15 Fun and Free Things to Do With Kids This Summer

Avoid the dreaded "I'm bored" with these fun, budget-friendly ideas perfect for the entire family.

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Visit a Botanical Garden

Give your kids an engaging and hands-on learning experience through nature with plants, insects, birds and sensory activities. Many botanical gardens around the country offer free admission for children under a certain age and have weekly or monthly "Free Days." As one of the oldest botanical gardens in North America, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. (above) offers free admission every day.

Explore a Nature Center

Hike nearby nature trails, get a glimpse at local wildlife and cool off in streams. Kids will love playing explorer and learning more about the ecosystems around them. Depending on where you live, you could have several nature centers in your backyard. Many offer free admission or affordable rates to the public. And, of course, in most cases, kids under a certain age are free.

Cool Off at a Splash Park

Most cities have added splash pads to their park offerings — and kids are on Cloud Nine. Keep a bathing suit in the car so you're always ready for this easy cool-down solution.

Roam Through a Zoo

Young and old, a trip to the zoo is always fun. There are a handful of free zoos all across the U.S. worth visiting. From the ever-popular National Zoo in Washington D.C. to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago (above), you can get up close and personal with some of the world's greatest creatures without burning a hole in your wallet. Rather than admission, many of these zoos suggest a donation for conservation efforts.

Learn Something New at a Museum (or Two!)

In one of our very own pieces, "Top 10 Free U.S. Museums," writer Jennifer Plum Auvil lists out the must-visit museums from coast to coast. Number one on the list? The 17 world-class Smithsonian Museums that encompass the greater National Capital area, from the new and stunning National Museum of African American History and Culture to the popular National Museum of Natural History, you can go back as many times as you want without spending a fortune.

Step Inside a Factory

Did you know there are more than 550 factory tours around the country? Indulge your sweet tooth at the Jelly Belly Candy Factory (above), or visit BabyLand General Hospital and let the Cabbage Patch Kids capture the imagination of your entire family. To find a fun and free factory tour near you, check out this website that lists tours state-by-state and categorically, too.

Explore the Night Sky at an Observatory

There's no better way to enjoy a clear, summer night sky than by looking through a telescope. Head to your local observatory or science center for free public observation nights, often held weekly or monthly later in the evening when it's really dark. There's usually an astronomer or expert on hand to position the telescope, answer questions and point out constellations.

Expand Their Minds at a Library

The best thing about public libraries (besides the shelves and shelves of books)? They're free! Getting your child (and yourself) a library card costs nothing if you're a resident, and it's a great way to keep your child constantly reading. Beyond checking out piles of books, though, most libraries host social and educational events for kids, teens and adults, too. Check your local library's calendar to see what's on the schedule, like book sales, yoga, crafting, storytime, foreign language classes and more.

Relax at an Outdoor Movie

Summer is the best time to take in a (free!) outdoor movie on the big screen at your local park. You'll want to bring camping chairs or a picnic blanket to lounge on. Most venues have rules about bringing food and drinks, so be sure to check before lugging your cooler. And if you like being close and prefer a quieter experience, get there early.

Discover a Local Farmer's Market

Cross items off your grocery list and make the kids happy at the same time. Before heading to the market, spend some time planning out your family's meals for the week — with the kids. Let them include meats, vegetables and items they love in a creative and healthy way. Once you get to the market, let kids use their exploratory skills to roundup items on the list.

Take in a Kid-Friendly Hike

There's no better way to see our country than through the eyes of our state and national parks. Even the youngest family members can set off on an easy, family-friendly hike at a local park.

Take in a Beach Day

If you're lucky enough to live on or near the beach, then this is a no-brainer. Slather your kids in SPF, grab some toys and hit the sand. If an afternoon storm doesn't roll in, you'll probably find yourself down there all day before having to drag the kiddos home.

Absorb History at Monuments and Historical Sites

Whether you're in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City or Keystone, S.D., you'll come across the most-visited monuments in the country. The best part? Most are free to see and Instagram. Since the National Park Service celebrated a 100-year milestone in 2016, they're offering 10 free entrance days this year to several national parks, monuments and historic sites.

Head to the Fishing Hole

Fishing is a quiet, calm and low-intensity activity that's perfect for generations of family members to do together. If you don't think you'll fish often, you can often rent rods, reels and tacklebox equipment from your nearby state park or historic site.

Run Around a Playground

Playgrounds aren't what you and I remember them to be with rinky-dink slides and a jungle gym. Today, they're like miniature amusement parks without the admission price. From climbing walls and telescopes to musical equipment and skateparks, these new outdoor playspaces are fit for toddlers, kids and tweens who need to release some energy.

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