Parenting

How I keep my kids entertained for free

kids free playing in leavesFun Doesn’t Have to Cost a Dime

 

While I don’t mind paying for an experience with the kids the cost of entertainment can easily escalate taking more money out of your wallet and budget than you may actually be able to afford.

How many times have you gone somewhere and after snacks, amusement rides and souvenirs you have spent a lot more money than you anticipated beforehand?

No matter the season or the time of year having fun with your kids doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.

There are many things that you can do free of charge to keep your little kids occupied. These explorations will teach children life lessons or help them to expand their creative imagination while having some fun at the same time.

While you may not always have a souvenir the memories made and the bonding time between parents and kids will last longer than any souvenir you could buy.

While playing soccer, baseball and other sports with your kids is definitely time well spent explore your creative side and see what other ideas you can come up with.

 

Get Outdoors and Explore

 

There is so much to learn and explore when it comes to the great outdoors.

Remember we have washing machines for a reason and if our clothes didn’t get dirty what’s the point of having them?

Put on your rubber boots, get outside and enjoy the world!

 

Collect bugs

 

A plastic margarine container with a lid can be used for catching bugs, just don’t forget to poke a few holes in the lid.

Lifting up big rocks and broken branches will often expose a salamander or two. Remember not to keep them in the container for too long and return them back to their environment.

 

Take a hike

 

Go for a walk along nature trails or in a nearby forest or conservation area. You never know what nature has lurking behind the scenes for your children to see and explore. It also makes for good conversations amongst their friends the next day.

 

Bird watching

 kids free ducks

My grandpa was an avid bird lover and it is something that he passed on to my dad.

My kids like to go out and help fill the feeders and can now recognize a few different species of birds. They know the common Robins, Crows, Cardinals and Blue Jays but they also are able to point out what a Goldfinch is and can identify a hawk.

While I grew up with my dad and grandfather educating me about birds the internet can give  information and identifying characteristics that you can use to explore the many bird species with your kids.

Grab a pair of binoculars, a bird book or some internet print offs and go and see how many birds you can recognize together.

If you have a camera don’t be shy to bring it along because you never know if your little one enjoys capturing moments that will last a life-time.

 

Play I spy…nature edition

 

I don’t think this needs much explanation but it’s a great way to get the kids out and to give them a bit of exercise while having fun outdoors.

 

Plan a Scavenger hunt

 

Make a list ahead of time of things for the kids to find such as a red leaf, a plant with flat branches (Burning Bush), 2 different kinds of pine/spruce cones and an acorn.

Remember to always respect nature and not remove anything from a conservation area. This is a great time to teach your kids about respecting and taking care of our environment while enjoying some strong family bonding time.

 

Play in the rain

 

A rainy day can easily make for a depressing day for both parents and kids. Honestly are there any kids out there that don’t like to jump in puddles?

Dressing warm, rain boots and a rain coat can make for a fun rainy day provided there is no lightning or thunder.

 

Stargazing

 

I have always struggled to locate the Big Dipper while everyone else has no problem finding it.

There are various apps available if you own a smart phone that help you identify the different constellations.

If you own a telescope don’t be shy to bring it out at night and show your kids what lurks above in the midnight sky when the darkness falls upon us.

I look forward to doing this with my kids this summer.

 

Property Maintenance

 kids free gardening

Gardening, shovelling snow, cutting the grass (age appropriate, ear protection) is a great way to teach your children about gardening what you can do with seeds, soil and some garden tools.

Spring, summer and fall there is always some gardening that can be done whether it’s raking leaves for composting, pulling weeds or digging a new garden there is always something to do.

While pruning may not be age appropriate for young kids they often enjoy the clean up! Jumping into a pile of raked up leaves can create lots of jumping fun while knocking another chore off the to-do list.

 

Go to the Park

 kids free animal farm

While most cities have parks with playgrounds and plenty of space to run around some also have petting zoos and splash pads that are free to use or visit while the park is open.

 

Create something

 

Do a science experiment

Pinterest and other websites have endless ideas of home science experiments that you and your kids can do together. Whether it’s seeing how marshmallows react differently in various liquids or how to make an egg-shell disappear you can find just about anything online.

 

Invent something

 

Using old parts or things from around the house that you don’t need to create something new is fun for any kid. If you have just purchased a new dishwasher or washing machine and now money is tight, keep the box.

