25 Ways to Entertain Your Child for Free or Cheap

by Jason Topp on 25 October 2011 21 comments

Parenting is hard work. Keeping little ones (with little attention spans) occupied is often half the battle. It doesn't take long before children run to their parents looking for things to do.

If you aren't careful, keeping kids busy can put a major dent in the pocket book. Having a go-to list of frugal ideas to keep your kids entertained is key. Otherwise, you'll be unprepared for those two little words — "I'm bored."

Check out this list of 25 ways to entertain your child for free. (See also: Entertain Your Kids Without Breaking the Bank, via Parenting Squad)

1. Play Make-Believe Games

Kids love sailing seas, conquering kingdoms, and rescuing princesses from the dragon's lair. Have fun with your kids in an imaginary world!

2. Go to the Library

Libraries are chock full of wonder for kids. Books, activities, and story times are all part of your local library's calendar.

3. Play With Animals

My kids love heading to the local pet store and playing with the puppies.

4. Go to a Local Park

The park is a great place to let kids run around and rid themselves of pent up energy.

5. Make Sidewalk Art

Grab the chalk and allow your imagination to run wild. The other day my four-year-old daughter said, "Draw me and you together, Daddy." I was glad to try!

6. Make Kites and Fly Them

Take a look around your house to see what materials you have available to make a kite. Then go outside, and let your kids fly them!

7. Head to the Beach

If you can put up with getting sand in your car, head to the beach. Kids love playing in the sand and water!

8. Put a Puzzle Together

Puzzles are a great way to keep kids occupied. Sit down with them, and do it together.

9. Find a Spot to Watch the Sunset

We have a lake by our house that offers some great views of the sunset. Find a place in your area to take your kids to watch the magic of a sunset.

10. Have a Bonfire or Campfire in Your Backyard

There's something about sitting by the fire that kids love, and you can make s'mores.

11. Play Soccer or Some Other Sport Together

Head to the park, or play in your own backyard. You can kick the soccer ball around, or grab another ball and play some catch.

12. Make a Picnic Lunch

Throw a picnic lunch together, grab a blanket to sit on, and head off to a park for a little picnic lunch.

13. Go Fishing

There's something about fishing that kids love. Grab poles, find a pond, and cast those lines! If you don't have fishing poles, learn to make your own kid's fishing rod.

14. Plant a Garden

You can make a garden box or even an herb garden if you don't have much room. Your kids will really enjoy watching the veggies sprout up, knowing they played a part in making the food.

15. Play Board Games

Kids love to play old favorites like Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land. Check out this list of classic kids' board games to play, or you could even make up your own games to teach your kids about things like personal finance.

16. Rent a Movie From the Library

Libraries have a host of free movies that your kids will love. Take a trip and let your children pick out a great movie. Here's a list of the 50 best movies for kids!

17. Go Hiking

Put on those hiking boots, and find a trail at a local forest preserve! Your kids will love going on a nature walk.

18. Go Swimming

Got a friend with a pool? Head on over to their house and have a swimming party. Or take a journey to your local community center for a dip.

19. Have a Dance Party

My kids love it when we crank up the music and have a little dance party. Need to fill a kid-friendly playlist for a dance party? Check out this list of top kids dance songs.

20. Volunteer at a Non-Profit Organization

You get to impact others' lives and teach your kids some valuable lessons at the same time. You will need to check with your local organization to see if they have any rules about bringing your kids, or check out this site for volunteer opportunities near you.

21. Draw and Color Pictures

What kid doesn't love to draw and color? All kids are budding artists, so grab crayons, markers, and paper and let them doodle until their hearts are content! If you're looking to teach your kids how to draw, check out this great site to help learn how to draw step-by-step.

22. Make Finger Paint

I don't know why, but my kids love to finger paint — I guess because it's one of the few times we encourage them to get their hands dirty! You can try your hand at some homemade finger paint, and let your kids get a little messy.

23. Play with Play-doh

Play-doh is always a favorite among children. The smell of a freshly opened container of Play-doh is nostalgic for many of us. Sit down with your kids, crack open a thing of Play-doh, and have some fun! Here's a site for some creative Play-doh ideas, or a video about making things with Play-doh.

If you're thinking about making your own, try this recipe for making Play-doh.

24. Ride Bikes

Hop on those bikes, and take a ride around your neighborhood. Don't forget the importance of bike safety!

25. Go "Exploring" on a Night Walk

Occasionally we'll take our kids on a night walk. We let them have some flashlights and pretend we are "exploring." Any time kids use their imaginations, they're content.

What other frugal ideas do you have to entertain children?

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Meg Favreau's picture

When I was a kid, I also liked making things with paper mache -- it's another ultra-cheap (if often ultra-messy) craft.

Jason Topp's picture

That's a great one! I never really did that as a kid, so didn't even cross my mind! :)

Guest's picture
Yazmin

Cooking and baking is also entertaining! You can teach them about nutrition and how to cook at home to save money.

Jason Topp's picture

True! My kids love sitting on the counter and "helping" me cook. My little guy pretends he's grilling "just like Dad!" :)

Guest's picture

My kids are teenagers now so we're past this, but you really don't have to spend much money keeping them happy and entertained. All you have to do is keep them active and busy and they're good. Spending a lot of money to make that happen is a waste.

Play dates and sleep overs with friends are two other activities they can do without costing anything. When kids get together, they make their own fun.

Jason Topp's picture

That's what I love about kids, they don't care about the money, they just want to play and have fun!

Guest's picture

we got hiking together. good way to get some exercise and bond.

Jason Topp's picture

Exercise is always good! :)

Guest's picture

My daughter and I go for walks around the neighborhood, I print a simple list of items I know she can find on our walk. It makes it into a fun little scavenger hunt for her and it helps her with her reading skills at the same time.

Jason Topp's picture

Great idea!! I'm going to implement that one!

Guest's picture
Guest

I love this idea. Never thought of it for a walk just for hiking. Can't wait to use it on the grandkids.

Guest's picture
SAM54

One of my favorite memories with my sons when they were little was to make bubbles. This recipe should be used outside and avoid getting it on car finishes: 1 part ultra-Joy brand or 1-1/2 parts "cooked" Dawn brand
8 parts pure water (we used distilled)
1/4 part or less light corn syrup or glycerin

We bent metal coat hangers for large wands. It will make very large bubbles and great memories!

Jason Topp's picture

Love the disclaimer about car finishes! :)

Bucksome Boomer's picture

These are great ideas. Decades later I still remember fishing trips with my dad. He always took one kid at a time so we each had one-on-one time with him.

Jason Topp's picture

Wow! What a great testament to those bonding times!

Guest's picture

Library and Beach are our kids' favorites. But if you can be creative and as long as you give them full attention, they'll enjoy anything you do with them. Even just walking outside...

Jason Topp's picture

Good word! So true!

Guest's picture

A favorite activity for my two boys and I is to make dioramas. We come up with a theme and make them with things we have around the house. We have a max of $5 per theme to spend if we must. We have had so much fun with these.

Jason Topp's picture

Cool idea!

Guest's picture
Leslie

With all the holidays and celebratory days throughout the year, making decorations, or just decorating as well as baking yummy treats together is a lot of fun too.

Jason Topp's picture

Absolutely! We carved pumpkins yesterday and had a great time! :)