11 ideas for free (or super inexpensive) summer outings with grandkids

So you have the grandkids for the week. Or the weekend. Or every work day throughout the summer as you (generously) help cover childcare while school-age kids are on summer break.

What to do, what to do?

Here are 11 ideas that won't bust your budget. Some are free, some are low cost, all are great ways for grandkids and grandparents to make grand memories together this summer.

free summer fun with kids 

This one tops the list because fishing is fun. Mostly, though, it's because June — the current month! — is the most popular month for states to offer free-fishing days. Meaning, time's ticking on this idea. Visit TakeMeFishing.org to see when kids can fish without a license in your state. Has your local free day come and gone? Then see if and when your nearest Bass Pro Shops location offers its popular free catch-and-release pond (again, most are in June and July, so hop to) — as well as their many other free non-fishing outdoorsy activities scheduled through July 24.

In an effort to cut down on the alarming number of drowning accidents each year, YMCAs across the country offer for summer 2016 18,000 grants for free swimming lessons for kids — with heavy emphasis on serving African-American and Hispanic/Latino kiddos in urban communities — through its Safety Around Water program. Contact your local YMCA to see if there's a program near you and if your grandchildren qualify.

Public libraries offer programs for children of all ages throughout the year, but the fun heats up come summertime with summer reading programs and special activities and incentives. Visit your local library in person or online to check out its summer schedule. If you don't know much about your library, including branches near you, Google the name of your city followed by the word library and you should easily find your local library district.

I recently relied on this one with my three grandsons — and was surprised by how much fun we all had. Give kids $5 each then head to the nearest dollar store. Let them take their time roaming the aisles considering (and reconsidering... again and again) how to get the most fun from their five. No calculator necessary as the penny-pinching can be figured using just their fingers.

Several theater chains have summer movie specials in which kids and their grownups can beat the heat while enjoying a family film (second run) at a fraction of a film's typical cost. Cinemark and Regal Entertainment offer $1 tickets; Carmike has $4 package deals that include movie snacks.

Check with your local park and recreation department to see where and when you and the grandkids can spread a blanket (or line up some lawn chairs) on the grass in the park and enjoy a free performance by local musicians. Some neighborhoods offer free performances beyond music, too, such as plays, magic shows, comedy troupes and more — especially if there's a college with a performing arts program in the vicinity.

Is there a kid around who doesn't like to build stuff? Not likely. Encourage budding do-it-yourselfers by taking them to one of the free workshops offered the first Saturday of the month at Home Depot or every other Saturday morning at Lowe's.

Head to the farmer's market to purchase local delights for upcoming snacks and meals. Kids are more apt to savor summer's bounty of fresh fruits and veggies if they picked the produce themselves — and possibly chatted with those who grew the goodies and pulled them from the ground, too.

Nearly every museum offers a free day for kids (and, possibly, local residents of all ages). Many marvelous museums are admission-free every day, though you may have never suspected so. Google museums near you that interest your grands. Check their calendar then mark your calendar to wander and wonder without it costing a thing.

Bowling centers and schools across the country have kicked off Kids Bowl Free for Summer 2016. Registered kids receive two free games of bowling every day, all summer long. Visit KidsBowlFree.com to find bowling establishments offering the program in your area. 

Many a manufacturer — from candy to beverages to musical instruments to aircraft and auto makers — welcome the public to participate in tours that highlight their process. Some spots even offer a sampling of their product! Visit FactoryToursUSA.com to find such fun near you (and factories are far from the only ones on the surprisingly long and intriguing lists).

Whatever your plans for summer fun with little ones, bear in mind Abigail Van Buren's oft-quoted wisdom for parents: "If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money." Such advice proves equally priceless for grandparents meting out minutes and money on grands.

Today's question:

What might you add to the list of budget-friendly ideas for summer fun?