6 Summer Activities on a Budget for Military Families

Written by Susannah Wruk


The weather has warmed up and kids are out of school. This can mean only one thing: parents are desperately trying to find ways to keep their kids entertained for the summer. For military families, this can be a real challenge due to budget concerns and not knowing what family-friendly summer activities may be available near their duty station.

Summertime can mean even more financial issues than during the rest of the year, as many military families depend on free and reduced lunch programs during the school year to help keep their kids fed. During the summer, many of these programs go away, leaving families to experience financial strain and food insecurity.

Fortunately, finding fun summer activities on a budget doesn’t have to be a struggle. Here are 6 free activities for military families and budget-friendly ideas to help keep the kids active, engaged, and having fun all summer long.


1. Check Out Local Zoos, Aquariums, and Museums

Getting the kids out of the house can be key to keeping your sanity. Going to zoos, aquariums, and museums in your area is a fun way to keep kids learning throughout the summer.

Many of these places offer free or discounted admission to military families. For example, many museums nationwide participate in the Blue Star Museums program, which offers free admission to the nation’s active duty military personnel and their families.

You can always check with your base’s Information, Tickets and Travel (ITT) office to see if they have discounted tickets to local attractions and events or for other summer activities on a budget.


2. Enroll the Kids in Summer Camp

On average, military kids have moved between 6 to 9 times by the 12th grade. Recognizing their challenges, the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) offers a summer camp program for the children of active-duty military families at low or no cost.

Operation Camp focuses on providing valuable skills, fun experiences, and lasting friendships for military kids who often face frequent relocations. This program can be so vital to help them build resilience and strong friendships with peers who understand what they’re going through.


3. Sign the Kids Up for the Summer Reading Program

Did you know that children often lose reading skills over summer vacation? Phonics, fluency, spelling, comprehension, and vocabulary skills can all degrade over the summer due to the lack of time spent reading. However, research has shown children who participate in summer reading programs avoid these losses and even show improvements in their reading skills.

Many, if not all local libraries offer summer reading programs. These programs frequently involve daily prescribed reading time to reach goals. Often libraries have prizes or raffles to incentivize children to complete the program as well. Libraries also have events and other fun and free activities for military families. Check with your local library for more details.


4. Visit a Splash Pad

Summer heat can be brutal. But, small children often don’t have as much fun at pools because they can’t swim independently yet. Splash pads are a fun way to let your small kids cool off and enjoy playing in the water without the risk of drowning. Many splash pads are free or low-cost, making it a perfect budget-friendly summer activity.


5. Get Creative

Art projects, crafts, science experiments, made-up games: boredom ends where creativity begins. Maybe involve your kids in the kitchen and try a new recipe. Or pull out the art supplies and some cardboard boxes and make your own cardboard city. If you are struggling for ideas, a quick Google search will yield seemingly endless ideas for fun and creative projects to do with your kids while at home this summer.


6. Get Outside

Children thrive in the outdoors. Some ideas for spending more time outside are:

  • Going for walks
  • Riding bikes
  • Playing in the sprinkler
  • Gardening
  • Hiking
  • Going to the beach
  • Keeping a nature journal
  • Picking wildflowers
  • Going birdwatching

Spending time outdoors can help children feel calmer and burn off excess energy (and as a bonus, it’s easier to keep the house cleaned up if the kids play outside!)


The ASYMCA is Here to Help!

Keeping kids entertained during the summer can be challenging, especially when finances are limited and the budget is tight. Military families experience financial strain at a higher rate than average due to frequent moves and high cost of living. Food insecurity can be a very real problem for many military families across the nation that depend on school lunch programs to feed their kids. The ASYMCA is here to help with services and programs designed to ease financial strain such as food pantries and food distributions.

Please consider donating to the ASYMCA today to help continue its vital mission and commitment to serve our military families!