Reader Suggestions Of Cheap And Fun Things To Do This Summer

Although I’m having trouble believing it, seeing as I’m looking out over a landscape of snow (and actually we’re in the middle of an ice storm at the moment… ) summer is coming! For the first time since way back when I was in school, summer has an actual meaning this year. Now that our oldest daughter is almost 2-and-a-half, she has a fairly packed schedule during the year. She goes to preschool two mornings a week, to several different free playgroups throughout the week, and we have playdates with friends all the time.

Playing in our creek last summer

We love this diversity to our days and Babywoods thrives on these social encounters (as do I!). The problem, I’ve recently learned, is that all of this stuff STOPS in the summer! Le eek!!! Preschool stops, the free playgroups run by the elementary school AND the library stop, and a lot of our friends are headed off on vacation! Oh noes! I naively assumed this lovely schedule would continue year-round and am now mildly panicked at the prospect of a wide open, gaping summertime with nary a scheduled activity. I am ALL FOR unstructured, unscheduled, free play for kids (that’s what Babywoods does when we’re at home), but I have learned that she can’t do that all day every day. Plus, she enjoys spending time with other little kids and I enjoy spending time with the parents of other little kids.

Finding myself in this minor quandary, I realized that this is the exact quandary every parent faces every single year when the end of school looms. As a kid, summer was a vast expanse of sprinklers on lawns, popsicles, and bare foot bike riding. Never occurred to me the childcare nightmare it must have been for my parents! And for all parents! To combat this treachery of summertime activity cessation, I turned to the best resource there is for frugal fun… the readers of Tikhvinskoe!

Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Tikhvinskoe Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Tikhvinskoe nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Tikhvinskoe Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!

What We’ll Do This Summer (I think)

Last summer’s sunflowers

This is my first summer of needing to actually think things through for my kids, so I’m still a bit hazy on the details. In past summers, Babywoods was young enough to just hang out with me and Mr. Tikhvinskoe while we gardened, hiked, and picked blackberries.

And while she will certainly do her fair share of that this summer, she craves time with other small people, so I’ll need to be proactive in making that happen. Of course there’s also Babywoods’ little sister to consider, but at two months old, she generally goes with the flow and snoozes in her carrier on my chest wherever we go. Very portable, infants.

Our plans for the summer thus far include:

  • Hiking, playing, and otherwise roaming around our woods
  • Playing in the creek behind our house
  • Terrorizing the plants in the vegetable garden
  • Picking berries in our yard
  • Going to our town’s playground (Babywoods can now do the “big” slide!)
  • Playdates with friends
  • Visiting our neighbors’ farms to see their baby animals (!!!!!)

My challenge with Babywoods right now is that she’s too young for most formal lessons or programs, but too old to not do anything. Most structured activities in our area start at age three, but Babywoods is ready NOW! It’s an interesting age, I find, as she is so ready to learn, to play, to spend time away from her parents, and to explore, but just isn’t old enough for any of the fabulous summer programs I keep reading about and salivating over… I imagine most parents of two-year-olds face this dilemma, so I was thrilled to hear all of the great ideas for summer activities from Tikhvinskoe readers!

How Tikhvinskoe Readers Plan To Spend The Summer

Summertime rainbow over our yard

Tracey wrote, “We live in New Zealand and our summer is December to March. Our favourite thing to do is a great walk each summer! We book around May and walk it in December right before Christmas. Currently there are nine great walks but these will grow soon. People come from all around the world to walk these. If you are into tramping have a look here and click on the walking and great walk links.”

Chantal shared, “We love camping in the state park. Permits cost us $8 a night. We have a lot of camping gear that we have slowly accumulated over the years so our only real cost is fuel and food. Although our daughter is getting bigger I fear we may have to upgrade to a larger tent soon, but I am already scouring the internet for a good used one. If a great deal pops up, Ill be ready! My husband is in the military and next month they are relocating us to the other side of the country. We have elected to drive and make a road trip holiday out of it! Accommodation, meals and fuel are all paid for. Obviously not many people can do this, but for us we are treating it as our vacation.”

Our apple trees in mid-summer

Jennifer is, “Working! I am learning a new job that will increase our income substantially and allow my hubby and I to invest my entire income for the next 5 years with the dream goal of us living the F.I.R.E. lifestyle at age 52.”

Deborah suggested, “Make a water slide in your yard using a tarp and a water hose. My kids spent all day long playing and keeping cool! Beach, lake or river vacations that kids will never tire of. Outside fun in the fresh air and unplugged!”

Lisa said, “We are homeschoolers, so we have our kids all year… Some things are slip and slide, lots of chalk art. Also a ‘kids go bowling free’ program… we pay for shoe rental and bowling is free… Also, looking into the Every Kid in a Park program where kids and family get big discounts for national parks. Making kids learn how to be creative and frugal too–don’t need lots of money for fun activities…Park and library too, to name a few.”

Beth wrote, “In the last couple years, I have begun what I call ‘vacation pooling’ with my friends. We go on a group vacation and split the cost. This year’s trip is to Pensacola, FL. We are driving from St. Louis down there. We rented an affordable Airbnb that will fit us all, buy groceries so we aren’t eating out, and get to stay on the beach. While we are there we will go to the Naval Aviation museum which is free and watch the Blue Angels practice plus see all the planes and helicopters on display. This makes for a fun and affordable trip, plus the two kids on the trip (5 & 7) have someone to play with that they would not have if we went as individual families.”

Nancy recommends, “Hiking, hiking, and hiking. If overnight or weekend [there are] some expense in fuel, food, cabin rental but we budget everything using the every dollar app so no stress… ”

Jen plans on, “Camping in our favorite State Parks! Frugal family fun. Campfires, creekwalking, swimming, hiking, and reading in the sunshine.”

Summertime Babywoods

Carly shared, “Most libraries have great children’s programming during the summer. In addition to story time and summer reading programs where kids can win prizes, ours puts on something different each week, from a person who brings in hawks and owls to meet, to dance groups, to mini museum exhibits. My favorite last year was taking my then 3-year-old to a clown show put on by the library in a local park. While we waited for it to start we walked the beach and found a sand dollar. Afterwards they handed out free sack lunches for all the kids. In our area the school system provides free lunch for anyone under 18 every day of the summer. It is usually held at parks or libraries in the area, and one day a week they will often combine it with activities like games, art projects, etc. We also participate in a children’s program put on by the community garden. For $1 per child they get to help water and harvest, they do an art project, a garden project like making a bird feeder, and have a story. They also get a sticker for each snail they find and remove from the garden lol.

