In the spring of 2020, my five kids (ages 4 to 13) were going stir crazy and getting on one another’s nerves. One afternoon, my wife had enough and ordered everyone outside to the driveway. She proposed that we would convert our double car driveway into a life-sized Snakes and Ladders board. My older kids were charged with creating the grid and numbering the squares. The younger ones colored in the various squares, snakes, and ladders as best they could. Making that board was a project filled with laughter that engaged all of us for nearly three hours. When all was said and done, we got some dice and played. I don’t know who won, but it was a great afternoon spent together, and it didn’t cost us a thing.
Kids love it when their parents get creative with summertime adventures. And sometimes, parents have to get creative to find things to do that don’t cost all that much. When you’re trying to get the kids out but you’re working on a budget, try one of these 10 affordable family bonding activities.
1. Backyard Campout
Take the camping gear you may already have (or borrow some) and set up in your own back yard. Pitch a tent, roll out the sleeping bags, and roast hot dogs or marshmallows. For the full camping experience, don’t forget to tell stories or sing songs around the campfire with your kids.
2. Playground Championship
Get a list of every playground in town. Create criteria for kids to rate parks based on what they like best: the size of the equipment, necessary pieces, unique features, and the like. As you tour through every park, have your kids rank them and keep a running leaderboard throughout the summer. Once you’ve tried them all, crown the best park around with as much fanfare as possible.
3. A Cheap or Free Swim
Many pools have slow times when they lower their prices to try and get people in the water. Some will offer free swimming while others may have a one- or two-dollar swim on a weekly or monthly basis. Use Google to find out when and where you can take advantage of a pool’s off hours. As a bonus, you may discover a new favorite family pool.
4. Backyard Waterpark
When you can’t get out to the local pool, find ways to turn your back yard into a waterpark. If you’ve got a backyard playground, add a sprinkler and inflatable pool to make a waterslide. A roll of poly sheeting works well with water (and dish soap) to upgrade your slip-n-slide. There are also endless possibilities when you work with PVC pipe, some foam pool noodles, and a drill.
5. Laser Maze
Take a roll of masking tape and some crepe paper or yarn to create a laser maze in one of your hallways. Kids have to try to climb through the maze without touching the “laser beams”—the strings of crepe paper or yarn—that zigzag across the hallway. For added effect, dim the lights and play the Mission Impossible theme as they navigate the maze.
6. Next-Level Fort Building
Whether it’s the leftover boxes from appliances, couch cushions, or an intricate setup of ropes and blankets, there’s no limit of ways you can build a fort with your kids. Level this activity up by giving your kids a set amount of time to build and decorate their own fort, and then have the whole family camp in them that night in the living room.
7. Yard Sales
Give everyone a few dollars and spend an afternoon going from yard sale to yard sale. See who can make their money go the furthest and who can bring home the most interesting or most valuable gift. If it’s not yard sale season, try this in a thrift store.
8. House Swap
Find another family who lives in another neighborhood or town and swap houses for the weekend. Spend the time acquainting yourself with everything you can in the other community: exploring parks, hiking trails, notable landmarks, and even the local church community.
9.U-Pick to the Table
Look up a u-pick farm in your area, and take your kids for an afternoon picking. Armed with the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor and a recipe, make a meal with your kids using the produce they’ve picked. You could also use this experience as inspiration to get your kids involved in your own garden in the future.Volunteering as a family will bring you closer together while making a difference in the lives of others.
Family bonding activities can involve others. There are always opportunities to serve others in places like food banks, soup kitchens, and nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Choosing to volunteer somewhere as a family will bring all of you closer together while making a difference in the lives of those in need.
Earn some points: Are you married? If so, share this iMOM article with your wife: Fun Activities for Kids.
Sound off: What are some other family bonding activities you can do on a budget?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s your favorite summer memory?”