Let’s face it, it’s easy to fall into the trap of spending lots of money trying to provide entertainment for your kids in this day and age. I remember when my parents would pretty much open the front door and say “Be home before dark, don’t get it trouble” and leave us to make our own fun (maybe not viable today but there is merit to this). However, these days just going to the movies almost requires you to remortgage your home! Then there are play centers, amusement parks, water parks, etc. all charge entry fees and exorbitant food prices, not to mention the video games, iPads etc.
As a young Dad who is on his journey to financial freedom I am always looking for ideas on how I can save money and still enjoy time with my kids and hopefully teach them a thing or two along the way. While I do have a few go-to activities I like to try and mix things up to create fun and new experiences. In this post I have listed out 50 activities you can do with your kids without breaking the bank.
Some of the activities will take a whole day, some only a few minutes but all of them are guaranteed to be fun and enjoyable for the whole family, all while costing next to nothing.
One point to note is that I have tried to limit the use of technology in this list as kids these days always seem to be glued to some sort of screen. I thoroughly believe in kids getting outside and getting dirty and there have been many books written and studies completed that show the benefits of children playing outside and connecting with nature.
Whilst I do believe in the benefits of technology in some aspects of life, the play is an area where I try to bring it back to basics, so in the list below I have tried to minimize the number of technology-based activities and the ones that are technology-based are all creative.
If you would like some further reading on the benefits of kids playing outside, see some of the books below that I would recommend.
Please enjoy the list below, I would love to hear any feedback on these activities or any others that you may enjoy. Why not print this out so next time you are looking for something cheap and fun to do you can tick it off the list, I am sure you will even be able to think of some of your own to add to it!
- Hiking/bushwalking – Getting out into nature and exploring is such a wonderful experience. There are so many positives to come from spending so time in the forest among the trees and animals. There are many great resources on the internet for finding great child-friendly places to hike, simply type “hiking with kids” along with your local area to find many exciting places to explore.
- Beachcombing – this one is close to my heart. I have very fond memories of spending mornings with my late grandfather combing the beach for shells and other interesting items. I still have a box of the shells we collected together. Why not start a shell collection with your kids?
- Fort/Cubby house – Can be done outside with various items in the yard (I keep scrap pieces of wood etc for this purpose) or inside when it is raining (table, pillows, blankets etc)
- Take the dog for a walk – You may even offer to take the neighbors dog or a grandparents dog also for a doggy playdate.
- Write a story – Have your kids imagine an epic adventure with dragons, knights, kings, and queens!
- Origami – There are plenty of videos on Youtube which are easy to follow. Alternatively, you can purchase something like this Easy Origami paperback which comes with many easy to follow examples to get you started.
- Role Play – This is one of my daughter’s favorites. Help the kids out with some ideas to get started and soon they will find their creative streak and have you and the other members of the family is completely ridiculous and fun scenarios.
- Paint or draw – Experiment painting with different items, fingers, hands, brushes, sponges, potatoes!
- Build sand castles – at the beach or at home in the sand pit. Don’t forget to look for shells to decorate!
- Go for a bike ride – Explore your neighborhood and use the opportunity to teach your kids about the rules of the road.
- Ride the bus – Ride the bus to somewhere you have never been before and explore a new area. Ride the bus to the beach or a park!
- Ride the train – As with buses, kids seem to love trains! Take the train to the end of the line and see what’s there, then take it home.
- Watch the sunrise – Pack a breakfast hamper the night before then get up early and go to a park or beach and watch the sunrise. The kids will love the magical feel of dawn and the animal and bird life waking up.
- Watch the sunset – As above, pack a dinner hamper and head to your favorite spot to watch the sunset. We are lucky enough to live within a 10-minute drive of some beautiful beaches where you can watch the last light of the sun dance on the ocean.
- Catch tadpoles – Always a fun activity for kids. Grab your nets and head to the creek or lake to catch some tadpoles. Don’t forget to throw them back at the end!
- Go bird watching – A lot of national parks will have dedicated bird hides, check your local areas websites for information on where to go and what to look for. It is a good idea to brief the kids on what they might see and print out some images (or save them to your phone) for identification.
- Have a movie night – This is a regular for us. Bring out the bean bags and popcorn, pick a movie from the collection or from Netflix. If you own a projector, for an added fun setting it up outside! Something like this would look awesome:
- Play card games – The Australian site kidspot.com.au has some great games for kids on their blog post here. Uno is an all-time favorite also
- Make a movie – Also everyone has a smartphone with a video camera on it nowadays – why not use it to create a fun movie with our kids. You will need to upload the videos to your computer and do a little editing so perhaps this one can be a multi-part activity.
- Write a letter or postcard to a friend/grandparents – We send very few letters these days so why not surprise a friend or family member with a handwritten letter in the mail – it is certain to make them smile
- Go to the library – Library’s are such a great resource for many things these days. If you go to the website of your local library you may even be able time your visit with a reading or activity.
- Create a treasure hunt – A fun activity inside the house on a rainy day or in the garden when the weather is nice. Don’t forget to draw a treasure map!
- Camp in your backyard – Lots of fun for the kids and good experience before taking them out for the real thing. Make it authentic and roast some marshmallows over a fire.
- Roast marshmallows – Can be done as part of your backyard camping experience above or any old time for a fun treat.