Anyone with kids knows that cardboard boxes are a favourite of kids. They can turn the box into a castle, doll house or fort and the kids will be overly joyed.

 

Bake

 

Let the kids help you create easy recipes such as cookies, a cake, anything. We fill plastic condiment dispensers with pancake batter and let kids create shapes in the frying pan (we do the flipping).

Make play dough or modelling clay from scratch, there are several DIY recipes available online and they are simple enough that the kids can help make it and then play or create with it after.

 

Make popsicles from scratch

 

Making homemade popsicles is often cheaper than buying a box from the store and can also be a lot healthier for your kids if you make them from fresh 100% juice or yogurt.

The kids then get to enjoy a special treat that they had a hand in making. Milkshakes and smoothies are also a hit in our house.

Let the kids choose from fruits/vegetables on hand so they can customize their own drink. You may have better luck having them finish it when they create it and less food waste.

 

Community events

 

Spend a few hours at the fire station

Every summer our local fire department has an open house at the main fire station in town. The kids get to climb up in the fire trucks as well as explore an ambulance and a police cruiser. Last year the kids even got to use a fire hose.

The kids had a great time learning about fire safety and exploring all the vehicles and left with a pile of stickers and colouring books and to top it off it was free.

While snacks and hotdogs were offered for sale there was no pressure to spend any money and the kids and myself had a great day.

My kids loved visiting the fire station where fire fighters would let them sit in their big fire engines and load them up with stickers, colouring books and other toys.

 

Go to the library

 

Check with your local public libraries to see what free reading programs they offer.

There are different programs for different age groups that include reading groups, story-time for all ages, puppet shows and more.

You could also check out how-to books so you and your kids can learn something new together. You may spark some sort of interest with your kids which might become a life-long hobby or expertise for your child. Let them explore their inner creativity.

 

Make a trip to the home renovation store

 

Home Depot and Lowe’s often offer free kids workshops on the weekends. Not only do they get to learn how to use basic tools but they also get to bring home a project that they have made.

Check out their websites for upcoming workshops in your local stores.

 

Parades

 

During Christmas, Thanksgiving, Canada Day or Victoria Day if there is a parade my kids want to go.

The marching bands are their favourite and they love to see all of the instruments. My uncle plays in one of the bands as well plus they love to dance.

They usually head home with some candy and a few colouring books which keeps them occupied for hours of fun.

 

Local festivals

 kids free sleigh ride

For Family Day this year the kids and I visited the local winter festival. Although it was cold outside we had a great time together as a family and it was free entertainment.

The kids got to go down an ice slide yet I have to admit it was also pretty cool to see some exceptional ice sculptures on site. It was also exciting for the kids to work on crafts and get their faces painted for free.

Many festivals whether they are seasonal or cultural in nature are held in many cities throughout the year often with free admission, a minimal fee or a food bank donation.

While fun, many of these festivals can be very educational for the entire family.

 

Around the house

 

Clean together

While cleaning may not sound like a lot of fun it certainly can be. I love spring cleaning.

I’ll be honest that I don’t overly enjoy the actual cleaning aspect of it but I love to see some of the unnecessary items go out the front door.

That’s the best part, downsizing what you no longer use to free up space in the house limiting clutter and dust.

I often hear my kids say ‘mom I don’t need this toy anymore can we give it someone else who can play with it?

We donate our stuff to charity but I like to get the kids involved having them help pick out the items they no longer need or use. There are many organizations such as a thrift store or church that would appreciate the donations.

Young kids also like to help out around the house because to them it is more fun than it is work. While we all hope our kids will grow up to continue helping with chores regardless teaching kids responsibility around the house at a young age is never a negative.

While our job as parents is to protect and provide for our children we are also their teachers. If you can make each day a fun learning experience that’s even better!

 

Make a Home Movie Theatre

 

Going to the movies is far from budget friendly these days but it’s not that expensive to create that experience right at home for less.

Putting on a movie, making popcorn and turning off the lights makes an at-home movie theatre very easy.

Not long ago I purchased popcorn cups from the dollar store so we could make our own theatre popcorn and the kids love it.

You can get movies from the thrift store, online, garage sales, borrow them, library or trade with your friends for free or very cheap.