My husband is in the military so we are fortunate to benefit from the Blue Star program, which provides active duty military and their dependents free access to all kinds of museums throughout the summer. In our area that includes a children’s museum that we try to visit once a week all summer long.

Many places waive fishing license requirements for kids too. For us I think it’s waived for anyone under 12, so my son was able to fish at a pond close to our house for the price of a little fishing pole and bait. He actually managed to catch one tiny bluegill last year and was super proud! I also think it’s really fun foraging with kids. Everywhere has something edible you can go out and pick even if it’s just cactus lol. We’re lucky enough to have wild blackberries, but we have lots of lesser known edible plants as well that we look for. It teaches kids about their own natural landscape and builds a meaningful connection for them.

One really important thing is to always have lots of snacks and water on hand, and it helps to have easy lunches to pack along, otherwise free activities can end up costing a lot! Also, if I know we’re going somewhere we will be tempted to buy expensive junk food (like the zoo) I make sure to bring our own junk food, because I dare you to try to give a 4-year-old an apple next to a funnel cake stand!

Movie theaters, bowling, and skating venues also often have at least one day a week with heavy discounts during the summer. Good sites to check for local events and programs are Red Tricycle and Macaroni Kid. I’m sure there are others but those are the 2 I have used. Libraries often have a lot of useful community information as well.”

Summertime veggie garden represents

Erin wrote, “I live in Arizona where it is HOT in the summer. I plan to work on some indoor projects with the AC on like going through old papers to shred (not fun) and catching up on scrapbooking (fun!).”

Debbi suggests, “Mom Camp: We get 6-8 mothers together whose school age children are friends. Each mom has camp at her house for a day. Mom Camp can, for example, be every Tuesday or every Tuesday and Thursday, depending on the number of families and how many weeks of camp you would like to have. The children all arrive in mid-morning and have unstructured play until lunch. That week’s camp mom feeds everyone lunch and then has a planned activity. Some activities we have done are decorating flip flops, swimming in the backyard pool (with a couple of extra moms coming over to help supervise the pool time), walking to a nearby park or playground, making bath bombs, tie dying T-shirts (yes, that was definitely one of our braver moms), and painting terra cotta flower pots and planting seeds in them. After the activity, we have more unstructured play time until around 3:00 when parents pick up their children again. When we have done this, moms with three or more children attending have always wanted to take an extra day as camp mom. While not necessary, this does help ensure that no one feels taken advantage of. The children all need to be close enough in age that similar activities work for everyone but, once they are school age, this isn’t usually a problem. The cost of Mom Camp is minimal since our planned activities range from completely free to inexpensive. Also, I am not trying to leave dads out. Among my friends, all the stay at home parents and parents with flexible work schedules are moms so they end up running camp.” Ok I think Debbi wins! This is pretty much the best, the most frugal, and the most fun idea ever! 

Nadine wrote, “Our summer vacation starts at the end of May. My father-in-law, [who is] former military, gave us a free, seasonal pass to a Florida state park beach. I take the kids there a few times. We find a cozy spot under a tree. The water is calm and a clear blue. On a few occasions, we’ll see a gopher tortoise walking along the roads leading up to the island.

Evenings, we might attend a concert at a park or the beach. The kids love to play in the water and catch hermit crabs while we sit and listen to local musicians. My older son is taking the trip of a lifetime in July. He and his Boy Scout troop will be traveling to Iceland. The trip is not cheap, but the troop made it affordable by providing fundraising opportunities.

I recently took up photography. I went to free classes at the local nature center. The class is taught by award-winning photographers once a month. I plan to continue with this into the summer and beyond.

Our community pools are rather inexpensive. One pool only charges $3 per person and that pass is good for the day.”

“Helping” with the rhubarb harvest

Ann shared, “We have a Vacation Wallet that we save up all year. We plan the budget. We save daily receipts & keep up with daily totals. We eat a late lunch out, not dinner. Last year, we were $400 under budget. A fun game.”

Carol wrote, “In Australia the local libraries have school holiday programmes and activities which are excellent. The museum and art gallery are also free here so take them there to enjoy displays that are on.”

Caroline suggests that, “The beach is always free for those who live vaguely approximate to the ocean or a large lake/body of water. Age-appropriate hikes or walks in local parks, along cycle tracks in nature reserves, where, if anything, only a nominal fee is payable. Summers in Cape Town are loooooonnngggg and hooootttttt… ”

Marion plans on, “My screen porch, a stack of library books, and a pitcher of iced tea.”

Mel will host, “Lots of neighborhood pot lucks. Clean the freezer nights where we grill what we need to use up.”

Helen says, “We love to go camping, the fees are minimal compared to a hotel and we cook at our campsite, we will do several different campgrounds in our area – not world-famous parks, but great places to go hiking, swimming, biking, etc.”

Siera suggests, “Anything outside! Hiking, biking, walking the dogs, exploring natural areas & looking for interesting plants and wildlife, or just spending a relaxing day at the beach/lake/river (whatever is closest). For weekend trips & longer road trips, we tent camp, mostly in National or State Parks, National Forests, Monuments & Preserves, at State Beaches, etc. (Here in California, there are so many options!) To keep food costs on the road almost as low as they are when at home, we shop at grocery stores, keep an ice chest well-stocked in the car, and prepare simple meals (plus snacks) along the way and in camp. At home, we prefer the simple, quiet (and incidentally frugal/free) things in life anyway: gardening, reading, playing board games or lawn games outside, picnicking. As a kid, local summer outings included trips to the library or neighborhood parks, and projects like making ice cream!”

Amanda says, “We do summer camp because my husband and I both work. But for closure weeks when we are at home, we organize play dates with friends from church, our neighborhood, and family. We also take advantage of toddler deals. $7 for three hours of jump time, free library read and puppet days, and take a bag of outdoor toys to the park! Plus splash pads at the rec center are a blast!”

The July veggie garden

Brian shared, “One of my favorites was a short bike trip I took up north in Wisconsin, to a town called Minocqua. Parked my car at someone’s house I know, biked up, stayed in an Airbnb, got to know the Airbnb owners who were really cool, played in the northwoods, and biked the 38 miles back. I enjoyed small treats, getting to know some interesting folks (two people different people called Dancing Bob, somehow) and had a great time for not a ton of money. This year I’m looking at doing something similar in another area of Wisconsin or the UP. BikeVentures!”

Crystal says, “I do not have kids but have littles in my life that I like to take on outings. I love to camp with them…we go to a state-run campground in NH – it’s $22 a night but we have a Federal Access Pass (disabled pass) and it is half price – $11 a night!? Yes, please!  🙂 I try to go camping at least 5 times during the summer!”

