Fun things to do as a family that are cheap and easy! A list of family activities to keep everyone entertained and engaged.
As an adult, I occasionally daydream through a list of family activities from my childhood.
Like playing badminton with my father in the late evening, with the playful flicker of lightning bugs all around us.
Or diving in our swimming pool one last time before sitting out in the grass to eat Mom’s strawberry shortcake.
Or rounds of family Scrabble during our vacations in Ocean City, MD, when our parents were not busied by jobs and everyday chores.
It’s not nostalgia for Nintendo, Gameboy, or TGIF Friday night shows that puts a smile on my face; it’s the more homegrown fun we had as a family.
These inexpensive and fun things to do as a family I'm about to share with you are not only good for the wallet; they're good for your kid's souls.
Bonus tip: On days when you don't know what you should do with your family, pick out 5 or so ideas from below, and then rotate which family member gets to pick from that curated list of yours.
Family Activities at Home — Fun Things to Do with Family At Home
Ever wake up on a weekend and wondered “what should my family do today…WITHOUT us having to leave home?
Don't worry — I've got you covered. This list of things families do together at home is your go-to resource for finding cheap, memorable family activities at home.
Roast Dinner on a Stick in the Backyard
What kid doesn't like to roast things on sticks (or adult, for that matter)?
Make a campfire and let the kids roast dinner on a stick. Have your kids hunt for their own sticks. Try wrapping sausage or hot dogs in crescent rolls and piercing your stick into it, roasting apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, making bannock, or kebabs.
Whittle away the hours with ghost stories.
My favorite Kid/Teen-friendly ghost story books is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series — we cherished these as kids (though be warned, they're quirky and scary!).
Hint: After you're done roasting your food? Check out these awesome magic fire packets that turn your fire different colors! I got these for my husband, and we've loved throwing them into our fire pit out back. The color lasts surprisingly long.
Play a Round of Pudding Pictionary
Pudding Pictionary is such a fun game (for any age)!
We played it with our 2 year old (yes…lots of the pudding ended up in his mouth and on his face…but he also actually attempted to draw the items!).
We just whipped up a batch of chocolate pudding (you can buy some pudding packs from the store, too), used a large piece of poster (you can use plates or just about anything that won't soak right through), and printed out some free pictionary cards.
Hold a Pantry-Cooking Competition (2-Night Event)
Divide your family into two teams. One team gets to root through the cupboards and pantry to cook a complete meal on Friday night, and the other gets to do it for Saturday night. Choose how you guys will pick the winning team.
Here are some free Iron Chef printables you can adapt for this (just write in “Family” before “Date Night”. Voila!).
Do a Family Murder Mystery Game Night
Here are 9 free murder mysteries you and your family can have fun with (all free!).
Set Up a DIY Escape Room
My husband and I did our first escape room two years ago, and we're kinda hooked. They're not only great for couples, but provide a really great engaging experience for families, too.
A few to consider:
Hold a Family Tournament Night
Forget about family board game nights; instead, hold a family tournament night.
This includes playing at least 3 rounds of a particular game — any one you have on hand. You can also use this simple, free 10 X 10 Board Game Challenge tracker.
Hint: If it's summertime? Take your board game or ping-pong table OUTSIDE for the tournament. When the sun goes down, light a fire in your fire pit and keep going.
Play Glow-in-the-Dark Volleyball Out Back
Wow, glow-in-the-dark volleyball? This adds a whole new level of fun to that volleyball net that's sitting in the garage.
Give Each Other Manis and Pedis
Play spa-at-home and let everyone take turns doing the manicures and pedicures, and then receiving them. Great way to use up all those beauty supplies you've got hanging around.
Bonus: kids get to choose what color goes on Mom!
Camp Out in Your Backyard (Or Just Let the Kiddos)
My sister, brother and I used to love to doing this! Pitch your tent in the backyard, load it up with sleeping bags, books to read, flashlights, snacks, etc. And let the kids (and you guys, too) all sleep under the stars. Beware of any timed sprinklers!
Pass Down a Family Cooking Lesson
Teach your children how to cook a favorite meal of yours, or cook something that takes hours and is only meant for special occasions.
Is your grandmother, an aunt, your mother, etc. around you? Invite them over. They'll cherish getting to teach another generation an important recipe in the family.
Recipes I've learned from my own grandmother over a few afternoons include her cream roll, Hungarian Pigs in a Blanket, and her famous cherry cheesecake.
Force Bulbs Inside
Last winter I took the time to force bulbs in our home. I can’t describe to you the pleasure of smelling sweet, fresh, hyacinths in our kitchen.
Plus, it was really exciting to watch the bulbs first grow roots, then breakout into stalks, and finally produce lovely little flowers.
We happened to have a gorgeous piece of pottery that our aunt gave to us as a gift, and smooth river rocks leftover from our fish tank, so we only needed to spend less than $10 on bulbs.
You can use any container you’d like. Get the kids to help you gather rocks from outside (or from your landscaping — I used some Mexican River Pebbles from our bamboo area).
Make Cake Pops
Have I mentioned my love affair with cake pops?
