Kids' summer activities that won't break the bank


(MoneyWatch) Worried about keeping your kids busy and engaged this summer, especially if you can't afford a costly day camp or your kids are in that in-between age, where they're too old for day care, but too young to leave to their own devices? is coming to the rescue with a pile of free, low-cost activities that can keep kids happy and occupied -- and maybe even teach them a thing or two about the value of money or volunteerism.

The activities range from the sort of thing you'd think to do if you just had time to think about it, like doing crafts or baking cookies, to the stuff you probably never thought about but recognize as a great idea the moment you hear it, like having the kids clip coupons or find them online for both groceries and other planned purchases. (Give teens a bounty, like offering to share a portion of the savings, and they'll likely knock your socks off with their ingenuity.)

Here are four cheap and free summertime activities for kids, with links to where you can find dozens more:

Dance, Swim and Read. Parks and recreation departments often offer free swimming and dance lessons both during summers and school breaks. For example, New York City's department of parks and recreation is famously helpful with vacation "learn-to-swim" camps, as well as after-school and Saturday lessons. But these free swimming programs aren't restricted to the Big Apple. Parks departments and youth centers all over the country offer free summer programs, too -- some for swimming, while others offer dance, reading programs, and crafts. The easiest way to find them is to Google "free activities for kids" and your city. Los Angeles, for instance, has summer reading programs at the library.  In Colorado, there's an entire website dedicated to telling you what you can do for free, from concerts to science discovery days.

Go bowling. A new program enlisting bowling lanes all over U.S. and in parts of Canada allows kids to register and bowl two games for free every day. Check out Kids Bowl Free to find participating lanes near you. One catch: The kids usually need to have their own bowling shoes or must rent them. On the other hand, the lanes also have a "family pass" program that, for $25, allows up to four adult family members to bowl two games free every day too.

See a movie. The Summer Movie Express program offers G and PG-rated movies for just $1 on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at Regal, United Artist, and Edwards theaters. It is just one of many special deals offered by movie theaters this summer, according to MrFreeStuff. Carmike Cinemas, which operate mainly in the South, offer a $2 deal that includes a drink and popcorn. Showcase Cinemas, meanwhile, has a summer program that gives free admission to kids who submit a weekly book report. 

Volunteer: Teens and 'tweens can volunteer to do everything from teaching kids to read to feeding the homeless. The needs are legion, so you can match your child's interest to an appropriate charity in your neighborhood. Or check out Volunteers of America's Action Teen program, which works with baseball players to organize teams of teens to work at homeless shelters, schools, and daycare centers, as well as at low-income housing operations.

For other free and cheap summer activities for kids, check out