Looking for something cheap and fun to do with the kids that doesn’t involve screen time? Check out our list of 20 Fun and Frugal Family Activities. Scroll through or click on the items below that appeal to you and your family. There is something for everyone in every season!
20 Fun and Frugal Family Activities
1. Rock Hunting
I am a GIANT rock hound! It all started as a little girl when my parents took my sister and I to a beautiful beach on the northern shore of Lake Michigan that was sprinkled with all kinds of treasures including rocks and a rainbow of colors of beach glass. Check out my loving tribute here. The addiction progressed further when in high school, my now husband took me agate hunting on the shore of Lake Superior. I was in rock hound heaven! This activity is on my must do list every year. I could seriously spend hours with my head bent down looking for treasures amongst the sand and the waves and I’m doing my darndist to get my kiddos as excited as I am to participate. It’s one of my favorite family memories growing up. You don’t have to know what to look for, you just follow your heart and choose what appeals most to you! Be sure that wherever you are allows the collecting of rocks from the shore. Some places like (Miner’s Beach in Grand Marais do not) and some places have limit on how much you’re allowed to take with you. Not sure where to go to find a rocky beach? Check out this link from www.mynorth.com highlighting the top 10 best rock hunting beaches in Northern Michigan and some other useful information on how to get started and what to look for.
If you’ve never heard of Geocaching, you’re really missing out. It is fun for kids of all ages (and adults too). Its like a real life treasure hunt and you never know what you’ll find. Geocaching is done with the aid of a hand-held GPS device or via any number of free apps on your mobile phone. You create a login and can then search for geocaches in your area. Using your GPS device or your phone, you track the location of the treasure and have to set off on foot to find it! You’d be surprised to find out that these little sneaky treasures are often hiding in plain sight and are all over urban areas too! You can even hide some of your own treasures for other people to find. Check out this link from geochacing.com on how to get started.
3. Beach Day
Head to your closest local beach (we are so lucky that there are a bazillion here in Michigan!). Take a picnic basket, beach blanket, towels and sand toys and spend a day relaxing on and in the sand. Our kids love anything to do with the water so this is always a big hit with them. Many public beaches also have bathhouses for changing, grills for cooking out and playground equipment for the kids too. In the state of Michigan, entry in to all state parks is free if you have the Passport stamp on your license plate which usually costs about $12 a year. For all the time we spend camping, hiking and at the beach, its totally worth it for us! Not sure where to go? Check out this link from USA Today affiliate, Democrat & Chronicle on the ten best beaches in the state of Michigan.
4. Raise A Butterfly
Every summer our kids eagerly await the arrival of Monarch butterflies back in our yard. They spend days searching the milkweed plants around our property for any sign of eggs or baby caterpillars. Once we find some decent sized and healthy looking ones, we bring a couple indoors for about a month long science experiment. (They are almost all named Murray for some reason!) All you need to get started is a container or mason jar of some kind, access to milkweed, saran wrap and some patience. Place the caterpillar in the jar on a milkweed leaf (here’s a link on identifying milkweed if you’re not familiar) and cover the jar with saran wrap with little tiny holes poked in the top (a fork works great!). Use a rubber band or jar band to secure the wrap or trust me, they will escape. Once summer we lost a Murray for almost a week and came to find him crawling on the wall in our hallway miles from where he started in caterpillar steps. Every few days you’ll need to remove the caterpillar from the jar and give him a fresh leaf and clean out all of the poop in the bottom. You’ll be amazed and how much these things poop. Seriously. Eventually they will slow down their eating and pooping and stick themselves to the top of the saran wrap upside down in a J-shape. Within a day or two they will form a chrysalis! Once in the chrysalis it takes about two weeks for the butterfly to emerge. You’ll know you’re close when the green chrysalis starts to turn clear. When the butterfly emerges, open the jar and take him outside so that he can dry his wings. This takes about an hour and then he’s off and flying. Be careful not to touch the wings or you might hurt him! Our kiddos are always sad to see these go but the experience of watching them change and taking care of them is pretty cool and a great opportunity to talk about the importance of caring for nature and growth and change.