It began about two years ago when I first stumbled upon this woman’s blog. I even found a deal on a social-buying website for half off a great cake pops class that I took with my friend Helen.
The great thing about making cake pops is that the ingredients are super cheap (lollipop sticks can be found on Amazon.com or in your local craft store). You can also make several cake batter batches and freeze them in single-size bags to make cake pops throughout the rest of the year.
Turn Off the TV and Tell Ghost Stories
My Aunt and Uncle got us the series “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” which I still treasure today. In the wintertime, as nighttime creeps in earlier and earlier, take advantage of the dark.
Turn off the t.v., light some candles (or give your kids glow sticks to use), and share some of your own ghost stories from childhood (or make one up as you go).
Bonus tip: You could also use the list as a way to reward your child for a good report card (especially if you don't want to splurge on taking the whole family out to dinner).
Fun Family Outdoor Activities
We are all about the family dates in our household. And cheap ones that get us outside of our house? Well, those are even better.
Some cheap family outdoor activities include:
Go on Pokemon Go Walks
Have you heard of Pokemon Go? It's fun to pair a walk in your local park with this free game — this is definitely a long walk the kids will want to be part of.
Just download the free app on your phone, and get going!
I can't tell you how simple, but effective this one is. Simply using your picnic table, the picnic table at your local park, or your folding table in the garage and loading it with tonight's dinner buffet-style will change your entire evening with the kids.
Meet Daddy for Lunch or Donuts
Depending on the age of your kids, or you can swing this over school holidays, surprise Dad by taking everyone into his workplace cafeteria, or a nearby cafeteria for lunch!
If funds are really tight, bag lunches and meet at a local park for 40 minutes of watching the kids play.
Work Out at Your Gym
If you've got a gym or a YMCA/community center membership, then make your next family date a gym outing. You've already paid for it!
Take a Free Factory Tour
Many factory tours are free, and at the end, you might just get to sample the product (specifically if it's a food factory tour).
Complete a Family Challenge
This can be a 5K walk for a cause, where you can also ask family and friends to sponsor your team (with donations going to the cause).
Go On a “Little Free Library” Crawl
Each family member pick out books they are finished with, and then research your local Free Little Libraries.
Decide to hit up 3 of them, and deposit a book for each book that you take.
Bonus: Many of these are actually in parks or outdoor green spaces, giving you an excellent reason to go outside in your area and explore a bit!
Go Geocaching Together
This is a practically free, and fun family experience that gets you outdoors to explore your area.
You're looking for hidden geocaches in your local community — it's like treasure hunting! There's an app you can download to locate them, and you'll want to bring little trinkets to leave in the boxes you find.
Go to a Local High School Sporting Event
Head out as a family to a local, free sporting event. Bring blankets to snuggle up under, and fill some thermoses with soup and hot cocoa to snack on.
Volunteer as a Family, Outdoors
Volunteering can serve the dual purpose of helping others in need and providing entertainment.
You can volunteer for things such as Habitat for Humanity (aged 16 or older), or at local nature centers for a great time outdoors.
Take a Yoga or Meditation Routine Outdoors
It might completely change your practice by changing locations to your backyard, in the middle of a park, on the beach, etc. You might even be able to find a group that offers this so that you won’t be alone. Here in Houston, Discovery Green offers free yoga outdoors on Saturdays at 9:00 a.m and Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m, while Meditations are on Mondays at 12:00 p.m .
Hunt for Four-Leaf Clovers
Four-leaf clovers are caused by a mutation on a normal, three-leaf clover plant. This mutation typically occurs once in every 10,000 clovers, which means this could either be the best activity to keep your kids busy ever, or a very discouraging one.
There are some plants who imitate true clovers, but you can tell that you have found a legitimate four-leaf clover if the fourth leaf is smaller than the others.
If you're lucky enough to find one, press it for keeping or make yourself a charm by drying it and placing it in a clear charm holder from a craft store.
After the kids have looked, looked, and looked some more? Offer them a pot of gold at the end of their long journey by making a copycat version of McDonald’s Shamrock milkshake.
Take a Photo in a Field of Wildflowers
Bluebonnets are famous in Texas, and so is getting your picture taken in a field of them. If you want to skip the possibility of snake bites and the potential hazards of parking on the side of a road, check out Mercer Arboretum which offers free admission and a spot to take photos. If you are not in Texas, use this U.S. Forest Service to find wildflower viewing in your own area.
Strawberry season has begun here in Houston. If you want to pick your own, check out Froberg’s Vegetable and Fruit Farm in Alvin, about 26 miles outside of Houston.
Paul and I picked our own last week and made Strawberry Shortcake with our sweet finds.
Use this resource to find pick-your-own farms in your area.
Cartoon courtesy of Cartoon Resource.
Go Wildlife Spotting
This is such a fun pastime.
Here in Houston, I love alligator spotting. Also, you can watch the bat colony emerge from under Waugh Bridge! We did this several years ago. When I lived in Florida I also went alligator spotting, and got to see iguanas and lots of exotic birds.
In Maryland, I went birding (spotted a Kingfisher once, which was probably the coolest bird sighting I have ever had).
