Simple Summer Activities for Kids

Have you heard the dreaded two words that most children utter at some point during the summer months? Yep, you guessed it- “I’m bored!” Here are some simple summer activities for kids that don’t require a ton of money, including a few free options so you can save the cash for that family vacation down the road.

Art Institute of Chicago

Did you know that kids under 14 receive free admission at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as Chicago teens under 18? So yes, the Art Institute IS family friendly, and no, they aren’t particularly concerned about making it library-quiet all hours of the day across the board. I think it is a common misconception that museums, particularly those dedicated to fine art, are hallowed halls that dare not hear volume above a whisper. The Family Room is open every day 10:30-5pm and kids can even make their own art. Want more interaction? The Room to Move exhibit inspired by performance art is made for kids to move around. Nervous about your kiddos putting their palms on all of the artwork? Take them into the Touch Gallery where fingerprints are encouraged. This is one of those summer activities for kids that you might not have on your radar, but is perfect for a rainy (or massively humid) day.

If you have a teen, the Art Institute has specific programs just for that age group including workshops, live art, work opportunities and design events. There are even teen-led tours if your almost adult wants to learn from someone of their own generation.

FREE Movies at CMX Market Old Orchard

Ok, here is my confession- I frequently take my kids to the movies when I need a rest. I sit in between them and hold their hands while I nod off. While I don’t really recommend doing this unless your kids are self-sufficient, sometimes you just need to sit down in the AC and zone out. This summer, you can take your kids to the movies for FREE at CMX Market Old Orchard (the one on the southern side of the mall, closer to Nordstrom). Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through August 1st at 10am a kid-friendly film will be shown on the big screen free of charge. Seats are first come, first served and doors open at 9am. Take a look at the list below:

In addition to the plush leather seats and top-notch tech, there are a ton of gourmet food options (including adult beverages…hey, if you want wine at 10am, go for it). I have had some of the snacks and CMX has raised the bar on movie theater food.

Create a Food and Culture Lesson at Home

No budget to travel abroad this summer? Pick a country and study their culture and food. Find a traditional recipe and try it out! Ask Alexa to play music from that country. Head to the library and check out books about the country. Learn how to say common words in the language (personally, I was always interested in the swear words, but maybe leave those out). Find a movie set in that country or the show Travel with Kids.

For example, we chose Italy and made pasta together while Alexa played Italian opera in the background. Pasta is incredibly easy to make, but most kids have only tasted dried pasta from a box. All you need is flour, salt and eggs, and olive oil if you prefer. I purchased an inexpensive, basic hand crank pasta machine to make rolling out the dough easier (yes, you can use a rolling pin but…the machine is SO much more fun). This is one of the summer activities for kids that you can do at ANY time of the year!

Go Camping

My kids ADORE camping, even though I am not an expert and we have eaten cold hot dogs at least once. We bought an inexpensive tent and go every year to a KOA campground. Many campgrounds have small cabins to rent as well if you aren’t a tent person. We love the Northwest KOA in in Union, Illinois which has the Wild West Town attached to it. This year, we plan on going to the Jellystone Park in Caledonia, Wisconsin which has an outdoor movie theater and a water slide. Bring board games, marshmallows and ghost stories to make memories!

Alternative Lemonade Stand

If you are looking for summer activities for kids, try an alternative to a lemonade stand!

Here are a few ideas that might get the neighbors running. Donate profits to a charity of your children’s choice. To increase attendance, kids can drop flyers off at neighbors doors telling the details:
Bake Sale
Snow Cones
Pancake Breakfast
Watermelon Slices

Rent a Boat on the Chicago River

Every year, our family rents a boat on the Chicago river for two hours- it is one of the most perfect summer activities for kids. We pack a picnic, some drinks and slather on sunscreen. Boats usually hold up to 12 guests, so we invite another family or two to come along and split the cost. I have also found Groupons that help defray the boat rental. You can look up some history and narrate your own architectural tour!

Whatever you do this summer, don’t stress about dropping a ton of cash to make a memory. All kids want to do is spend time with you in the end, and that is what they will remember.

Cheers to a little frugal living this summer, and saving that money for a rainy day (or a luxe vaca)!