Camp Mommy: 30 Budget-Friendly Activities You Can Do With Your Kids This Summer

IMG_5921Summer is officially upon us, which means every parent is asking the same question: What on earth will I do with my kids for three. Whole. Months?

I asked myself that question a few weeks ago. Then my answer came to me: Camp! Send the kids to camp! It will be so much fun!

And then I researched camp and I discovered that camp would cost our family approximately $1000 per week. Ummm…NO. Not gonna happen.

Enter Plan B: Camp Mommy! Camp Mommy is just like regular camp, except that Mommy is the counselor, and the other campers are your siblings and the stray neighbor children, and the field trips are all taken in the family minivan. And it costs not-$1000/week. That part is important.

Camp Mommy is just as fun as regular camp, in fact, it may be even funner (it’s so fun we even get to make up words to describe it!)–and it takes advantage of resources you already have available in your community.

Here are a few exciting activities you can choose from if you decide to create your own Camp Mommy:

  1. Summer kids’ movies–many movie theaters offer free or greatly discounted kids’ movies in the summer months (for instance, Cinemark theaters nation-wide host “Summer Movie Clubhouse”)
  2. Free museums–Many museums offer free admission days at least once a month (just Google “free museum days” for your city and you should find a good list of local options). Also, if you have an account with Bank of America, thousands of museums offer free visits with your Bank of America card on select Saturdays. My kids love visiting museums even if they aren’t specifically geared toward children–I just plan on going for as long as the kids are interested, and it’s a good excuse to explore a new subject or see a new part of town.
  3. Hiking–Get out there and explore a new trail or nature walk! Bring plenty of snacks and water to bribe the kids with when they become “too tired to walk”.
  4. Kids Bowl Free–exactly what it sounds like! Sign your kids up for this program (available at bowling alleys nationwide) and your kids can bowl 2 free games every day, all summer long, for FREE!
  5. Go shopping at the Dollar Store or the thrift store–These stores are my favorite places to find affordable new (or, at least, new to us!) toys, coloring books, puzzles, and art supplies. Give each child $5 and see what treasures they find!
  6. Look at the stars–Go outside on a starry night and gaze at the stars (there are lots of cool free apps to help you find constellations!). Or, if you’re feeling super-adventurous, drive out to a local observatory. Many observatories are open and free to the public, and the summer is a great time to see stars and planets.
  7. Outdoor movies–Most cities and towns have public outdoor movie nights (locally, check out the movies on the beach in Santa Cruz or San Jose’s “In The Park After Dark”)
  8. VACATION Bible School–I haven’t tried this one yet, but I think I need to. I have a friend who recently posted photos of her family vacation out of town–and while they were on vacation, she signed her kids up for a Vacation Bible School at a local church. What a fun way to have your kids spend a few hours in the morning…and what a nice break for Mommy and Daddy while you’re on vacation!
  9. Michael’s Art Camp–my sister told me about this, and it’s got to be one of the best deals out there. For just $5, you can drop off your kids at a local Michael’s craft store where they get to create themed projects to take home. More info is available on their Camp Creativity website.
  10. Get on a boat–many waterways offer affordable boat rentals in the summer. In the South Bay, check out Lake Vasona where you can rent pedal boats, Stand Up Paddle Boards, or canoes by the hour. In Seattle, my top picks are UW or Agua Verde (stop by for a margarita after your strenuous paddle).
  11. Buy a zoo membership–In my experience, this is always worth the money. Most zoo memberships pay for themselves in 2 or 3 visits (I’ve even bought memberships to zoos when we are on vacation in the same city for a week or more so we can stop by for little visits every day!). Plus, most zoo memberships include a reciprocation program where you can visit other partner zoos, aquariums and museums for free or discounted rates.
  12. Drive-in movies–if you are lucky enough to live next to an operating drive-in movie theater, GO. They are a dying breed, and we need to expose our children to their grandeur before they become extinct. Local Mommy Campers should check out West Wind Drive In in San Jose–arrive early so your kids can burn off some energy in the bounce house and buy movie treats in the café before your double-feature begins.
  13. Library events–We visit libraries every week. We go to story time, participate in the free summer reading programs (my kids have already earned free tickets to the children’s museum and free books), watch magic and puppet shows, play at Lego club, and read with service dogs. We bring home books and movies and games by the bagful and the truckload. I ❤ libraries!
  14. Beaches–lakes, rivers, oceans…wherever you have water, go there! Your kids will entertain themselves for hours, no screens required.
  15. Discount days at local attractions–many local attractions offer discounts on their off-peak days or hours during the summer. My favorite local deal is Retro Nights every Monday and Tuesday night at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where we get to play carnival games and go on rides, all for $1 each.
  16. Check out a new park–chances are there are a few (hundred) parks within driving distance that you’ve never been to. Pick one, pack a picnic, and spend a day exploring!
  17. Visit a craft store–pick out a project to work on at home. On our last visit to the craft store I was torn between a DIY tie-dye kit, paint-your-own race cars, and puff-paint hats.
  18. Join a pool–you may be able to join a local pool or cabana club for just the summer months (or at least get a free trial for a day or 2 so you can check it out before you commit).
  19. Cooking–Give your kids a cookbook and let them pick out a recipe they’d like to try. Go shopping together for the ingredients and spend the day in the kitchen! No picky eaters will show up for this meal, guaranteed.
  20. Paint your own pottery–check out a local ceramic painting studio and let your creativity flow! Small pieces usually start at about $5.
  21. Shop the deal sites–go on Groupon or Living Social to see what local deals are available. I’ve found trampoline parks, museums, and outdoor adventures for us to try out, all at savings of 50-70%.
  22. Have a picnic–pack up some goodies and head out to a favorite spot for some fun time al fresco.
  23. Learn a new skill–summer is the perfect time to introduce new skills and allow time for practice, practice, practice. First on our agenda: tying shoes and doing laundry.
  24. Go geocaching–create your free account and download the free app from and head out on a real life treasure hunt!
  25. See a performance–many children’s theaters and local performance groups offer incredible shows in the summer time, many for free.
  26. Collect critters: get an empty bucket (or pick up a butterfly net at the dollar store) and head outside to see what little critters you can find. This week we’ve found ladybugs, lizards, frogs, butterflies…and LOTS of spiders!
  27. Write a letter–Send some cheer to a loved one. Go through the entire letter writing process with your child: choose a recipient, write a letter (date, greeting, body, closing, signature), include a fun extra (one of those art projects they painted earlier in the week will be perfect), address the envelope, and let your child place the stamp in the corner. Bonus field trip opportunity: a visit to the post office!
  28. Splash!–Visit a local splash park…or set up a sprinkler in your own yard.
  29. Visit a pet store–my kids love going to the pet store just so we can look at all of the animals. If you time your visit right you can even be there during feeding time to see what all of those turtles and birds like to eat for breakfast. Some stores will even do free behind-the-scenes tours to see what it takes to care for all of those animals.
  30. Read–When in doubt, read. And then read some more. And then read again. And for all of the summer, and all of forever, read, read, read!

Now it’s your turn! What are some of your favorite summer adventures?

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