Summer is almost here! If you’re like me, you’re on a budget, but always on the lookout for fun things to do with the kids over the summer.

Below is a list of 15 fun things to do that are FREE or cost very little. We’ve tried them all at our house, and if my kids liked them, yours will too!

1. Go to camp – Our local YMCA day camp hosts a community night once a month each summer (this year: 6/22, 7/20, 8/17). You can visit the camp and swim, go kayaking or boating, climb an obstacle course or do archery. They even serve a hot dog dinner! Afterward, there are marshmallows and camp songs at the campfire. Cost for this event? FREE!

2. See the animals – Visit your local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). It’s like visiting a petting zoo for free. For the price of the gas to get there, you can see a variety of animals from kittens to horses to goats. Some locations will let you walk the dogs or pet the cats. They also offer a host of activities, like animal story times or arts and crafts for the price of a cat or dog food donation item. Check their website for more information.

3. Create your own water park – Don’t want to shell out $30 per kid to visit a water park? I don’t blame you. Create your own (free) water park! Pull out the kiddie pool (you’ll be surprised how much the grown kids like it!), poke holes in an old hose, break out the Slip and Slide, and create fun water games. Our kids especially love the frozen t-shirt contest. Wet and freeze two t-shirts overnight and see who can thaw theirs first and put it on!

4. Bowl or golf – Our local miniature golf place has 2 for 1 nights every Tuesday with a coupon you can download from their website. And if you get a hole-in-one on the 18th hole, you get a coupon for a free game later! Call your local mini-golf place or check on-line to see if they offer similar deals. If bowling is more your thing, check out Kids Bowl Free, a program which gives kids two free strings of bowling every day throughout the summer! You just have to pay for shoe rentals (around $3 in my area). If you want to bowl with your kids, you can purchase a family pass for $25 that gives two adults two free games a day all summer long! Check their website for a list of participating centers in your area.

5. Visit the museum – Take advantage of free or reduced rate museum passes offered by the library. Or, many museums offer a free night once a week. Call the museum or check online for more information.

6. Take a tour – We happen to live near Stonyfield Farm. Although they no longer offer tours, you can go to their visitor’s center and see a free film of how yogurt is made, try free samples, and shop! Other businesses offer similar programs. You can also usually make an appointment to visit your local police station or fire station.

7. Volunteer – Pick a local nursing home a bring the kids once a week to read, play games with, or do crafts with elderly residents. I will admit that my kids didn’t love this idea at first, but as the summer wore on they began looking forward to their visits!

8. See a movie – Create your own drive-in theater at home. Move a TV and DVD player outside for one night, or borrow a projector from a friend and hang up a sheet. Get a movie from the library for free (or chose one from your collection) and watch with some popcorn! The novelty of watching TV outside never fails to impress our kids. and best of all, it’s free! Last summer we watched the Back to the Future trilogy. This year, we’re doing Star Wars. I forgot how good those movies were!

Also, Regal Cinemas offers free movies every Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. as part of their Free Family Film Festival. The movies aren’t first run, (for example Kung Fu Panda and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs are two of this summer’s features), but it’s free, and some theatres offer popcorn and drinks for only $1 each!

9. Go to the farm – Visit a local farm to pick your own fruits and veggies, or take part in farm festivals which sometimes include free music, petting zoos, and hayrides. Our local diary farm shows how ice cream is made from “Cow to Cone.” Check with the farm before you go for hours and pricing. Most events are free.

10. Play sports – Our local high school and college both offer inexpensive sports camps year-round for kids. For about $50 for a full-time week, my youngest son learned basketball skills and drills. They also offer scholarships for those in need. Who knows, your child could learn to shoot hoops from the next Michael Jordan!

11. Get take-out – Too hot to cook? Our local pizzeria offers $5.99 large cheese pizzas every Wednesday. Follow it up with s’mores made on the grill and you’ve got a pretty inexpensive dinner that satisfies all. The added bonus is that you didn’t have to cook!

Participants in the American Independence Festival in Exeter, NH take a break.

12. Attend a festival – Check in the newspapers or with your local historical society to see if there are any interesting upcoming festivals. For example, Lowell, MA offers an annual free, three-day Folk Festival July 23-25.  The American Independence Festival offers a  Revolutionary War battlefield reenactment in Exeter, NH on July 17th. Newburyport, MA hosts Yankee Homecoming July 25-August 1st. My kids love to catch the bed race! All activities were free!

The beautiful trains at Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, MA.

13. Take a hike – Find a local trail and make completing it a summer ritual. We like Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire and Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  Make sure to bring bug spray and lots of water. Most trails are free. Some state parks charge a small parking fee. The NH Trails Bureau has maps and trail hiking safety tips available on-line.

14. Grow a Garden – Give each kid a window box and allow them to pick what they want to grow. Our kids enjoyed watching their peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes grow. They liked eating them even more!

15. Do something educational – Our library offers a free book club for kids. It meets once a month and the kids get to keep the book they read and complete an arts and crafts project. I think my kids go for the free donuts and other incentives, though.   Or, if you’re religious, some churches offer free vacation bible school programs.

If there’s something you’d like to add to this list, add a comment and let me know! I’d love to hear your ideas for cheap things to keep the kids busy this summer!