Cheap Indoor Activities for Kids of Every Age
Whether it's too hot or too cold outside, parents are always seeking fun and cheap indoor activities for the kids. Check out our list, broken down by age, for a variety of affordable or free ideas.
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Infant (0-1 year)
Plan a Playdate.Chances are if you're getting cabin fever, your friends and neighbors with kids are, too. Even going to someone else's house, or having them visit at yours, can feel like a real outing for you and your baby without spending a dime. True, the babies aren't quite old enough to play with each other, but you can facilitate interaction and get some adult contact at the same time. Put out a snack or two along with a few toys, and you have yourself a playdate. If you don't have friends or neighbors with children of the same age, reach out to a parent in your child's childcare center, or a friend with a friend, and expand your social circle through playdates.
Attend a "Baby and Me" Class.While most variants of these classes charge a fee, the price is usually the equivalent of a few dollars a session. You can choose among yoga, music, gymnastics, or even exercise classes at locations like the local Y or children's gymnasiums. Classes generally meet weekly for six to eight weeks with a run-time of 30 to 45 minutes. If you're unsure whether a specific class would be right for you and the baby, most venues let you try one for free.
Make a Sensory Center.Before putting items into the recycling bin, think about how you might use them as part of an indoor sensory center for your child. Fill an empty water bottle with dry beans to make a shaker; stack old newspapers for crinkling practice; gather up a handful of (unused) cotton balls for a softness experience; set aside a spoon and a piece of cardboard to bang for noise; or pack a jar with cornmeal or sand for tipping back and forth. These playthings are fun and educational as they teach your child about the sounds, shapes, and colors all around. Better yet, a sensory center costs next to nothing if you use items already in the house.
Toddler/Preschool (1 - 4 years)
Find an Indoor Pool.Many YMCAs, gyms, and community centers offer open swim times that non-members can access for a minimal fee. Some may require you to come with a member, while others let anyone come and swim for a few hours. Some of these facilities also have special water features like slides, fountains, and dumping buckets that provide a mini-waterpark feel at a fraction of the cost. Bring your own snacks (so you don't have to buy any while there), towels, and a change of clothing and you're set for a fun indoor kids' activity at any time of year.
Hit an Indoor Play Space.This used to just mean going to the play area at the mall, but nowadays you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin at indoor play spaces while your child burns up some energy. Most cost under $10 per hour of play. Those that cost more typically staff the play area with an employee, allowing you to catch up with a friend or finish some work. There are also free indoor play options at some restaurants, such as McDonalds and Graeter's ice cream, that feature attractions like ball pits, slides, and rope bridges.
Go to the $1 Movie Theater.Seeing a movie can be hit or miss with this age group, but for $1 it's worth a try. Beware of the snack bar, though, as this can turn your cheap indoor activity into an expensive excursion. Be sure to eat before heading out or throw a small snack in your bag for the kids. Most kids' movies run less than two hours, so pick something you think they will like, or even a movie they've already seen, to increase the chances the outing will be a success.
School age (5 years and up)
Cook up a Storm.There are many recipes that are kid-friendly both to eat and to make. The best part? You would need to do this anyway. Choose foods that you can freeze or use in meals during the week. Most baked goods, including cookies, muffins, and cakes, contain a reasonable number of ingredients that children can assemble -- with some supervision. Soups, stews, and casseroles are also low-maintenance recipes that lend themselves to little helpers.
Head for the Bowling Alley.Bowling may ding your wallet but it can fill up an entire afternoon. For a few dollars a game, plus shoe rental, this is an indoor activity that suits any time of year. Many bowling alleys offer specials (e.g. buy one game and get the second free), primarily during the week, so keep your eyes open for such deals. Although it might be tempting to buy a pizza while the kids are bowling, eat lunch at home to keep the outing on budget.
Visit the Fire Station.Most firefighters are more than happy to show you and the kids around the station, but call ahead to check on procedures for a visit. This free community activity is exciting and informative; tours typically include a discussion of fire safety rules. The kids can get a peek at where the firefighters eat and sleep and an up close and personal view of the equipment.