The challenge: Spend time with your family without spending money. Sound tougher than persuading the kids to eat their vegetables? It’s not as difficult as you might think.
Try these free activities for kids and families.
1. Have a family game night
A little friendly competition can bring you closer together. Gather the family around the table for a board game like Scrabble or Monopoly. Consider games such as charades and hide-and-seek, too. If you can’t reach a group consensus, roll dice or draw names from a hat and let the winner pick the game.
2. Read, tell or listen to a story
Grab a book, choose a comfy seat and read out loud together. In many neighborhoods, you can take or exchange books at a Little Free Library. Use the map tool on littlefreelibrary.org to locate one in your community.
For another fun — and free — option, try making up your own stories. Use your imagination and take turns telling scary stories or tales about pirates, for example. Or perhaps you and the kiddos would rather let someone else do the storytelling. Most libraries and bookstores host storytime for young children. Contact locations near you to learn about upcoming events.
3. Build a fort
Scrounge up some empty boxes or drape blankets from the sofa and chairs to make a fort. Then, make it cozy with pillows and cushions. Let the kids decorate, bring in their favorite toys or books, or watch a movie on your electronic device.
4. Go on a scavenger hunt
Hide objects throughout the home or make a list of things to find around the neighborhood, like pine cones, feathers and coins. Decide whether everyone should gather these items, take pictures or simply use the honor system to cross them off the list. Once you’ve established the rules, let the search begin.
5. Play dress up
Get in character for a day. Dig up old Halloween costumes, borrow items from your closet and set up a makeup station. Pick one another’s outfits to make it extra interesting. You can have a family fashion show, put on a play or record a movie on your smartphone. Break a leg!
6. Visit a national park
Take a family trip to a national park. Many parks, including Great Basin National Park in Nevada, offer free admission throughout the year. Others are free on select days.
Fourth-grade students can get a free annual pass through the Every Kid in a Park program.
Have a fourth-grade student? She can get a free annual pass — which grants entry for everyone in the car — to locations that normally charge entrance fees through the Every Kid in a Park program. Military members, people with disabilities and eligible volunteers can also get passes at no cost.
7. Get crafty
With a few available supplies and a little creativity, you can make just about anything. For example, turn a milk carton into a birdhouse or make macaroni art with noodles and glue. Need more inspiration? Search for free templates, printable coloring pages and DIY tutorials online.
8. Do an outdoor activity
These days, it seems that everyone’s glued to their screens 24/7. Rather than stay cooped up inside all day with technology, why not breathe a little fresh air? Suggestions: Go on a hike, play in the rain or snow (make sure to bundle up first), have a picnic, set up a tent and camp in the backyard or go to a playground.
9. Take a class
Retailers and community centers often provide free classes and workshops for people of all ages. For example, Guitar Center offers complimentary group music lessons for kids and adults. At an Apple Store, parents and children can learn how to sketch or make movies on an iPad. Check availability of activities at local stores and explore other places to learn skills and hobbies together.
10. Make a time capsule
Here’s a twofer: Create a time capsule now and you’ll get to revisit it in the future. First, find a jar, box or another durable container. Next, fill it with items you have handy, such as photos, letters, newspaper clippings and toys. Choose an out-of-reach area to store or bury the capsule until it’s time to take a trip down memory lane. Let the countdown begin!
11. Have a tea party
Brew a pot of tea (or pretend). You and the youngsters can dress up, invite a few dolls and stuffed animals and chat while you sip.
12. Dine where kids eat free
Yes, you can go out to eat and save money. Denny’s, Ruby Tuesday and other restaurants give kids a meal on the house with the purchase of an adult entree. Some offers are available only during certain hours or on a specific day of the week, though. Ask local establishments for details.
13. Make a family tree
Document your family history on paper or create a digital tree on a website like Canva. You can flip through photo albums, search online databases for records — Ancestry.com offers a free 14-day trial — and tell stories as you go.
14. Swim, skate or bowl
There’s nothing quite like taking a cool, refreshing dip in summer. You can often swim free at public pools at your city’s parks and community centers.
Or, head indoors for bowling or roller skating. Children can score a couple of free trips to participating bowling alleys or roller rinks by signing up for the Kids Bowl Free and Kids Skate Free programs.
15. Take a tour
Families can check out many historic landmarks, architectural marvels and factories at no cost. For example, the Hershey’s chocolate-making tour in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has no admission fee and includes a free sample.
You can also research free group walking tours in your city or take a self-guided tour, like the Freedom Trail in Boston. Many sites, including the Boston Common, are free to the public.