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Free or Cheap Things to Do With Kids in the Summer

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[Today’s article Free or Cheap Things to Do With Kids in the Summer was written by contributor Michelle Habrych.]

Free or Cheap Things to Do With Kids in the Summer

Summer typically means time for fun things. Fun things may cost money, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot. When my kids were younger, I used to compile a list of the best things to do in and around my county for free or cheap, and share it with my friends. They would share it with their friends, and the list took on a life of its own. Then, my life got busy, my kids got older, and making a list was no longer a priority for me. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still have a blast each summer. Here are some ways to find

Free or Cheap Things to Do With Kids in the Summer:

$5 Movies

Going to the movies is one of my family’s favorite activities. As prices rise, however, it can become too expensive. In my area, $5 Tuesdays have sprung up as a way to encourage people to go to the movies during the week. See if a theater in your area offers them. Ours even gives a free small popcorn with ticket purchase. During the summer, these same chains (Regal, Marcus, and Classic Cinemas) offer special summer movies for families. Admission can range from free to $2.50 a ticket. It’s a great way to try out a movie with younger kids. Look on the theater’s website for a schedule of their summer series for kids.

Here are some screen free activities for preschoolers.

Drive-in Theaters:

Speaking of movies, summer provides a unique opportunity for outdoor film watching. There are only 330 drive-in theaters in operation in the United States, according to The website offers a tool for locating the one closest to you. We try to go once a summer because the kids really enjoy it. If you go, arrive early, bring a picnic dinner, and tailgate. Pack a Frisbee or some board games. Typically, a drive-in shows two movies for the price of one, but the movies begin really late at night (you need the sun to go down to see the screen!). If you go, plan to sleep late the next morning.

Free or Cheap Things to Do With Kids in the Summer
Playing Pokemon Go before the movie starts.

Dive-In Movies:

Additionally, some towns will project movies onto a big screen for the public to watch in a park or in a pool (called a “dive-in movie”)! A web search may help you find this event through your park district or in a neighboring town or city.

Check this out: summer bucket list activities.

Outdoor Performances:

Outdoor concerts and performances are plentiful throughout summer. Many are free and open to the public. In our area, local park districts, villages, forest preserves, and chambers of commerce hire performers to put on a show and bring the community together. Do a web search for these (try “free outdoor concert” and your town name or go to the chamber’s website). Sometimes they are held during the week as part of a weekly series, and other times they are part of a town’s annual festival over a weekend, such as a “summer days” celebration. They are a great way to discover local bands and talent. Last summer we saw a favorite local band three times this way. We only paid at one of the festivals, and it was a minimal charge. My daughter even enjoyed meeting the band after one performance.

Free or Cheap Things to Do With Kids in the Summer


Fireworks—my kids love them, and summer is the prime time to view these crowd-pleasing shows. In our area, they start in early June with one town’s summer festival, multiply around the Fourth of July, and end as summer comes to a close. It’s usually free to watch them. We pack a picnic and our own glow sticks (find at the dollar store) when we go (so we’re not tempted to buy from overpriced vendors roaming the crowd). Do a web search for free fireworks shows near you to find them.

Farmer’s Markets/Carnivals/Library Resources:

Farmer’s markets in neighboring towns often offer more than just food for sale. There can be free concerts and performances too. Town carnivals often schedule free entertainment to bring in the crowds. Don’t forget libraries, your best free resource. Library program directors plan months in advance to bring in magicians, jugglers, bands, and more to tie into their summer reading themes. Always sign up for the summer reading program, so you and the kids can earn goodies just for reading or visiting the library.

Free or Cheap Things to Do With Kids in the Summer
Getting a henna tattoo at a local library event.

Free events are happening all over your area if you know where to look. Bulletin boards at the library, local restaurants, and even grocery stores may offer advertisements for them. Children’s museums in your area may carry publications which list them. In Chicagoland, Chicago Parent and Oaklee’s Guide are two such free magazines. The county I live in offers a website which lists events in the county throughout the coming months, along with their costs. The local children’s librarian may be able to direct you to the resources to plan your summer fun on a budget. Go have fun!

Michelle Habrych looks forward to spending a summer evening outdoors, dancing to the music of local band 7th Heaven with her friends and her teen daughter. Both teens are looking forward to going to the drive-in as a family too.

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