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10 Free Ways to Entertain Your Kids This Summer

If the thought of keeping your kids entertained this summer - without springing for expensive camps or lessons - makes you want to pull out your hair, then look no further.

You don’t need a big budget to keep kids happy.

With a few basic props, toys, and tools, you’ll be on your way to fostering their imaginations - and keeping them out of trouble.

Here are 10 free ways to entertain your kids - and your family - all summer long:

1. Explore the Wild Outdoors

While some parents might worry about taking their kids camping or on a short day hike, remember: kids have energy to burn!

Short hikes between, say, two and five miles on easy terrain, will give your little ones room enough to explore without wiping them out in the heat. Check out REI’s stellar article on hiking with infants, toddlers, and kids for more guidance on how to survive the wilderness with your family.

If you already have camping gear, pack up your car and head out to a family-friendly spot. Many national parks have ranger programs for young children, but you can come up with your own ways to help kids feel comfortable in the great outdoors, too.

“Try sleeping in a tent in the backyard first,” Vicki Wright, the outdoor initiative lead for Girl Scouts, suggested at Parenting. “Take notes as you think of things you’ll need on a full-blown trip.”

2. Beach Day

Whether you live on the coast, near the Great Lakes, or have to hunt for a swimming hole, everyone loves cooling off during a hot summer day by putting their toes in the water.

Once you account for any parking fees or day passes, your family beach day should be relatively inexpensive.

Pack a cooler to keep everyone hydrated and fed throughout the day - just don’t forget that many beaches are “carry in and carry out” when it comes to trash.

Beach blankets, radios, frisbees, buckets, and sand castle molds should keep everyone occupied while you catch some rays.

3. Family Bike Rides

Strap on your helmet and dig out your bike pump - it’s time to get suited up and head out on the bike trail.

Whether your little ones need to be toted in a trailer or have trikes of their own, biking is a great healthy activity for the entire family.

While you might be tempted to just let kids run loose, a family bike ride can be a good opportunity to teach them about handling traffic and being mindful of other riders, too.

If your children are still too small to have their own bikes, never fear. A bicycle seat can help you feel even closer, says Jeffrey Rosenblum, a transportation planner for Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“When the little ones are [on a seat] right in front, they don’t have anything blocking their view and they are pointing out everything,” Rosenblum told The Boston Globe. “And your arms are right around them — it feels warm and fuzzy.”

4. Garden Variety

Have a big front or back yard? Try setting up a slew of games for your kids - and their friends - to enjoy.

Water games go over big in the summer, so pull out your Slip N Slide, squirt guns, sprinkler, and water balloons. Kids will cool down in no time.

Other organized fun - from bubble blowing to tag, wiffle ball, and hopscotch - will keep everyone occupied until it’s time to come in for dinner.

5. Dive for Sunken Treasure

If your kids are strong swimmers, the public or neighborhood pool can be a great place to kill a  hot and sunny afternoon.

Encourage them to play classic games like Marco Polo and tag, master their underwater headstand in the shallow end, or go diving for “sunken treasure” - whether that’s special diving coins or a few choice pebbles.

Be sure to brush up on the Red Cross’s guide to water safety - and never leave children unattended in the pool. Children under the age of 5, or who aren’t comfortable swimmers, should be outfitted with water wings to help them stay afloat.

6. Cooking Class

Summer means it’s time to slow down, so take the opportunity to spend a few hours with your kids in the kitchen.

According to bloggers KJ Dell’Antonia and Margaux Laskey, a “cooking class” with Master Chef Mom or Dad can make a big difference in a child’s life skills - plus, it’s a great workaround for picky eaters.

“Involving children in the process of cooking — picking out the watermelons and tomatoes and plucking the herbs to add to a tomato and watermelon salad, for example — greatly increases the chance that they’ll actually try the finished dish,” write Dell’Antonia and Laskey at The New York Times.

Pick something easy to make, like a simple pizza or big pan of mac and cheese. That way you don’t have to worry about explaining complicated steps - or a bored kid who makes a mess just to keep things interesting.

Outside of a little supervision and guidance, let your kids take the reigns on their culinary creations. Give them a chance to put dinner on the table for a change.

7. Neighborhood Block Party

Whether you’re new to the neighborhood, or you’ve had the same address for 20 years, a neighborhood block party is a great way to help your kids get to know their neighbors.

Many block parties are used to raise funds for a neighborhood goal, but they can also be low-key street fairs where neighbors check in with one another and enjoy good food, music, and games.

Pool resources to cover permit fees, as well as food and drink - or sell tickets, if your neighborhood spans a few blocks.

Learn more about how to throw a block party with your neighbors over at Good Housekeeping.

8. Family Fun Days

During the school year it can be too hectic - and too expensive - to head to local kid-friendly attractions like the zoo or the aquarium.

Many community organizations have free or reduced tickets throughout the summer months, or during other vacation times.

Sign up for their newsletters - or check your local paper - to see when you might be able to take your little ones on a budget-friendly adventure.

9. Summer Reading List

Reading tends to get a bad rap - especially for kids who think the screen is king.

Reintroduce them to the joys of reading this summer by enrolling in a local library reading program. Depending on the program, kids can earn rewards for reading books, from pizza to gift cards from local bookstores.

Plus, says education reporter Annie Murphy Paul, they’re learning skills that will help them once the school year rolls around.

It turns out that “giving kids 12 books to read over the summer [is] as effective as summer school,” writes Paul at Time.

Regardless of the reward, kids should learn that libraries are a fun resource - and that librarians know where all the best books are hiding on the shelves.

For more ways to make reading fun this summer, check out PBS.org.

10. Art Projects

If you have construction paper, glue, and - yes - glitter, you have an afternoon’s worth of fun hiding in your closet.

While hashtag-worthy Pinterest projects might make you worry about your crafting abilities, kids have no qualms when it comes to getting creative.

Just plop them down in front of your supplies, make sure they have access to children’s scissors and washable markers, and let them go to town.

Need something more structured? Here are 62 ideas from the minds behind Care.com.

Whether your kids are old enough to entertain themselves - or they need structured activities to stay busy - this summertime to-do list is about as fun, easy, and cheap as it gets.

Enjoy your family time as you hike, bike, and swim your way through a summer - and let us know which activity works best for your little ones!

Images: Pexels, Pexels, Pexels

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