Summer Fun on a Budget for Chicagoland Families

Keep summer fun and frugal with kid-friendly activities that are $5 or less!

If you are anything like us, you start off summer super excited about the huge list of must-do fun you created to keep the kids happy – while cramming in all that family time you feel you miss out on the rest of the year – before they have to head back to school again.

But before you run out of ideas or get too far into your list, you realize all that fun comes with a pretty hefty price tag when you add it up. Give your debit card a little break with these often-overlooked ideas for $5 per person or less.

Fill out these frugal finds by checking in with your park district, forest preserve, local library and community for movies and music in the park and other low-cost or free programming

Get spacey

Adler Planetarium is always amazing for kids, but families on a budget can really enjoy a visit to the Cernan Earth and Space Center at Triton College in River Grove. With sky shows ranging from One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure to a look From Earth to the Universe, there is a show sure to entertain and educate. Kids tickets range from $3-$4, adults are $8-$10.

Go for a strike!

Every day this summer, kids can get two games free at select locations throughout Chicago and the suburbs through Kids Bowl Free. Some centers might charge for shoe rental so check in advance. Parents who don’t want to sit on the sidelines can buy an upgraded Family Pass, but it is entirely optional. Find the closest bowling alley and register in advance at kidsbowlfree.com.

Do good

Join other families in volunteering to help others, which not only is free, but creates memories money can’t buy. We’re partial to The Honeycomb Project, which has 32 opportunities in May and June alone. Plus, Feed My Starving Children, (minimum age to volunteer is 5) and Bernie’s Book Bank, which accepts all ages to help sort, sticker and pack quality books for Chicagoland children. 

Fill busy hands

On the first Saturday of the month, 9 a.m.-noon, head to your local Home Depot for a free Kids Workshop. Not only will the kids learn something and get to be with other kids, you might get a keepsake out of it.

Be warm and fuzzy

Just over the border in Whiting, Ind., the Mascot Hall of Fame is a not-so-hidden gem. It’s a fabulous hands-on children’s museum and hall of fame all wrapped up into one. Plus, the first Friday of every month is free admission. Even if you want to splurge and can’t get to the museum on a free day, check the museum’s online calendar for lower-cost family fun nights. If you can’t go on a free day, the admission price is pretty manageable at $10 each. It’s right on Lake Michigan so after or before the visit, check out the sights.

Explore to your heart’s content

Five bucks during the week gets your family into Cantigny Park, where you’ll find the unique Tank Park sure to spark the kids’ imagination as well as the Red Oaks Farm Playground, beautiful gardens, hiking trails and open spaces perfect for nature walks. Check the calendar online for nature programs.

Lincoln Park Zoo is also a great space to explore and learn about nature and animals. Plus, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, located just steps away, also has free admission!

Enjoy blockbusters without breaking the wallet

Grab your blanket (and bug spray) and catch the newest family-friendly flick at Chicago District Parks or Millennium Park for the Movies in the Park series. Find out what’s playing in your neighborhood for free!

Go on a scavenger hunt

Visit some new neighborhoods across the city and take a snap at one of these awesome murals with your kids


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