Keeping the kiddos busy isn’t always easy, but it can be cheap! We’ve rounded up ten of our favorite indoor and outdoor activities that utilize what you already have on hand, or if they require any ingredients for purchase, we promise it’s under $5. From homemade dough to sensory bags to obstacle courses, scroll down for our favorite things that are nearly free.

photo: Shelley Massey

1. So Cute, You’ll Melt

We’re so charmed by these melted crayon creations that our Atlanta editor whipped up with her kids. It’s easier than you think, plus you get to use all those broken crayons you know you have! Your greatest cost is the canvas or paper, but consider doing it on a pine cone, rock or pumpkin as well. Then you just need a blow dryer to get things melted. Check out nine more uses for crayons you’ve probably not thought of yet.


photo: Amber Guetebier

2. Knead-ful Things

Got two cups of flour and some salt on hand? Then you’ve got everything you need to make your own playdough. If you want to really get things going, add some food coloring to your batch. Find out how to make it here.

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

3. Create Obstacles

Keep the kids on their toes with a few homemade obstacle course ideas, most of which require only what you have on hand (or the playground). We really love the one that you can create just using tape or chalk. See all six ideas here.  

photo: Amber Guetebier 

4. The Easiest Fall Craft Ever

If you have orange and green paint and an apple, you’re pretty much set to do this amazingly-easy art project. Find out the deets here.

 

photo: Melissa Heckscher

5. You’ve Got Mail!

Kids love getting mail so it stands to reason they will love this DIY cardboard mailbox project. You can keep it simple (Sharpie, anyone?) or get more elaborate with paint or tape to create the look. Click here to get the step-by-step.

Twins with trikes donnie ray jones flickr

6. Get Set & Go!

Get your three-wheelin’ fun-lovers out of the house and get ready for a tricycle race! (Hint, you can use bicycles for this one too). Just follow our easy guide to plan your own.

photo: Erin Feher

7. Rad Rhino

Who knew a simple paper plate and a pair of scissors could transform your small child into a fierce little animal? Our Bay Area editor, that’s who. Find out how she did it here.

photo: CirKiz 

8. Go Clubbing

By now, you probably know the value of a spontaneous dance party to up your cred as a “cool” parent, but what if you turned your entire living room into a club? Why not? It won’t cost you much beyond time, and maybe a few too many Descendants songs in your playlist. Get the tutorial.

photo: Christal Yuen 

9. Gimme Shelter

What if you could combine creative play and crafting and sneak a little organizational storage in there to boot? You can! Just grab an old cardboard box or a shoebox and get ready to make your very own, super-adorable, ultra-easy car garage. Click here to find out how.

photo: Plain Vanilla Mom,

10. Gloop, There It Is

The ingredients for these sensory bags don’t have to be exact, which means you can add whatever ex-party-favor-plastic toy you have hanging around the house. The rest is next-to-free. Jennifer, the crafter-in-chief at Plain Vanilla Mom, has all the details on how to make one yourself. And if you’re looking for more seasonal sensory play, check out these fun ideas.

What’s your favorite ultra-cheap activity to keep the kiddos entertained? Tell us your ideas in a comment below. 

—Amber Guetebier