In PA, I loved watching the lightning bugs come out at night and going deer spotting near my family’s cabin in the mountains.
Go to the Park
Paul and I had a sleepover for two of our nieces this past weekend and we took them to see ducks, turtles (we spotted almost 20!), the Japanese gardens and koi fish all for free at the Hermann Memorial Park.
We even showed them the huge gemstone geodes and the dinosaur skeleton in the lobby of the Houston Museum of Natural Science while Paul picked up the car. Parks are a wonderful way to enjoy time with children and adults.
You never know what kind of wildlife you might spot, or what surprises are in store for you. If nothing else, spending some time outside is always wonderful (though in smaller increments in the humid Houston air!).
Play Glow-in-the-Dark Freeze Tag
(From Woman’s Day, April Issue)
Buy tubes of glow-in-the-dark sticks and let your kids run around in the backyard at night. Try a game of nighttime freeze tag!
Do Backyard Paintball
Ever notice how cheap water guns are? Purchase one each for every member in your family (here's a six pack), and then dye the water a different color for each member. Fill up the water guns, put on old clothing, and play a game of “paintball” in your backyard.
Have a Night Under the Stars
Buy a map of the stars you can see with your naked eyes (here's a guide you can use), and grab a blanket.
Check out which summer nights will have star events on the MeteorBlog.
For even more fun, pitch your tent and camp out.
Do Friday Night Sparklers (When it's NOT July 4th)
Or Tuesday night sparklers…or Sunday night sparklers. Who said sparklers were just for once a year on July 4th? Sparklers are inexpensive, and will light up your child’s face.
Go Treasure Hunting
Grab a compass, and try out Letterboxing, or borrow someone’s metal detector and take it outback with your kids.
Start a Family Collection
The idea with this is to have a collective goal to bring your family together.
If you live near the ocean or water of any kind, purchase a fish net to hang on your wall (perhaps in your family room) and go on walks to gather things to nestle into the netting, such as shells, driftwood, etc.
Collect neat-looking stones and look them up on the internet.
Pick Your Own Food
Almost nothing is more fun and immediately rewarding than gathering your own food. Try picking strawberries, peaches, apples, etc. Check out this website to find a pick-your-own farm near you.
In our backyard, once a year (for a few months) our lemon tree drops beautiful Meyer lemons. Apple orchards may be hours away from us, but many of you live around an orchard where you can partake in the harvest and pick your own fruit. If you don’t live within driving distance, instead try making homemade apple cider doughnuts, apple cider donut holes, canning homemade applesauce (my friend Aurora does this every year!), or making other apple baked goods. Heat up the leftover apple cider from the doughnut making and enjoy a cup outside.
Make a Set of Family Scarecrows
Got some old clothes you haven’t donated yet?
Get each family member to pick out an outfit (long sleeved shirt and pants) and purchase one or two bails of straw from a local farmer or feed store.
Stuff the shirt and pants with straw, tuck in the shirt, and use either the cut bailer twine or a belt to cinch the shirt and pants together. Fill an old pillowcase up with straw and use markers to make a face (secure into a face-like shape with a rubber band), or use a pumpkin for the head.
Use an old fence post or other scrap of long wood to stake each member up and display in your front yard!
Make Peanut Butter Bird Feeders
Visit a local park or go on a walk and collect pine cones. When you get home, slather the pine cones in peanut butter, then roll each in birdseed (hint: if you are in Houston, the cheapest wild bird seed I have found is at Kroger’s). Tie to a tree with a piece of string.
Make Homemade Creepy Crawlers
I was a creepy-crawler kid.
Forget about an Easy Bake Oven; I wanted my oven to make spindly and rubbery creatures of all sorts. Here is a recipe for homemade creepy crawlers that you don’t need to bake. Or visit a craft store and find insect molds to fill.
Why just carve a pumpkin when you can carve Halloween designs onto fruit and even vegetables to add some festivity all month long?
Who knows, maybe your children will be more apt to eat fruits and vegetables after they have worked on them. It would also be super cute and thoughtful to carve a piece of fruit that you stick in your children’s lunchbox as a surprise.
Here are some free templates you can print out (obviously the large ones will not work on a pear or apple).
Drive by a Haunted Location and Share Mysterious Local Folklore
There used to be a gang near our farm that allegedly stole farming equipment and diesel fuel during the night (they are the reason why my grandfather always made sure the equipment found its way to the shed at the end of the day).
I didn’t know anything about this gang or other mysteries surrounding their lives until our tennis practice was cancelled one rainy autumn morning. My sister was my transportation, and she decided that instead of going straight home she would drive me and her friend down this creepy, wooded path to where this gang used to live.
She told us the tidbits she knew, and how there might be a body buried on the very ground we were driving over.
It was so spooky! I don’t know what is or is not true of everything that was said, but the memory remains with me. You can find out about folklore and alleged hauntings in your own area by doing a search, asking around, or visiting your local library.
Who knows what you might find. Also…how fun would it be to check out a kid's scary audiobook and listen to it on the way?
Do things from this list of family activities? And the memories will remain with you + your kids throughout the rest of their lives — the ones they'll daydream about from time to time as they entertain their own kids.
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