Pauline shared, “Family usually visits – 3 or 4 people at a time for a couple of weeks – last year we visited state parks –waterfalls, hiking, swimming, and went to our All-Star Softball player’s games (free!) – she went on to the regionals (NOT FREE!) had to help raise money for that :). We are looking forward to 4 greatgrands visiting for a month this summer and going swimming, picnics, etc. We will set up the croquet and play – sprinklers, going to the lake, etc. Free movies at the park if we can remember to go  :). I personally take 10-14 days each summer for myself (I am Mom’s caregiver and need a break!) to go somewhere. Last summer I camped at Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days – it was wonderful, quiet, and relaxing. This summer I am taking a road trip from Colorado to the Great Lakes. I usually switch up from a cheap trip to a more expensive one on alternating years. I pay for the motels, car rental etc ahead of time and don’t have so many expenses during the actual trip.”

Laurie suggests making a, “Summer bucket list!! Buy ice cream and sundae fixings and make our own sundaes, Summer reading program at the library, kiddie pool in the yard, sprinkler fun, buy parking pass for $10 so we can go to the lake in town all summer, movie nights with popcorn and candy, set up the tent in the yard with a bon fire and make s’mores and ‘camp’ out, hiking, sign-up for kids free bowling and go to the dollar movies. Most days we just enjoy spending time together no matter what we are doing.”

Jessica wrote, “We sign up for the summer reading program at the local library. We read together every night, even when we go on vacation. We usually go camping for vacation and pack our camper with a ton of food to save on food costs so we don’t have to eat out.”

Babywoods scavenging beans from the garden

Celeste said, “We have 4 kids so for us our summer and family vacations are road trips. Plane tickets for this many of us, then a rental car that fits all of us goes way out of the budget. Plus road trips are pretty fun and it allows us to go at our own pace, stop for unintended adventures and more. We generally plan a trip with National Parks in mind because we buy the annual pass which is super reasonable and a great investment! In fact my youngest son is autistic and I am working on next year securing him a pass for his lifetime at no cost. FYI parents of kids with Special Needs: you can get obtain a National Parks Pass for your child for their lifetime and it’s a beautiful thing. My son LOVES nature and it’s really a calming space for him and really good for him. That is other reason we plan around road trips and national parks, having an autistic child means you need to be flexible all the time and you have to factor in sensory needs to everything. This summer we are heading to Joshua Tree and staying at an Air BnB called Moon Camp. Price point is great for our size family and we get the whole thing to ourselves, it’s near the Joshua Tree National Park so we use our park pass. Full kitchen so we pack and bring our own food saving a ton from eating out all the time and once again, autistic child so we always need to bring our own food everywhere we go because FYI it’s really hard to find banana yogurts and that is the only flavor he will eat and he really loves yogurt so…  :-). Souvenirs our kids like are a new field journal and pencils for each of them. They like to hike and draw pictures of what they find and see and take their own notes and then save them. I also love having them and saving them over the years. They all use my phone to take photos and then after the trip we turn their photos into a photo book through Snapfish. Looking into planning another trip to Northern NM late summer/early fall and staying in an awesome Casita we’ve stayed in before that has a great price point and is full stocked house which saves us a ton of money on our trip. For us it’s all about the journey more than the destination.”

Stephanie said, “We do a lot of weekend backpacking trips. This usually entails making our own dehydrated or cheap meals to take out in the woods with us. We make things like ramen, instant mashed potatoes, and trail mix. We usually add our own spice mixtures and dehydrated veggies. We also make sure to look for places where we can camp for free or cheap in areas that we would already like to visit. This means we can do the hiking and camping we love but also visit spend a couple hours in a new town.”

Jessica said, “Our son is at the age that he loves the sprinkler so a water party in the backyard will be our go-to. We also like to go to the park and have a picnic. For an actual vacation, we meet family from Texas every year at a beach in Alabama and share a huge rental house off the beach and walk to the beach every day. This lessens the financial burden for everyone and we have a kitchen to cook and eat meals together.”

Laura writes, “I have got into house sitting (trustedhousesitters.com) and am seeing lots of my country (although it is worldwide!) I have also always had a theme to our holidays (I am a deputy head teacher and so have the school holidays off with my children). One years theme was around the world. Each week we moved (theoretically) continent. We learnt how to write welcome in languages from that continent and decorated our house with the flags from those countries. We ate food from those countries and played games inspired by those continents e.g jumping races with a backpack on their front with a teddy in for Australia and a huge Home drawn map in the wall with no countries named. The kids ran around the garden finding country names and pinned them on the map according to where they thought they went. Other themes we have done are sport, Europe, history and science. All cost me very little but we have so much fun!”

Black raspberry summertime harvest

Melissa suggests, “Be a tourist in your hometown! Many libraries have passes that you can ‘check out’ for free admission to various local attractions, such as museums, etc.”

Sarah said, “I read a book by Laura Vanderkam a while back that suggested keeping a list of 100 things you can see/do within a ~2 hour radius of your home. I started one and we’ll be mining it for activities this summer: local historical sites, parks, bike rides, gourmet ice cream shops and special places like ice skating or visiting a train museum. I created my list with help from a 50-cent copy of ‘Things to do in Northern California with kids’ from a library book sale. If all else fails, our apartment complex has a pool, so we try to utilize tit frequently during our hot summers!”

Diana wrote, “We travel by car with our 2 sons from our home in Romania to one small Greek island, Thasos, in the North Egean Sea, we rent a studio with a small kitchen and outside barbeque place in a small villa on the beach and enjoy it! We eat fresh fruit from the local market for breakfast, Greek pastry from the local bakery shops. We can cook and grill for lunch and dinner, but we also enjoy very much the local tavernas for fish and sea food and Greek cuisine, which are affordable. The island is more for tourist enjoying nature, the pine forests, for mountain hiling and not for luxury tourism, there are no big hotels or fancy restaurants. This summer will be out 4th time there, in the same spot and we are looking forward to!”

Elizabeth said, “The kids like to ride the dirtbikes, practice archery, play on the trampoline, set up the sprinkler, we go swimming at a lake or pool at least once a week, gardening, ride bikes, lots of friend time, parks, staying with out of state family when visiting, hiking, and napping :).”

Jessica wrote, “We pick a destination midway between families so no one has a greater burden of travel costs. Then we split a vacation rental with a kitchen that allows us to eat meals in.”