You can’t compare the costs to going to a movie theatre even though it’s an experience for the child if the budget doesn’t allow for it, think outside the box.

 

Read a book

 

Reading a new book together or finding different ways to explore a familiar book, for example look for a different object or letter on each page/

You can go to the library and find books for free that your child likes and bring them home for free entertainment.

 

Do a puzzle

 

One of my favourite childhood memories is sitting around our living-room table with my sisters and my dad doing a puzzle for hours on end.

Our dad was known to stay up for a few hours after we would all go to bed to keep working on that puzzle.

Playing cards and board games with my family was always a great source of family entertainment at home. Skip Bo and Mad Gab were some of our family favourites.

My dad often plays dominoes with my kids and my 5 year old son usually wins. He loves to play with Grandpa and even more so that he can beat him every time.

While turning on the television is an easy way to occupy the kids watching too much of it is not a good thing. I limit the time my children watch television because I don’t want them to miss out what our world has to offer.

Something as simple as building a paper airplane and seeing who can fly theirs the farthest can really make a kid’s day. The list of other things you can do with a little creativity is endless.

What other activities can you add to this list of free things to do with your kids?

 

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9 Comments

  1. These are pretty useful tips for keeping children busy without spending money or replying on television (which is so easy to do). I think the most fun would be property maintenance because kids love to get their hands dirty. And star-gazing, well, I tried that but gave it up because of all the mosquitoes that wanted to do it with me.

  2. Lots of great ideas. Many things we already do. I’m also a fan of kids entertaining themselves, so we go for a happy medium. With only 1 child we want him to know how to play on his own, but also with others. We bring friends along many times for them to bond. One of our favourites it our library. Ours offers so much more than just reading programs. There is a Lego club, board game nights, movie afternoons, and in the summer the reading club has a pizza party provided to the kids who complete it for free. And those are the programs we participate in, there are many more. So much fun not spending. Great article!

  3. (Ducking head for cover here) Kids need to be able to entertain themselves, without parents playing with them. Give them them the basics, as you gave in several great examples above, and let them go to it.
    I used to make home made play dough. The kids played for hours. If you let their creations dry out, they became ornaments/fridge magnets.
    Lots of scrap paper, boxes, craft material scraps. Lego.

    I think I had a great childhood,but I don’t remember my parents really having anything to do with it. They allowed me to visit friends for sleepovers, and have friends for sleepovers.
    Walking 3 miles (round trip) for a popsicle to share with a friend, kept us fit.

    1. I completely agree Kathryn that kids need to be able to entertain themselves but there is only so much they can do to entertain themselves sometimes, my kids play well on their own but also love our time playing and exploring as a family, I learn things too. My kids are 5 and under, as they get older I imagine I won’t be as big of a part. 🙁

  4. Another great article Katrina!!!! Back when my kids were small we did a number of these things. Now with a 4yr old grandson I get to do some of them again with him!!! We always read to the kids, and such. In the early days of vhs tape players we would go together with friends a we would rent a couple of movies and they would rent a couple them we would trade off. We got to watch 4 movies for the rental of 2. Now we can just rent the dvd’s from the library for free. Basically they just charge a small fee that is returned when you bring the dvd back.
    Our daughter has a pile of things on pinterest to do with kids filed under work as she works in a daycare and is always looking for things for the kids at the daycare and that she can do with the Little Mr too…Toys he no longer plays with go to work with her for the kids there to play with..
    I remember as a kid I didn’t dare leave colouring books or puzzles out when I went to bed…my Mom loved them too!!!! She would finish my puzzles and colour in the books!!
    My kids helped out around the house from a young age. The boys are still at home and they still help out around here. It’s great!!! A while back we were looking for child size brooms and such for my daughter’s friend so her little girl could help Mommy and the adult ones were too big for her to use easily!!! Those smaller brooms make it nice for the kids to use and they get a kick out of it….

    1. Thanks Christine, my mom has her own colouring books now that she has to hide from the kids! Sounds like your daughter keeps the little guy busy!

  5. I just spent the afternoon with a friend in NYC without spending a dime. We walked around, checked out thrift stores (nothing really jumped out at me). Tried samples of hot chocolate at a bakery and wine at a wine shop (skip that one with the kids). But a wonderful afternoon for nothing.

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