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For those people with kids – especially younger ones – it’s all but impossible to stay up inside. Keep in mind there are a lot of things you can do indoors to make the days more bearable.
If you’re looking for some fun activities to do with your kids that are either free or extremely budget friendly, check out the helpful list I put together below.
1. Head to The Park
For those that live in cities that never see a true winter, this one will be really easy. For those that live in colder climates, this activity is still really easy, you just need to layer up.
I’ve noticed kids tend to have an unnatural warmth that seems to permeate around them, despite the freezing temperatures (must be all that energy they’ve stored up and have yet to burn off). But, even if your kid fights the winter coat and gloves, bundle them up anyway and then bundle yourself up too.
The park can actually be really pleasant in the winter. For one thing it’s virtually empty, so your child will have free reign to do as they please. And for another, if there’s snow on the ground, the park becomes a really awesome space for snowball fights.
2. Visit The Library
Hands down, one of my favorite activities to do with my daughter is to take her to our local libraries. We have a ton of libraries in our city and they always have some kind of free activities going on for kids and teens.
This holiday season there are opportunities to build gingerbread houses, color a winter scene, listen to holiday stories and more. Plus, even when there aren’t activities happening, you can still take your kids to play at the library as there’s usually a children’s section filled with toys.
And if your kids are too old to play with block and train sets, then heading to the library is still a good idea as you can select a few books and get them to cozy up in a chair and read for a bit and maybe use that time to read a book yourself.
3. Search for Free Museum Days
Not every city will have this option, but some cities do have local museums that offer a free visit either one day a month (usually the first Saturday or Sunday of the month) or maybe they offer a free visit once a week (for us it’s every Sunday).
Museums are a great spot for kids to get some culture and check out local artists and some more well known artists. Plus, some museums have a play area that is art focused.
4. Find a Free Play Café
I almost didn’t put this tip in because most play cafes cost money. And if you’re wondering what a play café is, it is essentially an indoor space that has toys, bouncy houses, scooters, ball pit, and all kinds of fun things for your kids to do. Plus there’s usually coffee or tea for the parents.
Every play café will be different. I have a few in my city that I rotate between based on their current specials. The holiday season is a great time to check out a few play cafes as they usually have discounted prices (in the hopes parents will buy a membership as a Christmas gift).
I will say that a lot of these cafes do offer free admission for infants or babies/toddlers that aren’t walking yet, or if it’s your first visit. Usually you can get free visits until your child reaches a year old, but I’ve been to a café that didn’t charge me until my daughter started walking at 15 months, so we went as often as we could before then.
5. Ice Skating
There’s nothing more free then finding a frozen pond in your area and doing a little ice skating. Before trying this you’ll want to make sure the pond is completely frozen through so there aren’t any accidents.
If you don’t already own ice skates, you can opt to borrow from a friend or see if you can rent a pair from a sports shop. Just make sure everyone is bundled up well to help provide a cushion if they fall.
6. Bonfire and S’mores
Hmmm, personally I think there is nothing better than a nice warm fire and yummy s’mores on a cold winter day.
There are a couple options to create a little bonfire. You can choose to dig out a safe pit in your backyard following these instructions (make sure your district allows this) or you can invest in a cheap, portable fire pit. We found ours on Craigslist at a steal, but you can also look at Target.
They get kind of pricey at Target, but last a really long time, so the investment may be worth it.
Making s’mores is pretty easy and cheap. All it takes are some graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate (or a generic chocolate bar works too).
Place the marshmallow on a stick until it’s nice and gooey, then smash that between two graham crackers and the chocolate. Then enjoy! Eat one, two…ten.
7. Walk The Dog(s)
Just because it is cold outside, doesn’t mean your dog or dogs can’t do with a walk. It doesn’t have to be a long walk, but a quick jaunt around the neighborhood can be really refreshing. Plus it’s still a great way for your children to burn off some extra energy.
To make the walk more fun this holiday season, you can sing carols or try to find the houses with the best holiday decorations.
8. Go Bird Watching
Bird watching is a surprisingly really fun winter activity to do with toddlers or older children. To successfully do this, you’ll want to go to your local library first so you can check out a book about the types of birds in your area.
Take the book with you when you go on your bird watching outing. Challenge your kids (and yourself) to identify the birds around you and to look for new birds that maybe aren’t in the book. Bring a camera or your phone with you to document any birds that are especially striking.
If you live in a city that gets a healthy dose of snow each winter, then sledding will be a great activity to do as it’s fun enough to make you almost forget the frigid temperatures.