Laura shared, “I try to get my kids out of the house for at least one activity a day. A few of our favorites are :

  • Cinemark Kids Movie Club. The movies are at like 10 or 11 am and are $1 each, but if you buy the whole series in advance it’s $5 TOTAL which works out to like $0.50 each!
  • Story time & playtime at the library and then we stick around for a bit after to pick a new book for the week as we do a bunch of different summer reading challenges.
  • Swimming. We bought an annual pass to our local Rec center. It was an investment but it works out being cheaper than paying each time and it has added perks of indoor swimming in the winter and free fitness classes, etc.
  • Hiking we usually do on the weekends. It’s essentially free unless you need to pay an entrance fee for a state or national park but we bought an Annual interagency pass for $80. Something fun to do is print off scavenger hunt checklists (you can find them on Pinterest) and make it a game to see who can find things first.
  • And of course, don’t underestimate your local park. Take a simple picnic lunch and let them run wild! My kids can play at our local park (which is super basic, just a big field with a small play set) for HOURS.”

Sarah said, “We make a summer bucket list with the kids and most of the things they want to do are pretty low cost. Last year they included: having a picnic, going to the library, playing outside, going out for ice cream, having a movie night with popcorn (at our house), going to the beach, swimming at the lake, blowing bubbles, coloring, and having a ‘vacation’ at my sister’s house. Oh and we have some annual traditions- we go a local hot air balloon festival and a book sale. The balloon festival is free entry and we have breakfast put on by the local rotary club. The book sale is $1 for hard covers and .50 for soft covers- they also have puzzles. There are so many things that are low cost that kids love to do.”

Mallory wrote, “Kiddie pool in the backyard, lots of hiking/beach time (lucky to live in the beautiful PNW), free books and movies from the library, city parks and splash pads, grilling and eating outside. If we travel it’s usually to visit family so lodging and food are free/cheap, but as I’ll be very pregnant this summer we might not get very far away.”

Maluna plans on, “Gardening, walks in the woods, dinners on the porch, kids come home to visit, grandson’s baseball games!”

Simplicity Is Joy (in so many things)

Babywoods loves her pool!

Thank you, fabulous readers of Tikhvinskoe, for all of your inspiring and frugal summer ideas! A commonality among almost all of these suggestions is simplicity. Most of these ideas are not complex and are not expensive, but they are glorious in their simplicity. This list is also a salient reminder of how easily amused kids are. Mine recently found a large grocery bag and proceeded to have a one-person sack race around our house (many times). Another recent favorite activity was sitting in an empty cardboard box pretending it was a “boat going down the stream.” Would that we were all so easily amused.

Mushroom grove on our driveway in the summertime

My favorite illustration of the simplicity of childhood joy was Sarah’s description of her kids’ summer bucket list, which included among other things, “coloring and blowing bubbles.” Even I can handle that! I will say that many of the above suggestions require some parental creativity and organization and I can confidently say that I possess one of those skills (organization).

The creativity side of things is not my forte (as many of you know I abhor crafting), but for the sake of my children I’m going to really try (or I’m going to try and con one of my friends into doing it for me… ). My drawing skills are on par with my two-year-old’s and my idea of a craft is stacking up pinecones outside in the yard… but I’m going to read blogs about doing kid crafts, I swear!! I can learn (maybe).

Look For Frugal Efficiencies

Another theme threading through these suggestions is that of frugal efficiency. Many of you highlighted the wisdom of finding coupons, deals, free passes, and other ways of making summer outings less expensive. From packing your own snacks and lunches to checking out free museum passes from the public library to seeking out which days are half off at the local swimming pool, there are ways to engineer cheaper–but no less thrilling–experiences. I plan to create a list of all the free days, free festivals, free playgroups, and more that we can visit this summer. I’m a big fan of Sarah’s suggestion to make a bucket list of things to do within a several hour radius of your home. I need to do that!

Many of you also had fabulous advice on how to reduce the cost of vacationing–from taking roadtrips to camping to splitting Airbnb rentals with family to using credit card points for airfare and hotels. You all drove home the point that there are ways to save while on vacation too!

Get Outside

And of course, the best, the cheapest, and the most accessible suggestion is to get outside! When we lived in the city, Mr. Tikhvinskoe and I used to take Frugal Hound on lengthy walks around town on the weekends. We’d chart a route and roam for hours on end. Now, we hike through our woods or just make circuits around the yard (toddlers will do that to you). Wherever you live, in whatever climate or environment, there’s probably an opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh air. Plus it really tires kids out. We plan to check out every playground within striking distance and get Babywoods running around as much as humanly possible. I need to chase after her run with her to ensure she doesn’t eat grass is having fun, so there’s my summer fitness goal.

What are your summer plans?

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61 Responses

  1. My wife and I love to do a combination of things outside. We love to set up the baby pool and sprinkler so our kiddos can play in them and burn off all that energy. On top of that we love going to a local farm so that our kiddos can see all the animals and walk around. It’s a wonderful time and they always come back with huge smiles on their face.

  2. Amber says:

    We live in the Berkshires, and have 4 kids so we are always on the lookout for free stuff! Fortunately, our libraries have free passes to local cultural locations this usually keeps us busy. Combined with visiting different town libraries and beaches, as well as free children’s musical events we are out of the house every day if we want. Every couple of weeks here there is a new fruit crop throughout the summer to pick at surrounding orchards too. We have many bike paths and nature trails in our area that are safe for kids of all ages. Living in such a culture rich area provides us with free to locals admission opportunities ( who doesn’t want to listen to the Boston Pops practice or hear James Taylor for free!!). And, lastly for any Massachusetts resident…….every Friday is free admission to museums/preservation areas put out by the Highland Street Foundation across the state.

    • Nora says:

      Love the Highland Foundation. I got to go to a few museums that I had been eyeing with that program!

    • Caitlin says:

      Just a minor correction–you don’t have to be a Massachusetts resident to take advantage of the Free Fun Fridays! I live in NH and a friend who lives in MA sent me a link to the website, and it says anyone from anywhere visiting one of the museums on the appropriate Friday will get free admission. Here is the schedule: http://highlandstreet.org/programs/free-fun-fridays

  3. My goal this summer is to get both of my kids on a bike for a ride. I’m looking to add a tag-along so my four year old can ride along with me. I’ll then out is younget brother in the baby’s seat. I’m so excited to get exercise, spend time with my boys and feel the wind through my helmet all at the same time!

  4. Kristine says:

    Huzzah for summer! Although Florida is an eternal summer 🙂 when I was growing up, I used to spend every summer in Norway with my biological father, learning the language and bonding over movie nights and outdoor activities. I never thought about how much he had to coordinate while I was there until I was an adult, with a babysitter during the days plus visiting with his family before I flew back to the US the day before school started, but I’d like to throw a kudos to all the single parents struggling with this right now. <3

  5. I loved Debbi’s suggestion of mom camp! When my kids were younger, we would get together at our local (free) lake. We would pack a picnic lunch and beach toys. The kids would play for hours in the sand and the moms got to catch up. This is still my favorite summer activity!

