A search of volunteer opportunities in your area will bring up many options. Let your kids pick out what they’d like to do.
Having fun and bonding doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot or even a little money. All these free things to do with kids allow time to have conversations with your kids about life, family and what’s really important in life. What you physically do with your kids are the memories they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
When the topic of money comes up, you can explain how money works, how to save and why it’s important to work for special purchases and excursions. Get them involved in finances at a young age, so they’re better prepared to handle their own money when they get older. If they get money for their birthday, holidays or a lemonade stand, talk to them about saving versus spending and what the tradeoff of each would be.
There are ways to cement these free things to do with your kids in their memories. Ask them things like “Do you remember when we went on a field trip to the park?” and ask them to recall what their feelings about the day were and what they liked about it.
These free things to do with kids may even become recurring events the family turns into a tradition. Who knows, maybe you'll be doing them with your grandchildren someday. Though, by then you will have saved enough money from doing free activities to take everyone to Disney World!