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50 Ways to Engage Kids on a Budget

Photo Credit:  Jude Beck on

"A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms 
when his hands are empty." Anonymous
  1. Play Hide and Seek or Flashlight Tag
  2. Try Sardine Tag; Get brave and play it in the dark
  3. Play charades; use nursery rhyme, Disney princess or super hero theme
  4. Act out animal behaviors (hint:  fly like an albatross, hop like a kangaroo, walk like a duck)
  5. Read out loud to each other using silly voices
  6. Make up a shared funny story; this is a creative way to pass the time in the car and to teach patience i.e. "Don't interrupt" or "Wait your turn" (set a timer to keep it moving and fun)
  7. Play "I spy" using the alphabet on a road trip; if sticking to alphabetical order is too challenging for young children use a white board with the alphabet to keep track of spotted objects 
  8. Search for out of state license plates on the highway or while waiting in a parking lot
  9. Play board or card games, work a jig saw puzzle together; work a crossword puzzle together in the car
  10. Repurpose kitchen utensils for a family band; take turns directing the band
  11. Bowl with plastic cups; hide a skittle or coin under ONE of the cups to make it even more fun
  12. Decorate boxes from the the 'big box store' as cars, trucks, castles, etc.
  13. Build a fort using boxes and have a nerf war; use squirt guns in the summertime
  14. Create a robot using cardboard boxes, tape and other 'stuff' around the house
  15. Play Twister; make your own mat and use a bowl to draw colors; use chalk and play it on the driveway or patio
  16. Create a toilet paper maze through a hallway (think obstacle course)
  17. Have a mini treasure hunt (think Easter egg hunt)
  18. Create an indoor Scavenger Hunt
  19. Play "Mother May I" 
  20. Play "Button, Button, Who's Got the Button"; Play it on the stairs
  21. "Rock, Scissors, Paper" played on the stairs is more fun and puts the focus on gentle competition (winner climbs up a stair) and not a painful sucker punch
  22. Play musical chairs; use sofa or bed pillows instead of chairs (little ones win this one every time)
  23. Have relay races outside or down the hall or in the basement on a rainy day (Ping-Pong ball and spoon, 3-legged, gunny sack, crab walk, etc.)
  24. Create a family time-line; include birthdays, first day of school, weddings and other special family events
  25. Craft a 'microphone' out of a toilet paper roll or paper towel tube and take turns interviewing family members
  26. Create a story about your family; illustrate on newsprint or with digital photos (a great way to share memories of a family vacation or other special event)
  27. Make puppets out of small paper sacks or old socks and put on a puppet show
  28. Tie-dye old white T-shirts; wear them to a community or family event
  29. Dress up as Princesses, Super Heroes or Monsters; have a Tea Party and stay in character
  30. Have a silly fashion show; don't forget the make-up and face paint
  31. Have a picnic inside; especially fun on a rainy day
  32. Have a finger food dinner: Rule #1 You can't feed yourself; don't forget the 'please' and 'thank you'
  33. Have a Beach party indoors or a family pajama party
  34. Dance party anyone?  (think: Line dance to Baby Shark) Even big kids like this, especially when parents join in the fun
  35. Get in shape; too cold to bike together? Take turns leading the family in your favorite fitness exercise -- a little yoga, a little weights, jumping jacks and a whole lot of fun
  36. Go to the Library or a Museum, scout out a new park or a hiking trail
  37. Stomp in rain puddles, hunt for toads, catch and release fire flies
  38. Camp in the back yard; sing campfire songs, listen for nighttime noises, and eat popcorn
  39. Go to a park and roast marshmallows; make S 'mores, banana boats or tin foil dinners
  40. Drag out an old blanket and star gaze or watch a meteor shower; too much city light -- drive out into the country; great time to borrow grandpa's old truck, some pillows or folding chairs
  41. Play balloon games; pop them inside; fill with water outside for even more fun
  42. Balloon Badminton anyone?  No rackets?  Fly swatters from the dollar store are cheaper and safer; use the kitchen table (so much fun you won't even miss the net)
  43. Fly a kite; Making your own is super simple and supplies can be found at the local craft or hardware store.  Don't forget the tail.  If you live in a windy area that is the most important part!
  44. Go fishing, catch water spiders, or just explore the bank (don't forget the insect repellant and sun screen)
  45. Build a snowman or a snow monster, super hero or stylish princess; spray on a little dilute food coloring and watch them come to life!
  46. Make an indoor fort out of furniture and blankets; Use flashlights to read spooky stories in the dark
  47. Nominate and vote on your own best of the year categories; keep it fun and positive and don't wait until New Year's Eve -- this is great affirming fun any day
  48. Play Fishbowl; especially fun with older kids (invite friends, cousins, aunts and uncles to create teams)
  49. Play the Dictionary Game; Pinky-swear to honesty before agreeing on the word
  50. Extend dinner time with a game of Zip Bong around the table 


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