Spending quality time as a family doesn't have to cost a lot. Here are some great suggestions from Mothering community members for frugal family fun.
Activities at Home
Have a Tea Party: This simple activity is super frugal and can prove to be hours of fun for kids of many ages. All you need is some tea or other favorite drink, a snack, some fun dress up clothes and an imagination. See more thoughts for making your tea party a hit in this post.
Create a Water Table: Use an old bin or bucket and let the kids melt ice, add food coloring, float paper boats or try out different items to see what floats and what doesn't. Get more ideas here.
Send a Letter: Whether your family or friends are near or far children love to send and receive letters. For the cost of some envelopes, paper and stamps the little ones can build relationships and feel a sense of accomplishment.Don't have stamps on hand? They love sending emails too! Find a Pen Pal for even more fun.
Plan an Art Show: Grab whatever art supplies you have on hand and start creating! Forget time limits and organized crafts and the kids imaginations will soar. You might be surprised how much fun this is for everyone. Have an Art Show at the end to show off everyone's work.
Bake Pretend Cookies: Make some playdough and set the kids up at the table with a cup, spoon, fork or cookie cutters for shaping--some sprinkles, raisins, spices or other small items for toppings--and let them make their own cookies. Have them place them all on a baking sheet and heat in the oven on a low temperature to dry--or leave them out overnight to air dry.
Put on a Show: The kids will love this as an alternative to family movie night. Sit down together and come up with a story line--make it as simple or complex as your child is up to. Search the house for dress up clothes and props. Set everything up in your room of choice and practice your show. When everyone is happy with it get some family members or even stuffed animals to watch the performance. Record it and watch it later for some fun family memories.
Have a Cleaning Party: While older kids may not get into a party that involves scrubbing the floors, little kids will jump at the chance to help mommy and daddy. Give them their own spray bottle full of water and a rag, sponge or even the mop and let them work alongside you. Have an indoor picnic halfway through and a fun reward at the end of the "party."
Build a Band: Just about anything around the house can be used a musical instrument. Gather them together and a make a family band. Let the kids get creative and try out different ideas. Record your performance or put on a show for dolls and stuffed animals.
Try Origami: Older kids especially will love this and the whole family can have a blast learning a new skill. There are many website with free printable instructions.
Plan a Picnic: A blanket and some sandwiches is all you need and the little ones will love it! This can be done indoors or out.
Organize a Treasure Hunt: Grab up some fun household items, hide them in the backyard, and send the kids out to find them. Make a map for more involved fun.The kids can also hide items for the adults to find--just make sure the items are ones you are OK with losing if you can't locate them at the end of the game!
Activities in the Community
Visit the Library: Most libraries have story time and other free activities for families. Others have kids rooms for snuggling up with a book or imaginative play and some even keep board games on hand for older kids.
Find or Organize a Playgroup: Most communities have playgroups for different age groups. If you don't find one to your liking, consider organizing one. Put up a notice at the library, grocery store or post office to let other families know about it, or use an online service like the Mothering's Tribes section to connect with other families.
Try Geocaching or Letterboxing: This is a super fun and engaging way to get the whole family involved in some adventure. If you're not familiar with these fun and frugal outdoor sports check out this thread.
Go Ice Skating: If you live in a cold area you'll find that most communities have free outdoor (and sometimes indoor) rinks that can be used at any time of the day or evening. Many even rent skates for a couple of dollars. Pack some hot cocoa and hit the rink!
Become an Explorer: This can seem like a big task when you have little ones, but even a short jaunt can be a lot of fun and a great learning opportunity for kids. Find a safe spot and bring along a notebook, magnifying glass, inexpensive portable microscope, camera or other gear to let the kids feel like real explorers. This can also be done in your own backyard.
Start Swimming: Lakes, rivers and indoor pools are great places for warm weather fun. Pack picnic lunch and you have an entire day of entertainment for next to nothing.
Visit a Museum or Aquarium: While some can be pricey for regular admission, keep your eye out for free family days as some have them monthly. Other organizations are free year round or give special discounts to students.
Donate Your Time: One of the best ways to enjoy frugal family time is by helping others. Most organizations are on the lookout for people to help, and welcome kids. This is a great way to lend a hand to your community while making some new friends.
Thanks to the Mothering members in this thread for providing many of the great tips in this article.