  6. Jean says:

    Babywoods is old enough to take swimming lessons. My now 44 yr old daughter had swimming lessons at two yrs of age. Several mothers hired a person who was certified to teach. One mother with the pool allowed it at her home. An hour each time and I think it was 6 weeks course. Twice a week. Cost was very little and after that I was much more comfortable being around hotel pools as she took to the water at that age like a fish and has loved swimming her whole life. Start her young and she will love it. Also library freebies as others have mentioned. Should have summer fairs and festivals that would not be free but still not expensive either. A backyard pool, even a small one is so much fun for kids, even just a splash pool. Picking up a kids paint set would be fun also. Does babywoods have a swing set. I am sure Mr. Tikhvinskoe could erect a swing somewhere in one of those beautiful trees. Love reading your posts. I think the local Y usually has swim lessons also but she would not get as much attention in large swim groups.

  7. When my kids were little, we pretty much lived outside in the summer. I have 3 boys and a rugged girl who could outpace them any day. They played in the garden, caught bugs, built back yard forts, wallowed in dirt, hiked every trail we could get to and camped out in a tent. They were modern day equivalent of Huckleberry Finn on a great adventure, They had a great time together and built some great memories. Kids don’t need anything fancy or expensive, they just need fresh air, movement and your attention. Seems like you guys are already doing a lot of this with your girls on your property. Makes me miss those days with my kids! They are magical times.

  8. I can’t believe summer is coming! This winter seems so long and persistent.

    I’m so tired of the cold. Spring had come to DC. I’m having serious spring allergies, but I’m just glad that it’s not cold anymore.

    Hubby and I plan to do a road trip this summer. Other than that, we look forward to picnics with friends and community events where we live 😀

  9. Caroline says:

    have you considered getting together with others with kids Estelle’s age or within a year or so either side and doing what my desperate mother used to do for YEARS that worked perfectly, which was to get a committed group of families, ideally 4 or so, maybe a couple more, it would work with 3, and each week, each family takes a turn to host all of the kids and do a fun semi-structured activity with them. If you had 5-6 families involved, it could even be twice a week. In our case it was every Thursday on a rotating basis, so approximately once per month my mom had all the local kids doing something in particular between 9.30 and 12 and everyone else had their morning ”off”, safe in the knowledge that next week someone else was doing it in return. Then every now and then on a different day they’d do a moms-and-kids meet up at one house or another, bring a plate to share and it was very festive, that was more as and when. It was kind of like a cooperative school of sorts, but very low tech and basically giving each other a specific time ”off” each week.

    Speak to your local moms and dads and see if that could work.

  10. I too loved Debbi’s “Mom Camp” idea. Sounds awesome, and I’m stashing that idea away for our own use! I also liked Sarah’s idea regarding creating a list of things to do within a reasonable distance from home. I can see this list providing inspiration after racking one’s brain for something to do and coming up empty.

    This will be our first summer with a child older than 6 months, so it’ll be a season of exploration on what works for us in this new season. Living in the country has many child entertainment options built-in, such as walks around the property, bird-watching, discovering animal nests, picking flowers, collecting insects, playing with grass / stones / mulch… you name it. We plan to take advantage of the playground and sandy beach at the lake within our HOA, and may take little FFP on some kayak trips this summer as well.

    Other than that, our local library has summer reading time for children as well as various other programs that we plan to take advantage of this year. The Icelandic sheep and friendly cats on Grandma and Grandpa’s homestead is only six miles away, and I’m sure we’ll take advantage of Debbi’s Mom Camp idea to arrange some play dates with friends.

    We also have a goal of picnicing at each of our county parks each year in the name of widening our knowledge of the local area and taking better advantage of our property tax dollars at work. We haven’t hit them all yet, but this summer gives us another chance! Then of course there’s summer fruit-picking and Independence Day fireworks watching along the shores of Lake Michigan. And we’re currently researching a bike trailer / bike carrier so little FFP can accompany Dad on his cycling adventures.

    I’m hoping that financial independence means we can take parenting to a different level than would otherwise be possible if we were still slaving away all day and coming home stressed and burned out. That remains to be seen, but either way it should be a fun summer!

  11. Barbara Tarbell says:

    This summer Mrs Tikhvinskoe might enjoy taking the children out for morning walks with the dog or going to a nearby beach with picnic lunch or to a school playground to play, reading children’s stories aloud, drawing pictures, playing rolly ball, inviting little friends over to play or helping mom cook or tidy up the house. They could plant a children’s garden.

    It’s a chance for conversation, learning & sharing. On rainy afternoons a children’s film might be fun to watch although I’m unsure if mom can play videos at home. A weekly trip to the local library is a must. Very small children love to make a playhouse at home: you cover chairs with a quilt & crawl inside & play house with teddy bears or a doll. The possibilities for playing & games are endless. This is a magical time for the little family before the children grow up & find other interests. Mom is first teacher & best friend.

  12. Being outdoors in nice weather after a long winter is one of the best feelings, regardless of where you live. And it costs nothing. There are so many activities such as the ones listed above that you can do outdoors that not only are fun, relaxing, and free or inexpensive, but they often provide you with some exercise so that you can improve your health too! Hiking, walking, running, biking, swimming, softball, volleyball, etc.

  13. Mrs. Kiwi says:

    My husband is back in grad school so the summer is our only time for vacation. I think we are headed to Europe for two weeks and North Carolina for one. Then I’m sure we’ll go on a few local camping trips too!

  14. Alia Kazimiarovich says:

    Parks, hikes and pools this summer! We love library and it’s programs, but it seems every time we go there one of my son’s get sick! It’s play area is like a petri dish!:(

  15. Are you tuned in to the Upper Valley Questing program? She might enjoy the hunt for stamps… and you might enjoy the structure? Have fun! For what it’s worth, I also liked naming chunks of the day for a 2-year old: making time, cooking time, reading time, music time, rambling time, gardening time, napping time, cleaning time, friend time, hugging time… then she could help me identify which “time” it was…

  16. Julie says:

    Single mom with an 11 year old daughter here. Our summers here in Oklahoma can be brutally hot and as redheads we just don’t fare well. So our activities tend to be indoors. We have what’s called a venture pass for the indoor trampoline park, a indoor bounce house etc. This is $40 for the year. She also plays hockey, is doing a couple of theatre camps, and sailing camp (on scholarship). We homeschool so we practice a year round learning model, so she’ll still be busy with tutoring and homework.