5. Arts and Crafts
Search Pinterest for ideas that would appeal to your family or check out my Kid’s Crafts board for some inspiration. One of the favorites we’ve done so far is Splatter Painting with eggs. All you need are some empty eggshells, different colors of acrylic paint, canvas for painting, and newspaper to (somewhat) contain the mess. This is best done outside near a hose, and away from anything you care about getting messy. Start off by collecting your eggshells through out the week. When you need an egg, carefully poke a small hole in the top with the handle side of a fork or spoon. Dump the inside out and rinse the shell. Stick it back into the carton for safe-keeping until you’ve got enough to paint with. We used a dozen for this project. Once you have your shells all set, squeeze different colors of paint inside each shell. Lay newspaper down and get the kids into some trashy clothes. Set the canvases on the newspaper and let them throw the paint eggs at the canvas to create beautiful, messy works of art. Let dry and hang!
6. Exercise Together
Too rainy or cold to do an outdoor activity and the kids have way too much energy? Try exercising together as a family. Get everyone dressed up in their “exercise clothes” and search YouTube for kids Zumba videos or Yoga videos. Get out your dumbbells and give the kids some soup cans to work out along side you. Make it a challenge to see if they can copy the moves. Or turn on some music and be silly and have a family dance party. It’s a great way for everybody to do something together and an opportunity to talk about keeping our bodies healthy and strong.
7. Have A Campfire
We just love our backyard fire pit. If your property and/or community allow it, we highly recommend putting one in! We bought our fire ring on sale at Family Farm and Home earlier this summer for around $40 and have definitely gotten our money’s worth out of this bad boy. It’s a great place to gather with family and friends, to tell stories, listen to music, drink an adult beverage, roast marshmallows, star gaze or even cook a meal! Check out our Campfire Food section or our Pinterest Page for some of our favorite recipes.
My husband and I both grew up going fishing as kids and it’s a tradition we are choosing to share with our own little ones. Its great because it can be done in almost any season provided you have the right gear and a license (purchased through your state DNR office), it gets us all outside, its relatively inexpensive to do (you can find poles and gear at garage sales even) and we can eat the fruits of our labor if we so choose. Before we had kids, we bought a cheap canoe and spent hours on the weekends paddling and casting and just being together out in nature. It was magical. Now that we have two children and no longer own a family sized boat, we mostly do a lot of shore or dock fishing which is also perfectly fun. Its exciting for the kids to get a fish on their line and reel it in all by themselves. They feel proud when they provide food for our family and they understand the gravity of choosing to eat meat as a part of our lifestyle when they see us clean fish. We think this is a pretty important lesson. So many people today are so disconnected from the things that they eat; happily chowing down on a takeout hamburger or fish fillet but balking at the fact that people just like us hunt and fish. In our opinion if you’re going to eat meat, you should be prepared to understand the consequences of that decision and appreciative of the creatures that give their life in the process. It’s a rare occasion at our house when we eat dinner and one kid or other doesn’t thank whatever is on our plate for the evening for providing food for our family which wouldn’t be possible without these kinds of experiences.
Camping is really fun and inexpensive to do once you’ve acquired the necessary equipment; much of which can be purchased second hand at thrift stores, garage sales, on online sites, or borrowed from a friend. All you really need to get started is a tent, sleeping bags, cots or air mattresses (for added comfort) and a few camping pots and pans if you’re planning on doing some campfire cooking (which we highly recommend!). Our kids love sleeping outside in a tent under the stars and cooking over an open fire is a really fun experience too. You’d be amazed at some of the fun and delicious meals you can make. There are state run campgrounds and private campgrounds as well so there are lots of options and you might be surprised to find that campsites can often be rented for under $15 a night. Many come with electrical hookups and potable water on site in case you don’t want to totally rough it. Some campgrounds even have bathhouses available with indoor showers and toilets rather than just outhouses or feature little cabins you can rent with bathrooms, real beds and even a kitchenette for less confident or eager campers. These are a great way to expose your family to the great outdoors and might be a little more comfortable for novice campers or those with really young kids. When we first started tent camping we actually tried a couple of nights in your backyard before deciding to venture away from home just in case it didn’t go well and somebody got scared or too cold etc. This was a great introduction for our little ones and was much easier for us as parents when they were very small and needy.
