It’s summer, and we still have a long time until the kids go back to school. If this is a deployment year for your family, it may seem like summer is dragging on forever. But don’t worry, there are plenty of easy ways to occupy military kids in the summertime. And most of them won’t cost much money either! So if you need to get out of the house and the kids are driving you crazy, try these ideas between now and payday.
9 cheap and easy summer activities for military kids
- Library Summer Reading Program: Every military base has a library, and all DoD libraries offer a summer reading program. This year, the program is now available online… and the prizes are available by mail, too! All you have to do is visit the DoD Summer Reading website and log your child’s reading time. They can read any book–it doesn’t have to be from the base library. So get some quiet time for yourself, and let them earn prizes like T-shirts, toys, and fast food gift certificates.
- Free Museums: The Blue Star Families organization has partnered with hundreds of museums across the nation to give free admission to military families during the summer months. Visit their website and interactive map to see if there are free opportunities near you. We have used this program to get free admission to children’s museums, art galleries, history museums, and science centers. It’s a great way to spend the day doing something new that appeals to your child’s interests.
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- Swimming Pool: Military base pools are generally free to DoD ID card holders and are available throughout base housing. Whether or not you live on base, your kids can cool down and spend the day with friends at the pool. Typically, military base pools have a lifeguard on duty, but children must always have a responsible adult with them. Teens may be able to visit the pool alone, but check your base regulations. Military bases also have swimming pools at the athletic center or aquatic center, but these are primarily for lap swimming and are not always open for recreational swimming. Call or check their hours before scheduling a pool day. If you don’t live near a base, look into the discounted YMCA memberships for military families, which typically include pool time and swim lessons.
- Beach: If you are at a Navy or Marine Corps base near the coast, take advantage of the free base beach! Parking is free, entrance is free, all you have to do is drive there and bring your lunch. Some bases have more than one beach, so ask around and find out if there is one that is better for paddleboards, surfboards, or younger children. Beach days are always easier with other adults helping you out, so team up with friends. It’s always helpful to have extra eyes on the kids, extra hands for carrying toys, and extra snacks to share.
- Bowling: Most military bases have a bowling alley, which is a great place to keep cool in summer. See if your base bowling alley has special deals where kids bowl free, games are $1, or tickets are buy one/get one. The national program Kids Bowl Free allows children to sign up and play 2 free games per day all summer long! It is honored at most military base bowling alleys. You can also gather friends for a group discount.
- Go for a hike: Are you lucky enough to be stationed near a National Park? If so, active duty military can get a free annual pass (valued at $80). This will grant you admission and parking at National Parks sites. If you reserve a camp site there will be additional fees, but sometimes these are only $15/day. Even young children can walk a mile or so on beginner trails. Kids usually enjoy the change of scenery and chance to explore nature. Some local and state parks also offer military discounts, so research the hiking trails in your area.
- Movie theater: Want to take the kids to the movies? Check out the listings at your base movie theater, which always offers a military discount. If they don’t have the title you want, look off-base for a matinee or a free outdoor movie screening. You can also visit your base ITT (Information, Tickets, and Tours) office to get military discount tickets that can be used at major cinema chains like Regal.
- Youth Sports: The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) office on most military bases organizes sports teams for military kids. The coaches are volunteers who are parents and/or service members. There is a fee to enroll, but we found it is cheaper than enrolling kids in sports programs off base. Youth Sports have practices and games on base, wear uniforms, and at older levels compete in tournaments for trophies. Even at younger levels, sports are a great way to keep kids occupied. We learned that coaches can be a positive role model when a parent is gone during deployment.
- Backyard Play: Grab a bucket and dish soap and spend some time outside making bubbles. (A tennis racket is great for young kids who can’t blow bubbles easily!) Make a picnic lunch by throwing finger foods and snacks into a muffin tin. Set up a sprinkler or slip and slide. If you live in base housing, invite some neighbor kids over for a squirt gun or water balloon fight. Sometimes it is the simple, easy activities that become the most fun and memorable.
What are some of your favorite affordable summer activities?