Sledding is free and can be a cheap activity if you opt to make your own sleigh by using pieces of cardboard or an old wooden crate or box…really anything can work. Or, if you want something sturdier, you can check out stores like Walmart or Amazon. Craigslist is also a good option to snag a used one locally.
10. Snowball Fight
Again, this is a perfect activity for those living in cold, snowy cities. What better way to burn some energy than to have an epic snowball fight?
You can have a snowball fight in the comfort of your backyard or you can branch out and head to your local park to cover more ground. If you really want to go all out, try to organize all the kids on your street or neighborhood into having one giant snowball fight.
Just be sure to set some ground rules if there are going to be tiny tots participating.
Bonus Option: Indoor Snowball Fight
If it feels just too cold to go outside and bother with a snowball fight, bring the snowball fight indoors! All you will need are scraps of paper that you can bundle up into little balls to work as your makeshift snowballs.
11. Hot Cocoa and Stories
After that awesome snowball fight you just had, you’ll want to find something to do to settle everyone down and warm them up.
Hot cocoa is a winter essential and I haven’t yet met a child who doesn’t love it, especially if those tiny marshmallows are on top. Have your children or each kid select a favorite book and snuggle up on the couch with your cocoa and a blanket.
You’ll appreciate the warmth coming back into your fingers and toes, plus enjoy the relaxing bonding time too. Bonus tip, for any children learning to read, this is a great time to get them to practice by reading out loud to you.
12. Have a Winter Picnic
Okay, when it’s cold out the last thing you want to do is sit outside for long periods of time just to have a picnic, but you can make your winter picnic really warm and cozy.
Start off by getting a fire going in your firepit and then laying out some blankets. You can even brush off the patio furniture and pile on some blankets there. Just make sure to have your picnic on a cold, but snow free day.
Next, prepare some delicious warm foods, like hot soup and fresh crusty bread and don’t forget the hot cocoa. Keep everything in a thermos like this one to ensure your food stays hot.
If an outdoor winter picnic doesn’t sound like your jam, you can always move the picnic indoors and just set yourself up in front of the fireplace (if you have one), in front of your Christmas tree, or simply smack down in the middle of the living room.
Use this time to not only eat some yummy food but maybe share a few holiday stories or new year goals.
13. Schedule a Photo Shoot
This activity is great to alleviate some boredom and utilize both indoor and outdoor space. Plus, this one is absolutely FREE! All you need are clothes you already own and a camera or your smartphone.
Get your kids involved with the photo shoot by letting them choose their own outfits and props for the photos and really, try to have fun with this one. If you have children of multiple genders, have them swap clothes for a photo. Or you can let them dig in your own closet for something fun to wear.
Next set up some space inside and outside your home to take pictures. This could be in the living room ,sitting in the dog bed, standing on a tree stump and more. Or you can make your own backdrop using sheets and scarves and other items you can find around your house.
The photos can be printed and placed around the house, used for future holiday cards or you can throw together a calendar on Shutterfly.
14. Paint the Snow
Bundle up the little ones and head outside to paint some snow. Simply mix the food coloring with water and fill up your spray bottles with different colors. Then it’s just a matter of spraying the snow to create really interesting snow art.
You can also use this time to help your children practice their letters or numbers by having them use their spray bottles to write in the snow. So then your activity is both fun and educational.
15. Do You Want to Build a Snowman…or Snow Family?
A classic, winter family friendly activity is to head outside and build a snowman (now that song will be on repeat in your head for days).
To build a snowman or snow family is completely free and a great group activity that gets the whole family involved, especially if you want to build a fairly large snowman. After rolling and packing all the snow together, you just need to search the house and yard for items to accessorize your snowman with.
You can use twigs for arms, dried leaves for hair, rocks for a nose and eyes, or look for old buttons in the house and a scarf that no one is using. If you have a nice front yard space, I’d suggest building your snowman there so that your neighbors can see your hard work.
16. Get Crafty
Another free activity to do this holiday, and really this works throughout winter, is to take some scrap paper and make snowflakes. If your children are old enough to handle safety scissors, they can get creative by seeing how many different types of snowflakes they can make.
Decorative Pine Cones
Another craft option is to collect some pinecones and decorate them. You can cover them in glitter, wrap them in string or even paint them. Your decorated pinecones can be used as a Christmas ornament or you can fill a bowl and set it on the table as a centerpiece.
Homemade Bird Feeder
If you have a lot of pine cones to work with, use them to make a birdfeeder. All you will need are pinecones, peanut butter and some bird seed.
Simply coat the pinecone in peanut butter and bird seed, then attach a string and hang outside. The birds will flock to their meal and the little tikes will have fun watching them eat.
A final craft option is to work on some homemade holiday cards. Ask your kids to make cards for a family friend, a favorite aunt or uncle, or even their teacher at school.