  17. Katharine Lea says:

    One frugal summer activity I started with my kids when they were small (and they still love it!) is “Water Factory”. We have a some big bowls and trays and added measuring cups, measuring spoons, all those droppers and medicine things that seemed to come with each prescription, random pieces of tubing, strainers, funnels, whatever you find at yardsales- you get the picture. Add water and put them all in the shade, and watch the fun! Even messier and more fun is adding mud to the game, and then it’s called “Mud Factory”, at least in our parts!

  18. julie says:

    My in-laws live in NH (right near the VT state line!) half of the year and will be returning next month. We go up most weekends. There are a couple of festivals in Vermont that we have on our list for the summer. Around their condo, we do a lot of walking around the lake, kayaking, ice cream eating:), reading on the deck.

  19. Lauren says:

    Country toddler ideas that don’t require full adult involvement!

    So that you can get housework done: (try to find used, OBV) hang a cheapo plastic swing on your front porch (or even an indoor beam) and leave front door open, get a plastic big wheelie for BW to zoom around on the hardwood floors (this can kill HOURS), indoor fort supplies (check out the pre-made cardboard castles, etc. online that come with markers – you can emulate this with some minor work on boxes and a sharpie, then just let BW have access to crayons only to do the rest), play-doh (even homemade play-doh), bring kiddie pool inside and fill with ballpit balls.

    So that you can get outdoor work done: hang a plastic swing outside, kiddie pool and sprinkler runs (as mentioned by many here), used little tykes-type playhouse (lots of online tutorials to paint old ones for a refresh). Also, not the most frugal, but a mom I know swears by this bounce house for her toddler (https://amazon.com/Little-Tikes-Jump-Slide-Bouncer/dp/B00QGSMSO6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1524835160&sr=8-2&keywords=little+tykes+jump+and+slide+bouncer), and I can attest to the time use of a full size trampoline and sprinkler underneath for OLDER kid summer fun.

  20. JD says:

    Years ago I was given a book called “Sanity in the Summertime,” if I remember right, and it gave a lot of great ideas for summertime activities that were easy and cheap. I think it’s still available out there on the internet, somewhere. We always lived in the country, so we had to come up with ideas to entertain two small girls, too, since going to group activities just couldn’t happen all the time.
    My own suggestions: Scout around for more large cartons and let her decorate it with crayons or markers, and play in it.
    Create a tiny raft or boat out of scrap wood (this can be VERY basic, just a piece of board, or as elaborate as you can make it) and float it in the creek. If you have a bath toy boat, use that.
    Erect a tent out of scrap material or old blankets. Use tree limbs, chairs, or PVC pipe for supports, whatever is handy. Set it up in the yard for shady day time play. She might even nap in it.
    Take a tray of snacks such as cheese and fruit out to daddy when he’s working in the yard and sit with him and share it. (One of my girls’ favorites things to do)
    Set up a tent shaped trellis, plant vining plants such as sweet peas, and let it be her own “house” as the trellis gets covered.
    Bake cookies together.
    Egg hunt. There’s no reason to do that only at Easter. You can use anything small and bright that is easily spotted by a toddler, not just eggs. Brightly painted small stones is one idea.
    Playdates.
    Plant a fairy garden or a terrarium. You can use any old mug or teacup for the fairy garden, and any glass jar with a lid for the terrarium. You only need to provide the plants.

  21. Amy says:

    Specific to our area (we too are Vermonters), free farmer’s markets around the Upper Valley go all summer long. Pack a picnic & blanket and lots of them offer free live music or some other entertainment. Also, your local libraries should offer free museum passes to places like Billings Farm, Montshire Museum of Science, VINS, and the planetarium as well as the state parks. We have saved hundreds of dollars by using these but sometimes you have to plan ahead and reserve the pass.

  22. Our little town has so many outdoor concerts! It’s pretty amazing, and a great free thing to do in the summer. There are also free evening outdoor movie screenings on occasion.
    Last summer we started doing Sunday Funday, which was a potluck brunch in the local park with friends and lawn games (there’s power there, so we could even plug in a waffle iron!). I can’t wait until it’s nice enough again to restart those!
    Although currently the idea of “a day without my winter coat” is enough to fill me with glee.

  23. Kelli says:

    Also consider reaching out to any of those “three only” activities and explain your daughter is 2.5, very well behaved, and craving interaction. There’s a very good chance they will actually accept you into the group. Can’t hurt to try!

    • Leigha says:

      I second this. Especially if she’ s comparable to a 3 year old with her ability to pay attention and comprehend the activity. If she’s potty trained too, that will also help.

  24. Kitty Torres says:

    Where I live (25 miles north of NYC) summer brings all kinds of free outdoor music concerts. We have classical, jazz, and probably more I don’t even know about. This is a great way to introduce kids to concerts because they can get up and run around, and not be tied to a chair in a concert hall.

    I took my husband who was a musician who had Alzheimer’s to a music program every month, and the free summer concerts really helped us stretch our budget. Music was healing for him and I loved it too.

  25. Mrs. COD says:

    Love these, especially the Mom Club or whatever the childcare swapping group is called! I find it’s easier having a few extra kids around because it’s different for the kids, so they entertain themselves better than my two boys do on their own. We may be moving again soon, so might not get as much summer fun in as we’d like, but definitely lots of hiking and exploring in our own yard are on the list. I don’t love bugs the way my kids do, but I’m happy to go out “researching” bugs since they get so into it!

  26. “My screen porch, a stack of library books, and a pitcher of iced tea.”

    Preach Marion! That’s all I need haha. Growing up, summers were super boring for me. I only had the library now that I reflect back. Both my parents still had to work during summer but I was left alone all day. Any summer activity were for rich kids because 1) your parents cared enough to try to do something 2) and they could try to take time off. I still had a lot fun with my stack of books in summer.

  27. These are some great tips. My fave is the walking in New Zealand, so cool! … I will probably settle for the frugal win of camping and picnics in the park.

  28. Kim says:

    Does your church do a Vacation Bible School? They might let you bring your kids along if you’re a volunteer for the program (it’s like week-long Sunday School).

  29. Those are all great ideas. I love the Mom Camp idea. I work during the week, but we might try that with some friends on some of the weekends!

  30. I love this post! I have a 19-month-old who is also too young for structured summer activities like day camp or vacation bible school, but he is a busy boy who needs to expend energy.

    I like Laura’s idea of getting out of the house for one activity a day. My plan is to create a loose weekly schedule. Library on Mondays, splash pad at the park on Tuesdays, indoor play structure at the mall on Wednesdays, etc. It’s over 100-115 degrees all summer, so most of our activities will have to be inside.