- Create an obstacle course – Great fun you the kids. You can take it one step further and time their runs and encourage them to improve their time.
- Race snails – Gather up some garden snails and get creative painting their shells (with non-toxic paints of course). A creature a racing ring with some chalk on the floor put them all in the center, then place your bets!
- Paint each other’s faces – The kids will really enjoy this one, not many times they get to draw on Dad! Just make sure you pick up some non-toxic face paints, there are many available for good prices on Amazon.
- Jump in muddy puddles – Great fun when it’s been wet outside. Don’t forget the boots! Also a tip I have picked up, make sure you rinse the mud off before it dries!
- Go to the park – Every kid loves the park! Make it even more exciting by packing a picnic to bring along.
- Write a song or poem – depending on your child’s age you could try writing one from scratch or you could change the words to a song your kids already know. Make it about your family or a silly song about aliens… the options are endless.
- Build a Lego town – I find the cheapest way to buy LEGO is in the bulk brick packs like the ones below. Not only is it cheaper but it ensures creativity as there are no set things to build, although they usually include some examples.
- Bake a cake – Cheap, easy and fun. Don’t forget to have fun decorating it with icing and lollies or fruit as a healthy alternative.
- Make paper airplanes – Grab some paper, any paper will do and teach your kids how to fold paper airplanes. Spice it up by creating a competition on who’s can fly the furthest or highest or do the most loop the loops!
- Do a science experiment – of course, there are the basic vinegar and baking soda chemical reaction experiment.
- Build a bug house – Search the net for a design and see what you have lying around at home (it doesn’t need to be fancy, the bugs aren’t too picky ?). Leave it in the garden a week and see who has moved in! Note: if you live in an area with poisonous spiders where gloves when inspecting your bughouse.
- Stage a play – Kids often enjoy reenacting their favorite movie or book. If you can set up the stage in your living room with a curtain, the kids will love it.
- Launch a rocket – These provide hours of fun and are quite cheap – Stomp Rocket
- Have a dance party – Turn the music up and let loose!
- Pick up rubbish at the local park – There are organized programs and sponsor programs in many areas. While this might sound exciting to the kids it will help build a good sense of community and teach some valuable lessons about looking after the environment.
- Go for “drive” on Google Street View – Can’t afford a holiday? Why in explore another part of the world in Google Maps, surprisingly fun.
- Look at the stars – If you get a clear night why not take the kids outside at night to look at the stars? Star Walk is a wonderful free app on the iPad that allows you to point it up to the sky and see the names of all the constellations and even planets if there are any in your view.
- Look for cloud shapes – An old classic that really gets their imaginations running wild.
- Go fishing – Can be a little pricey buying all the required tackle initially but then can be quite a cost-effective activity. I catch a release generally but you can take it one step further and teach your kids how humanely dispatch and treat your catch if you feel they are up for it. Obviously, this is not everybody’s cup of tea but it is a part of life and kids should learn how to respectfully treat animals we use for food.
- Start a share market game – As I have previously posted I believe in time in the market rather than timing the market, so it is good to start the kids early on what the share market is and how to use it to build your wealth. Starting a game is as simple as start with a theoretical sum of money then picking some stocks on the share market and “investing” in them. You can then track them over a certain period of time to see how you go. It is a good opportunity to teach the kids of the read a financial statement and select a good company to invest in also about how volatile the share market can be.
- Dance in the rain – Wet outside and the kids are bored? Why not put off the gumboots, rain jackets and take some umbrellas outside for some good old fashion dancing in the rain, I guarantee the kids will love it!
- Volunteer – A very important part of our community. Without volunteers, many of the charitable activities that help millions in need would not exist. Why not set the example for your children and highlight the importance of volunteering by doing it yourself or with your family? Depending on your location in the world there are many different entities that can help coordinate the process and there are many different things you can do. A simple Google search will do the trick.
- Go on a bug hunt – Another classic fund activity that I like to do with my kids. We have a couple of the cheap plastic bug houses. The kids love catching them and watching them scurry around and trying to feed them different things. Just always remember to release the critters at the end of the day. It is also a good opportunity to teach kids about potentially venomous or harmful insects.
- Pick flowers and make a bouquet – A nice activity to do while mom is out of the house, so she can come home to some lovely fresh flowers. Depending on your garden you may be able to do this at home, alternatively if you are heading to a park or forest/bush check with the local council if you are allowed to pick the flowers.
- Create some family values – This activity can really open up some interesting conversations with your kids and present many opportunities to help define future behaviors. You can start by writing them down on a piece of paper, then once completed make it a craft activity to put them on a canvas or something similar to be displayed. Many families may have a loose set of values they live by but formalizing them and writing them down can really help children understand their expectations in certain areas and help solidify good, respectful behaviors.
- Learn about another culture – Teaching your child about other cultures can be fun and rewarding. Being culturally aware can help foster empathy in children and help future generations to be more tolerant and accepting. Living in Australia we are very multicultural so there any many opportunities to teach your kids. Australian Aboriginal culture is one of the most fascinating and oldest cultures on earth and living in Australia we are very lucky to have opportunities to teach our kids directly. What other cultures do you have in your immediate area that you can teach your kids about?
So there we have it, a list of 50 cheap or free activities you can do with your kids to break the boredom and spend some quality time together.