All you will need is paper and some crayons, markers or coloring pencils. Or you can get extra fancy and provide ribbon, glitter, string and bows!
17. Play Boardgames
One of my favorite activities to do during the winter is to play board games. It’s the main time of year that I get to dust these off since where I live it gets pretty cold and no one wants to venture outdoors too long with babies.
Some great games to play with toddlers are some memory card games or Hungry Hungry Hippos or Guess Who. If your kids are older, you can reach for games like Life, Monopoly and Sorry!.
18. Bake Cookies and Gingerbread Men
If you like to bake and your kids are old enough to help, get them involved in making some cookies or gingerbread men. My niece and nephew love mixing the ingredients together in the bowl…and tasting some cookie dough along the way.
There are several different cookie recipes that you can use, from standard to vegan and gluten free. I typically use All Recipes when I’m searching for a new kind of cookie to make.
19. Cook as a Family
In addition to baking cookies, you can also get your children involved in preparing meals. If they’re old enough to handle a knife, then have them chop some vegetables.
If your kids are younger, they can still help by doing things like peeling the carrots and potatoes, kneading bread dough, seasoning food, or simply bringing you ingredients as you ask for them.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be limited to the holiday season. It’s pretty much appreciated year round and a lot of places are always looking for big or little hands to help.
Check with some of your local shelters or charities to see ways you and your little ones can get involved. Be sure to let them know the age of your children so that they can determine if the volunteer work is age appropriate.
21. Take a Winter Hike
I personally love hiking in the winter just as much as I love hiking in the spring, summer and fall. If you live in an area lucky enough to experience all four seasons, it’s a great way to see how your area changes throughout the year.
To hike successfully during the colder months, you’ll want to make sure you have some quality warm weather gear. This means a good coat, gloves, hat, and hiking shoes.
If your hike will be several miles, be sure to pack plenty of warm water in a few thermoses and maybe even some soup as a snack for when you stop to take a break.
If you have little babies that can’t walk with you just yet, you can always invest in something like this so that they can tag along on a hike. You can also find them used on Craigslist.
22. Collect Clothes and Toys To Donate
Parents rejoice, here’s an activity that lets you clear out some clutter taking over your children’s closets. This activity does work best with the holiday season as kids are less likely to kick up a fuss when they know they’re doing something for a good cause.
To make this a successful activity, have the kids decide which toys they are willing to donate while you handle the process of gathering old clothes that may not fit anymore. When you leave the toy selection process up to them, they don’t feel as if you’re taking items away since everything is their choice.
If they’re able to part with several toys, you can reward them with a special treat afterward like hot chocolate or even stop by their favorite ice cream shop (it’s never too cold to enjoy some ice cream).
23. Drive to See Some Winter Lights
This task may eat up some of your gas, but it will be well worth it. I remember as a child loving to drive through different neighborhoods to see their holiday decorations. There was one house in particular that took their holiday light show up a notch every single year.
Plus, this kind of activity can be spread out of the holiday season so that you can hit up a few different neighborhoods and then vote on your favorite. Make the moment even more special by pulling over to snap a photo or two in front of the houses that look really spectacular.
Also, sometimes you don’t even need to drive to see some cool winter lights. Your street may have a few houses that are beautifully decorated and all you have to do is go on a walk…remember to take the dog with you.
24. Watch Movies
My family has a tradition of watching the movie Elf on Christmas Eve and Love Actually on Christmas Day, not to mention a whole bunch of other holiday classics played throughout the month of December.
To keep this time together special, make sure you make it a family movie night where all are involved in the movie watching process (versus your kids glued to a screen while you do something else).
Afterward, you can discuss your favorite scenes or maybe talk about any lessons that may have been learned from the film. Also, be sure to space out your movies so that every time you all get together, it feels a bit more special.
25. Shovel Snow…Then Play In It!
I’m all for putting kids to work if they are capable of it and shoveling snow is a great way to get them to burn some energy and help clear the driveway. You can even invest in little snow shovels so they feel like they’re help is really needed.
Unfortunately not much work will get done by them, as they’ll quickly lose interest when they realize how time consuming shoveling mounds of snow can be.
But, they’ll be pleasantly entertained by the huge piles of snow accumulating next to the driveway. Let them dive in to their heart’s content and when you need a shovel break, go ahead and dive in too.
Hopefully some of these activities will help you get through the winter slump of figuring out how to keep your children happy and entertained without driving you bonkers. I like to mix and match activities so we’re spending a fair amount of time indoors and outside.
If you give any of these activities a try, let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear which ones were your favorites. As always, thanks for reading, happy frugaling and happy holidays!