    Babywoods may like a water table. We purchased this one from Amazon: http://a.co/5YOvyZr. My son plays with it for at least an hour every afternoon, so I think it was a good investment. I also plan to sell it at our local annual consignment sale when he outgrows it. Maybe you can find one on Craig’s List or even build your own. My mom just gives him buckets of water and cups when he’s at her house.

  31. Mims says:

    Letterboxing! just google it. Gets you outdoors, creative, mind binding, great with kids. Our whole family loved a letterboxing outing.

  32. stacy says:

    I’ve seen this in past years but just came across it again today….if you are a Bank of America/Merrill Lynch customer, they offer free museum days the first weekend of every month! I plan to check out some that are local (within an hour drive) to us! Our church also offers Vacation Bible Camp/VBS for FREE, for ages 4 to up to 6th grade in the evenings for one week this summer. Several people mentioned the library events, but our local book stores also have story time and crafts for kids each week! There are free concerts in the park that are fun….we bring our own food/snacks and chairs. If any of these events/locations are further from your home, you tie them in with a day of “in town” errands and maybe visit them once in awhile. My daughter is in camp all summer, as we both work, but these are also great ideas for family/down time this summer on weekends/days off work/no camp days! Because I work, I volunteer at the VBS so we can spend the time together in a fun activity!

  33. Camping and hiking is hands down our favorite free summertime activity (though we go in the off season as well). Our 3YO loves being outside so much that he begs to go outside again even right after we’ve been away camping.

  34. Iris says:

    With slightly older kids, don’t overlook factory tours. Most of the time they’re free, and educational. An internet search will turn up ones you’d never have thought of. We’ve visited a piano factory in the Philadelphia area (free – http://cunninghampiano.com/cunningham-piano-factory-tour/), the Corvette assembly plant (not currently available due to construction), The Mint (https://usmint.gov/about/mint-tours-facilities) and a number of other spots.

  35. Becky says:

    You don’t need to be crafty for her to “craft.” When expecting my 3rd baby (during the summer when my preschoolers were home) I set up and “art area.” While the cost is minimal, there is a little bit of a “waste” factor I had to accept when they have free access. Also be ok with some untidiness. But by just setting up their kid sized table (totally worth purchasing second hand if you don’t have one) and a little shelf (hubby made) with crayons, construction paper, scissors, glusticks, tape (their favorite), stamps, stickers, envelopes etc. I will also put out empty toliet paper rolls, clean empty yogurt containers etc. This keeps my 3 and 5 year olds very engaged and creating many works of art and “inventions” while I can get some things done, we have a small space in our kitchen for this so I can keep and eye on them but they’re otherwise independently making their own “crafts.” We also do a lot of baking together. And as many have mentioned, our local library has special children’s programs once/week in the summer. All things outside, just add water = fun/special. Also sidewalk chalk. Enjoy!

    • Elin says:

      Agreed, as long as there is tape and glue and something to use said products on (beware of running low because they will find their own material) many kids will take care of that on their own. It might not be pretty crafts you see on instagram but the kids will think their badger that you thought were a battle ship is the best thing ever.

  36. Danielle C says:

    When my kids were toddlers, it was so valuable to us to have an enclosed area near the house where they could play outside. I just couldn’t watch them safely on the property every minute, so our deck became their world. They had a sand and water table and a train table and a little tiny play set with a slide and room for their tricycles. On occasion a sprinkler would get added to that mix. They spent SO MUCH time there and I loved it because I could be in/near the house and yet they had freedom. Having a friend over meant that all that stuff was felt brand new and endlessly fascinating!

  37. The Mom Camp idea is GENIUS! I’ve seen people use a similar concept with supper clubs; doing it with kiddo-watching is awesome. I don’t have kids, so I’m relatively unaffected by summer, other than the hellish cooling bills we get here in Texas.

    Our summers are really brutal, so I tend to hibernate as much as possible with my freckly skin. Great indoor activities include writing and baking. 😉

  38. margo says:

    Lots of wonderful ideas here, all pretty frugal and tried and tested.
    You could put up an invitation on the local public notice board for a Summer playgroup for Mums and kids. Meet in parks etc. (You may not want everyone to know where you live) bring your own everything….food, drinks extra toys etc. One day a week could be morning to suit some and one day could be afternoon to suit others. No one person runs it, all just turn up at designated time and place and parent has to stay.
    A great idea for inside or outside play is a very cheap teepee made from a big paint drop sheet and some sturdy lengths of dowel all cheap from the hardware. When the kids are old enough they love to decorate it with paint.
    An old solid wood table with the legs shortened is a wonderful meal share table for when you have little ones as play guests, a good size for crafting, puzzles and playdough and makes an excellent stage. When cutting down legs make sure you allow enough room for growing legs to fit under and measure from any under table timber pieces not just the table top …..ask me how I know !
    Some whitegoods retailers have BIG cardboard cartons that are sooo much fun to decorate any way the child chooses, you can make a door and cut out windows that open and close too, it will be used for months inside and out.
    Have a lovely Summer enjoying all the activities……kids really do get older way too fast.

  39. Thank you for the many gorgeous pictures of Vermont summertime and the wonderful ideas! This summer will not be super-fun for me because I’ll be recovering from cancer surgery/treatment, but I do plan to read a lot, watch some TV, sit out on my porch, and get help from neighbors on running my garden because I will not be physically up to the task! I expect many wonderful visitors who will bring many wonderful potluck suppers! Simplicity is the best!

    My kids will attend a local day camp that offers transportation to and from, and some overnight trips to Wisconsin for my older one. It serves as daycare in the summer while I am working, but since I will be home recovering from surgery it will help keep the kids occupied while I rest.

  40. For crafts, chances are you already have stuff in your house that can be made fun. You can make salt clay, slime, or oobleck with stuff you probably already have in your kitchen (flour, salt, cornstarch, Elmer’s Glue) and kids LOVE THAT. (Messy but fun). If you have a lot of old crayons lying around and some string, you can make candles by melting down the crayons (maybe mix in kitchen parrafin if you have any to stretch it) and setting string in the wax. (I used to make Lacy Candles as a kid by getting wax-covered paper cups, hot wax, and ice. You layer melted wax and ice in the paper cups; the ice cools the wax, the hot wax melts the ice, it’s cool). You tie the wick to a pencil and drop it in the cup before pouring in the wax, balancing the pencil across the top of the cup. Pour in the melted wax and ice one layer at a time; let cool. Once the wax is cool (will take 15-20 minutes thanks to the ice), you peel away the paper cup, and you get a very cool candle with holes in it, looks like lace! (We used to make these as kids in the 80s). Melt different color crayons into the wax for a tie-dye effect.

