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12 cheap ways to keep your kids busy this summer

keep kids busy
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Abby Hayes |
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Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or a working parent, it’s likely that summertime gets tough. When kids are home all day, or at least out of the routine of school, they get bored easily. Boredom often leads to whining or other forms of mischief.

So what if you’re looking to keep your kids busy, but don’t want to spend loads of money on a trip to the local zoo twice a week? Here are some cheap options to maintain your sanity, I mean, keep your kids busy for the summer.

Read more: Here's how to get your kids free books!

1. Let them be bored

Step One in surviving summer as a parent is to let your kids be bored. As kids these days experience ever more scheduled lives, they’re left less and less often to their own devices. So, of course, as soon as you let them be, they’re bored because they need to learn to play on their own and be creative. In fact, experts say boredom is essential for learning creativity!

So number one on your list is also the easiest option: give your kids down time. Provide them with space and time to come up with things to do, and don’t immediately fill up their schedules when boredom inevitably strikes. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that!

2. Institute a chore chart

You might as well keep your kids busy and get something out of it. If you don’t already, now is the time to teach them responsibility with a chore chart. This could include unpaid daily chores like making their beds, feeding the family pet, etc. Or you could step up your game a notch with commission-based paid chores. Just make a list or chart of chores kids can get paid for, including the chores’ monetary value. When kids check a chore off the list to your satisfaction, they get paid.

Sure, you’ve got to invest some money in this one. But it’s a great way to teach kids responsibility and help them start managing their own money.

3. Visit the local library

These days, most local libraries run summer reading programs. These can incentivize even non-readers to pick up a book this summer. Just make a habit of stopping by the library once a week or more often, and be sure to let kids pick appropriate books that they find interesting (even if you don’t see the attraction). This is a two-birds-one-stone approach, since visiting the library makes for a fun outing, and reading all those books whiles away hours of the summer.

Read more: What's the ideal bedtime for kids?

4. Create a craft station

Got creative kids? Consolidate all of your crafting materials into one place, and let them go to town. Warning: this will get messy!

You don’t have to go buy a bunch of brand-name craft kits, either. Start collecting things like used printer paper, old crayons, toilet paper rolls, and nature items. Keep these, along with basic supplies like craft paper, scissors, and glue, in the craft area. Let kids go to town on their own, or use social media sites like Pinterest for inspiration on projects they can create.

5. Check out your local parks & recreation department

Just need the kids out of the house for a day or several this summer? Summer camps can be prohibitively expensive if you’re on a tight budget. But, often times, local parks and recreation departments run day camps that are much cheaper, and allow kids to get outdoors and burn off some energy.

Even if your local department doesn’t run camps where they’ll actually take your kids for the day, chances are they’re hosting some cheap or free summer events you can attend as a family.

6. Plant a garden

Get kids out of the house and into a healthy pastime with gardening. Even small kids can help plant corn if you’ve got room, as it’s easy to grow in many U.S. climates. Or talk to your local gardening center about fruits, vegetables, or flowers that are particularly easy to grow in your area.

Be sure to give the kids some autonomy over this project, to really let them get involved. They should be able to help choose the plants and the layout. But they should also be responsible for weeding, watering, and other garden maintenance. This is a great skill building activity that can also keep kids busy all summer long.

7. Get to know free activities in your area

The internet is rife with great blogs highlighting local activities, especially for families with kids. Run a quick Google search for your area, and get familiar with what’s out there. Often times, these blogs will keep calendars of family-friendly activities, often free or cheap ones, throughout the summer.

Read more: Why a family physician says parents these days are raising kids all wrong

8. Create an activity bucket

Often times, there’s plenty to do around your house, but the kids aren’t great at sussing out the next best idea. Write down potential activities on popsicle sticks, and stick them in a jar or bucket. Let the kids choose one activity each day, and make it happen.

This could include things like making homemade ice cream, building a bicycle ramp in the back yard, creating a sprinkler out of an old two liter bottle, or building a fort in the living room. Try to come up with ideas using only materials you’ve got on hand, especially if they’re things the kids can do largely unsupervised.

9. Explore new local parks

Make it a goal to go to one new park each week this summer. If you’re in a medium to large metropolitan area, there are probably loads of neighborhood parks you’ve never even heard of. And you might discover a few new favorites. Just set aside one afternoon each week, pack a picnic lunch, and try out a new park.

10. Create a summer memory board

Kids love to collect things, whether it’s movie ticket stubs or rocks from each park you visit. And if you’re like many parents, you like to take photos of your kids having fun. Combine all these memory-sparking items and photos onto a summer memory board.

All you need is a large cork board, which you can get for a few bucks at a local craft store. Each time you try something new or create new memories, add to your board. Looking at the board may help spark new activity ideas for your kids, and it’ll be a great memento to have at the end of the summer.

Read more: Parents may face $1,000 in fines for kids' bully behavior

11. Pick up some board games

Board games for kids have come a long way since Candy Land. While the old games are still great, many new games teach skills like resource management, teamwork, and basic strategy skills. You’ll need to invest some money up front in these board games, but you can get most kids’ games for $20 or less. And if your kids end up loving them, it’s an investment you won’t regret!

12. Start a small business

If you want to keep your kids really busy this summer, get them thinking about how to earn, save, and invest money. Young kids can plan for a garage sale late in the summer, spending the summer sorting through clothes and toys they no longer need. Bigger kids can mow lawns or pull weeds for the neighbors, or act as mother’s helpers, taking care of little kids while mom is still around.

Just be sure to start your young entrepreneur off right with a checking account and savings tool. A regular savings account or piggy bank may work, but you could also start teaching your kids the basics of investing with an IRA

[Editor’s Note: You also want to be sure to keep track of your own finances over the summer. High levels of debt related to summer spending could hurt your credit score. You can see where you currently stand by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on]

Read more: How to start your own business from scratch