You’ve made it through MAYcember, and now you’re wondering how you’ll find enough summer activities for kids to keep your little ones busy until school starts up again. In order to help you out, we’ve collected the best free (or super cheap) national summer programs, everything from that free museum day you always forget about to awesome reading challenges and even dollar movies and crafts. Keep reading to get your game plan ready.
1. Walk and Talk from Marathon Kids
Research shows that kids connect when they're participating in an activity with you whether it's cooking, playing outside or being creative. Non-profit organization Marathon Kids, that works to ignite the joy of physical activity in kids, is launching a free summer program in hopes of making this easier for parents. Simply walk a mile and talk while doing it. Each day you'll receive a new prompt, there's a special mileage tracker, and by the end, you'll have walked the length of a marathon (26 miles) while getting to know your child better.
2. Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program
If you need an incentive to get the kids to go screen-free every once in a while, check out the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program. Download a reading journal from the Barnes & Noble website, then have your little bookworm log each book as it’s completed. Once they’ve read eight books, bring the completed journal to your local Barnes & Noble between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31st to get a free book. Score!
Insider Tip: Your local public library likely has a summer reading program, too! Be sure to visit your branch to get the scoop on how to participate and win prizes.
3. LEGO Mini Builds & Magazine
Every month this summer, download the free instructions to a new LEGO mini build. In addition, your master builder can receive a free magazine as part of the LEGO life program. There are stories, activities and news updates for kids ages 5-9.
4. Microsoft Kids Camp
Microsoft is offering free kids camp at their stores this summer, including a Harry Potter coding camp! There are also other types of camps, including designing video games, STEM Saturdays and robotics. Ages range from 6-14, and while the camps are free, advance registration is required.
5. Brain Chase
Give your kids an exciting and engaging adventure this summer by joining forces with Mae Merriweather from the Grayson Academy of Antiquities. Starting on Jun. 10, 2019, your tiny treasure hunter can join other participants from all over the world to work hard, have fun, and decode the clues that will lead one lucky winner to the mysterious Sunstone of Cortes.
How does it work? Kids will choose three electives out of 15 (depending on which package you select), including math, engineering, cooking, typing and even yoga, to solve each weekly challenge. Once solved, an original webisode containing the next hidden clue will be unlocked. The first treasure hunter to solve the mystery will jet off to unearth the real buried treasure—a gold-plated globe and a $5,000 scholarship!
Cost: $89 and up. Click here for more information.
6. Scholastic's Read-a-Palooza
Your avid reader can help underprivileged kids gain access to books by keeping track of his total minutes read this summer. Registration is open now, and the challenge goes until Sept. 6, 2019. There are two ways to participate: Check with your school librarian to see if the school is participating, or sign up independently. As kids log their minutes, they’ll unlock fun videos, book excerpts and other exclusive summer content. Once the program hits 25, then 50 and then 100 million minutes read, Scholastic, with the help of other sponsors will donate up to 200,000 books to underserved kids across the country. You can register here.
7. Ranger Rick Photo Contest
If you’ve got a budding Ansel Adams at home, the Ranger Rick photo contest is a great way to keep her busy over the summer. First, head for the great outdoors and have her take nature and landscape pictures. Then, select her favorite one and send it in with proper sizing (2 MB or smaller, JPG format, at least 600 pixels wide or 600 pixels tall). If your kid doesn’t have a digital camera, no worries! Phone images are also accepted. Recent winners (this is an ongoing contest) are entered into the running for Ranger Rick’s "Your Best Shots" Magazine Award and are selected every three months. Each winner receives a certificate of achievement and copies of the magazine featuring the winning image!
8. Kids That Do Good Volunteer Program
It's never too early to instill the habit of giving to others. Have your little philanthropists sign up with Kids That Do Good this summer in order to spend time giving back to their local community. The online (kid-founded!) resource allows kids to get involved with a cause or charity of their choosing—or, if you’ve got real go-getters at home—create their own! Once you’ve created an account and found an organization, kids can track their service hours via social profiles and certificates.
9. Apple Camp
The very popular Apple Camp returns for the summer. Designed to help spark the imaginations of kiddos ages 8-12, this three-day workshop allows kids to explore and expand on their digital creativity. They’ll choose one of three tracks, and spend 90 minutes of each day working on their project. Be sure to sign up here to get an email announcing open registration—spots fill up quickly!
Insider Tip: If you can't grab a reservation, check out your local store for regularly scheduled events.
10. Home Depot Maker Classes
The Home Depot offers workshops that are perfect for mini-makers. Simply pre-register online, and then show up on the selected Saturday to build fun projects like a putting green. At the end of the two-hour workshop, kids receive a certificate of achievement, a workshop apron, and a commemorative pin while supplies last.
11. Camp Creativity at Michael's
Does your artist dream of paint, paper, glitter and glue? If so, Michael’s Camp Creativity is the perfect way to beat summer brain drain. Kids come in on Mon., Wed. and Fri. from 10:00 am-12:00 pm to work on projects that have fun themes like Zoo Adventures, World Explorers and Sea Treasures. There are new crafts each day, Friday is a slime-themed project, and kids get stickers and coloring pages to collect for each session they attend.
Cost: $3 for a 30-minute session
12. Kids Bowl Free
Budding bowlers can perfect their technique all summer long thanks to Kids Bowl Free, which allows them to play up to two games a day free of charge. All that's missing is a pair of those sweet bowling shoes. To find a participating bowling alley near you, click here.
13. Summer Movie Programs
Sometimes a dark and cool movie theater is the only way to beat the heat. Your kids can sign up for a punch card or show up at participating Cinemark (movies shown on Tues. and Thurs.) and Regal theaters (movies shown on Tues. and Wed.) to catch a fun kid-friendly flicks for just $1. Even better, most movies show before noon, making it easy to catch a flick and head home for nap time.
Insider Tip: You can skip the concession lines at Cinemark with a speed pack!
Cost: $1 per movie at both locations, or $5 for 10 punch card from Cinemark.
14. Kids Skate Free
Xanadu your heart out and head for the local roller rink this summer. Whether your kids like to skate or rollerblade, a few laps will get their blood pumping, and the cool, A/C-induced temps are a total bonus. The Kids Skate Free program allows families to take advantage of this offer once a week (during summer months). Click here to find out if it’s happening at your local rink.
15. National Park Jr. Ranger Program
If you’ve got a National Park nearby (or have plans to travel this summer), be sure to sign up your mini explorers for the NPS Junior Ranger Program. Each kiddo will be outfitted with a handy Junior Ranger guidebook that's filled with historical facts and cool tips about all the National Parks. Every adventurer also gets the chance to complete a series of activities, share answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and certificate. Click here to learn more.
Insider Tip: Kids can earn badges at home by downloading activity books and information packets. Click here for more info.
16. Museums on Us
If you are a Bank of America or a Merrill Lynch cardholder, you can snag free admission at more than 150 museums, science centers and botanical gardens across the country on two days every month just by showing your card. Find out if your favorite museum is participating, and on what days, by clicking here.
—Susie Foresman & Gabby Cullen