10. Leaf Pile Jumping
Our kids have great fun every autumn helping us rake the leaves that fall from our giant oak trees into piles. They each get their own little rake so there is no fighting and its always a competition to see who can make the biggest pile. The reward for helping with this major task is getting jump into the pile of leaves before we set about tossing them into the compost pile or burning them. Simple, free, a good way to burn off extra energy and helpful for the family, awesome.
11. Visit Your Local Library
We make a visit to our local library at least once a week. The library is a great place if you’re looking for something fun, free and educational to do with your family. The one in our town is small but hosts lots of fun activities like toddler story and craft time, adult handicrafts, movie screenings, book clubs, a summer reading program, and even brings in a program called Science Alive every summer that introduces kids to lots of different animals hands on! Check with your local library for a list of free events and activities near you!
What’s better than fresh air, family time and exercise? Did you know that the state of Michigan has more than 12,500 miles of state designated trails and pathways! Hiking trails with your family is a great opportunity to explore and enjoy nature. Bring along your camera and take some photos together. Do a nature scavenger hunt to see how many wild birds, animals or plants you can identify. Mountain bike, snowshoe, sled, search for a geocache, forage for wild edibles or just enjoy each other’s company surrounded by the great outdoors.
13. Mud Play
What’s more fun that splashing in a big puddle of mud? Not much! Did you know the recent research suggests that playing in mud can actually make you happier?! Amazingly, dirt contains microscopic bacteria which stimulate the immune system and encourage the brain release serotonin, the endorphin responsible for feelings that calm, relax and soothe us. Regular exposure to this beneficial bacteria may even help reduce a child’s susceptibility to depression! Check out this article from Community Playthings for more detailed information and some ideas of how to incorporate squishy, glorious mud into your family time routine.
Grab a blanket and a cooler, pack a lunch and some drinks and head out to your local park for a picnic or cookout. While you’re there do some hiking, play at the playground or look for a geocache! You can even have a picnic in the winter if you feel so inspired!
I totally forgot how much fun and physically demanding sledding was until we had kids! Holy smokes! Talk about breaking a sweat! Pulling 70 lbs of kids up a steep hill is definitely good exercise. But the best part is getting to sled down yourself, feeling the thrill of the wind in your hair, the snow spray in your face and trying to navigate the bumps along the way just like when you were little. Don’t have a sled sitting around in your shed? Look for one used at a garage sale or online site to save money or you can even use an inner tube!
16. Build a Snowman
“Do you want to build a snowman? Come on let’s go and play!” I know I’m not the only one singing it… Building a snowman together is classic winter family fun. Get out your mittens and your snow pants and get to rolling! Use items you find in the yard for eyes, arms and a nose. Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and do some snow painting. Make a snow family. Build a fort. Have a snowball fight!
17. Free Community Events
Check out the website and Facebook page of your local community (and those surrounding you!) for details on any upcoming free or low-cost family friendly activities. Many towns sponsor annual or seasonal events like live music, movies in the park, fairs, food festivals, fun runs, ice carving, craft shows, petting zoos, classes and so much more. Check out this link from Pure Michigan for details on the fairs in festivals in the Mitten State!
18. Park, Museum or Playground
Visit a local park, museum, children’s garden or splash pad. Take a picnic lunch along and make a day of it. Invite some friends along. Our kids love interacting with other kids they don’t normally get to see and its a great way for them to burn off extra energy or cool off on a hot day.
19. Play Dress Up
Who doesn’t like getting dressed up? I know our kids do! They especially love it when we play along. Its nice to take a break from being so darn serious all the time and just remember to play like a kid. Who cares if you look ridiculous! That makes it all the more fun. One year Justin dressed up like Guy Diamond from the Trolls movie for Halloween. I crocheted him a sparkly hat and covered in him glitter. Did he complain? Not at all because the kids had fun with it. And when the kids have fun, we all do.
20. Cook Together
This is probably one of our kids favorite activities to do together as a family. They always like to help with the chopping, stirring, mixing and measuring and seem more apt to try new foods when they’ve helped to make them. Need some inspiration on some simple recipes to make with your little ones? Check out our Cooking with Kids board on Pinterest.