    When you’re done, you get something that is both a work of art and useful around the house! (Candles!)

  41. JP says:

    Oh my gosh! Thanks to Tracey for the New Zealand info. I want to go book a flight RIGHT NOW!!!!! I know this is supposed to be a post about cheap stuff to do over the summer, and not a post about blowing it on a trip half way across the world, but WOW. That one is going on the bucket list.

  42. Leigha says:

    Aegean is spelled wrong in Diana’s recommendation.

  43. Christina says:

    In addition to all the great ideas above, you could consider audio tapes for kids – we listened to them over and over again when we couldn’t go outside, and some are quite educational.

  44. I loved the non scheduled aspect of my summers as a kid. We’d go to the school with tennis rackets, daydream, read books, try to plant a tree and grow it over the summer. We were always working on some kind of craft. Hopefully your summer will be just as lazy and fulfilling!

  45. Kandice says:

    One summer I was a SAHM and our Sunday School class friends all had littles within a few years of each other. We’d spend lazy days at each others’ homes, with the kids playing and moms getting much needed social interaction. One weekend, probably near the end of summer when we were all going bananas, we pooled our funds and rented one of those bounce houses that is a water slide. The kids ran themselves ragged while we sat in the shade sipping iced tea (or adult beverages for the non-DDs).

  46. Jess says:

    I definitely put money in the budget for swimming at local municipal pool and playing at a baby gym. My parents are very happy to give the gift of experiences over presents.

    One thing I didn’t see mention much was arts and crafts and cooking. My daughter is a little bit older than babywoods (she’s almost 3) and she loves to draw and play with clay. There are lots of great blogs and resources for simple toddler activities. My favorites are growing a jeweled Rose and What’s up moms. I’m going to try a few of the fun ones like finger painting with shaving cream or painting with ice that you die with food coloring

  47. Angela Meyer says:

    I loved reading all of the ideas. I am definitely going to start a “summer bucket list.” Our daughter is 16 months old and we are loving re-living all of the joys of our childhood with her. I know it may not be the most frugal option, but we do enjoy family memberships to local area places. This year we renewed our membership to Greenfield Village/Henry Ford Museum (a very large, popular attraction in our area). There is an upfront cost, but then we try to go as often as we can. We always bring snacks, food and drinks, so we avoid extra costs – except the occasional ice cream cone 🙂 And the best bonus is that the membership includes the outside areas (the Village), but also the Museum, so we really can enjoy it year round. Our membership also includes the ability to bring guests, so when we do the math, it really is a great value to us. We love free activities too, but I also enjoy the ability to have the membership as long as we know we will use it enough to make it worth our while.

  48. I’m looking forward to road trips in our camper van this summer! I love tenting too but the van has been extra nice with a toddler. She thinks it’s like a little playhouse for her – only mama and dada can fit in it too 🙂

  49. isabelle says:

    My kids are 6 and 8. We both work full time, but we arrange our vacations so the kids have free time during the summer (all august for them). So it’s 5 weeks of daycamp (9h-4h) for them, then 1 week with me, 1 week with both parents, 1 week with dad and 1 week with a neighbor and my mom, then back to school…
    August will look like a lot of time spent at the park, visiting the neighbor’s pool, bicycling, pic-nics and ice cream! We keep is simple. The kids need to get out of the house often (sun!!!) or they start fighting and that drives me crazy!

  50. Amanda Carew says:

    Yes, having kids sure changes plans. When our kids were toddlers we spent much of our summers playing in sand, water, and grass, but we didn’t get much work done. Now that my kids are 11, 9, and 6 they play on their own in our yard while we dig the garden, clean the property, or care for the animals, and also they can take part in doing things like collecting the eggs, etc. So it does get easier, but part of me misses those early years. They were fun, and there wasn’t a lot of pressure to get a lot done because you just knew you couldn’t. haha

  51. Cindy says:

    We live in the D.C. area and have a plethora of free/cheap stuff to do with our 5-year-old. Our favorites include:

    Our kiddo LOVES to hike! We love Rock Creek because they have the bonus free planetarium shows and its closer to home. We also love anywhere in Patapsco Valley, as well as the longer drives to Calvert Cliffs, Sugarloaf Mtn., and Catoctin State Park.

    The playground: We have three within walking/biking distance. We love them because it gives our only child a chance to interact with other kids in the area.

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: This place is heaven to our space-obsessed kiddo. They have lots of great events and programs, coloring sheets and activity tables … I also love that you can ask for a scavenger hunt at the desk. Complete it and get stickers! This last bit always saves us from the gift shop.

    Dinosaur Park at Montpelier Mansion: 1st and 3rd Saturdays. Free digs on a real archaeological site! So awesome! This was such a great find, and I can’t believe it took us so long to find it!

    College Park Aviation Museum: There’s a nominal fee to get in but it’s always pretty chill, kids can touch some of the planes in the museum, you can watch planes land on the runway, and sometimes talk to the pilots through the fence. The museum also do a Santa Fly-In around the holidays, which is AWESOME.

    Udvar-Hazy Center: Worth the traffic hell to get there and back, but only one a year or so. Because traffic hell. They have SO MANY PLANES and the space shuttle Discovery! Note: If you want to do the observation deck, or anything that requires the elevator up the tower, go when they open; otherwise, it takes FOREVER and is a complete waste of time.

    Glenn L. Martin Aviation: Cockpit sit. Nominal fee that is so worth it. The drive is worth it, too. One Saturday a month from May-August you can sit in actual plane cockpits! From fighter jets to choppers, to a passenger plan from the 60s! Go early.

    The Smithsonians: We usually do these on federal holidays when it is free to park downtown. We love the standards but the Postal Museum is a hidden gem. Our kiddo loves grabbing a magnifying glass and exploring all of the different kinds of stamps. We spend hours in there!

    Wheaton Park: Huge playground and picnic area, awesome nature center with lots of activities for kids. This is often a great meeting point for us with friends who are spread out around the area.

    Walks/bike rides: Our neighborhood has sidewalks and the area itself has nice parks (lakes included) close by. We go out just about every day and walk/ride bikes after dinner.

    Last but not least, we do have one big expense that is totally worth it: The National Aquarium in Baltimore. The annual membership is $175 and we gladly cough it up because the kiddo is super into aquatic life and we go there at least four times a year. Super discounted parking ($12 for the day), which is great because there’s no free parking downtown and we can walk around the harbor. If we do decide to do something from the gift shop, we get a discount on that, too. It’s just totally worth it to us.

  52. Abby A says:

    Really great suggestions! I plan on going more gardening and getting my almost preschooler involved. They also do some really great free kids and parents hikes at local parks we may join as well.

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