10 Spots to Find Free Toddler-Friendly Fun This Summer

Tips for Finding Free and Cheap Toddler Fun This Summer

Local Events

Rudi Van Starrex

Summer has arrived — the days are long and the weather is warm, and you and your toddler are thrilled to get out of the house on a regular basis. But the cost of summertime fun can add up quickly with vacations, theme parks, camps and more. Use these tips to find free and cheap entertainment to fill your toddler’s summer calendar.

Often, parents overlook their own community as a resource for reasonably-priced and free family events.

Many communities hold summer street festivals with music, art, vendors and crafts. You’ll also find kid concerts, farmers markets and movies in the park (if your little one stays up late enough). Check your city or town's website for information about local events. And don't stop at your town -- check the surrounding areas for addition options and ideas. Being a resident usually isn't a requirement for joining in on the fun.



Many libraries provide new summer programming to keep little ones engaged.

You and your toddler might have frequented the library all winter, but libraries often switch things up for summer, providing programming that's only offered once a year. Check out your local library's website or drop by to find out what's new, cool and age-appropriate for your toddler.

Also consider exploring libraries outside your city or town. Most libraries offer young kids interactive spaces that go way beyond books -- with blocks, puzzles, toys, computers and more. Checking out a new library makes for a special (and free) adventure on a rainy summer day.

Splash Pads and Spraygrounds


Let your toddler cool off this summer at a local splash pad.

Splash pads and "spraygrounds" are fun mini-water parks that often feature zero-depth entry, meaning your toddler can stand in the water -- no swimming necessary. These pool-alternatives might have a small admission fee, but often, if the splash pad is in your town, residents can play for free. And most splash pads also offer free or discounted admission to young children.


Jose Luis Pelaez

Summer is the perfect time to discover (and rediscover) your favorite local parks.

Many parks now also offer tot lots — smaller versions of big playgrounds — with soft surfaces and equipment that’s lower to the ground -- perfect for toddlers who are ready to strike out on their own... on the playground at least. Don't be afraid to look beyond your city limits for new parks and make a game out of visiting a new area park each week.

Forest Preserves

Bill Sykes Images

Instead of a park, head to your nearest wooded area for free outdoor fun.

Many counties and states have forest preserves that offer picnic shelters and paved paths. Pack a picnic and a blanket and take advantage of these local nature spots with your toddler.

YMCAs and Park Districts

Jim Cummins

YMCAs and park districts offer low-cost toddler programming.

From swimming lessons to sports and tumbling as well as childcare for all ages, YMCAs and park districts are a good place to look for low-cost kid programming this summer. Most will have summer booklet containing descriptions of offerings for young children. And many YMCAs offer financial assistance when needed. 

Local Parenting Groups

Colleen Rudolph

If you want to get out and about this summer, look no further than your local parenting group.

Parenting groups (or moms groups) tend to be extremely active with outdoor (and free) fun in the summertime -- with scheduled park playdates, pool time, picnics and more. Meetup.com is a great resource to find these groups. Facebook is another way to connect with local parenting groups.

Zoos, Museums and Aquariums

Lonely Planet

It may sound pricy, but zoos and museums often offer free and discounted fun.

Museums, aquariums and zoos often offer discounts to residents as well as free days. In addition, many family attractions offer free passes through the library, so ask your librarian if these programs exist in your area.

If you live near a children's museum, zoo or other family attraction, investing in an annual or season pass may not be free, but it will defray the cost of admission if you plan to visit on a regular basis. These passes typically come with other perks like guest passes and discounts on food and merchandise. Another bonus to having a pass is that you won’t feel pressure to stay for hours. Short trips to the zoo or museum are often perfect for toddlers who can't handle three or four hours in one place.

Research these options and think about how often you’ll want to visit to these attractions to determine if a season pass is a good investment for your family. 

Your Backyard

jo unruh

Summer is the perfect time to put your yard to use for toddler fun.

Hanging out in the backyard is a perfect -- and free -- summer pastime for you and your toddler -- no packing necessary. Look for cheap outdoor toys for your toddler at garage and consignment sales or just turn on the hose or sprinkler. Your toddler also will love digging in the dirt, so consider planting a garden your little one can watch grow. 

The Beach


You don't have to travel long distances or pay high prices to enjoy a beach.

Even if you don't live on one of the coasts, beach time for you and your toddler is often within easy driving distance. Lakes make for fun summer excursions that feel special without a big vacation price tag, and many feature sandy beaches perfect for building castles with your toddler. Start by checking state parks and forest preserves near you for information about lakes and other bodies of water that offer swimming and sand.

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