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How to Keep Your Kids Entertained this Summer for Less

Updated on July 11, 2012

Summer is here!

Summer is here! The kids are home full time. They are looking at you because they think they are bored out of their minds (although you could probably put them to work cleaning out the basement, but they will have none of that). They want to go hang out at the mall (and spend your money). They want to go to the amusements parks (and spend your money). They want to go to the movies (and spend your money).

Your wallet is already empty from trying to keep them (and their friends) fed this summer. What can you do to keep them entertained (and happy!)?

Here are some ideas that have worked for us. Not all of them are "cool," but they help keep the budget more manageable and your stress level below the eruption point.


Cast your vote for Summer

Library Reading Programs

Our library has a reading program. Yes, it is boring (according to the kids), but as incentives for reading, our library gives out food and activity coupons. Last week, we all received free ice cream coupons and free museum passes for completing the next level in the program. Not much, but we can go out for ice cream (for free) after we go to the museum (for free!).

Book Store Reading Programs

Our local bookstores (three of them), have reading programs that give the child a free book for reading 5-10 books. Barnes and Noble does this as does Borders (although, they closed in a lot of cities). I can get my kids a free book instead of spending money to buy one. Check out the websites of your local bookstores or call them.

Bowling Alleys

Brunswick Zone Bowling Alley has free bowling days for the kids as well as reduced rate bowling days. You can sign up on-line to get really good coupons for their location.


Our local city museums have free days over the summer where you can get in without paying. They are a little crowded, but still free!

Our Library also has free passes that they lend out to the local museums (you have to show your ID to prove you are a resident). You have to get there right away in the morning and check it out that day, but getting into a museum for free is so worth it.


If you have smaller children, visiting a different park in your area every few days (or weekly) can be a real treat. We get a list of parks in our area from the local park district and plot out which ones we will visit and when. We keep track of the ones we like and visit those over and over again.


These are usually pretty pricy to join, but some of the pools in our area have a free day at the start of the season. We usually go on those days. Also, some have "twilight" savings, where you can get in for half price after a certain time. These are good for some evening fun after work with the kids.


Yes, as they age, the kids (especially those girls) love the mall. Frankly, I don't get it, but, as a parent you have to deal with reality here and there. On a really hot day, walking around the mall can be fun. Window shopping is free! You can also bring food coupons for the local eateries and maybe snag some savings there. Not the cheapest way to spend your time, but it can be made a little less costly.

Concerts/Movies in the Park

Our park district offers free Concerts/Movies in the Park weekly. Bring a blanket, some snacks for the kids, and listen to some free music/watch a movie. Yes, the movies are not new releases, but still, it is fun to be outside in the summer, hanging with friends.


Our library has a ton of free programs over the summer. A few weeks ago they provided a free Jim Gill concert! It was awesome. All we had to do was register on line. There was no free. They did collect some canned goods for the local food shelter, but that was not big deal. I took a few cans of feed from our pantry and off we went.

Nature Centers

Our local nature center is free (wahoo!). We love it. It has hiking trails, a river to walk along (and throw rock into!), bat caves, and lots of animals running around.


Our local mini-golf/adventure center gives out free coupons through email. Once you sign up, your email will have lots of free coupons to use.


Our city zoo has free days, but we also have two local zoos that are much smaller. They are usually less crowded and one is free, the other costs $1 to get in. These are nicer when the kids are smaller because you do not feel like you have to race across the whole park in a short time (before the kids explode before nap) to get your money's worth. They are more relaxed and offer a more hands on approach, usually.


Sign up for their birthday clubs. Most of the eateries in our area have websites where you an register and get a free meal on your birthday (or an appetizer, etc..). Some also have punch cards, so if you eat there often, you may be able to get some food free.

Vacation Bible School

Our local church has a VBS that costs virtually nothing for a whole week of activities. The older ones who volunteers, do not get charged. Awesome!

Movie Theaters

Our local movie theater has $1 movies every week. You just show up and get to see a movie for a buck a person. Check out the website of your local theater and see if they offer them. Three theaters in our area offer these great prices.

Also sign up for their websites. Our local theater will send me a free popcorn coupon every week.


If they are really bored and crabbing that there is NOTHING to do over the summer, have them volunteer somewhere. There are a bunch of places that need help. The local nursing home can always use some smiley faces or cookies, bake something for the local fire/police station, volunteer at the library (ours uses teen volunteers for the reading program), ask your church if they need help with cleaning over the summer, volunteer to babysit for a new mom in the neighborhood, etc... The possibilities are endless.

Where to get information

Library - The Librarians have a tremendous knowledge of the area. Our ladies know a lot of the events in the city and can guide you to some fun this summer.

Park District - Their websites list all of their activities as well as the costs.

Local Paper - Our local paper lists events in the area every week. Some have fees, some are free, and some are in-between.

Websites - Sign up for all the newsletters/coupons/etc.. that you can. Restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, book stores, libraries, etc... will send you coupons. You would not believe what free stuff companies will send you. You will get a lot of junk, but we get free movie popcorn coupons weekly, as well as free dinners on our birthdays!

Loyalty Cards - Our local ceramics shop has a punch card where you get the 8th item free. Some restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, bowling/skate places will do this as well. If you frequent an establishment often, you can save some money!

Friends/relatives - Ask your friends/relatives for ideas. I have learned so much by asking other moms what they do. Everyone has a special place they love over the summer that they visit over and over again. Maybe they will share.


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