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18 free (or cheap) summer activities guaranteed to keep kids from being bored

From free bowling to cheap movies, we've rounded up some of the best, most affordable summer activities for kids.
by Terri Peters / / Source: TODAY

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From day camps to family road trips, the struggle to plan a summer break filled with exciting activities for kids is real...and not cheap.

If you're searching for activities that will keep the kids busy without breaking the bank this summer, look no further.

So lace up your bowling shoes and print out your summer reading charts because we've got a list of 18 ways to (inexpensively) fill your kids' schedules.

1. Kids Bowl Free

The Kids Bowl Free program offers kids two free games of bowling every day throughout the summer. Simply visit the Kids Bowl Free website and find your closest participating bowling center to sign up for this program.

Parents will need to pay for bowling shoe rental. And, for parents who wish to get in on the bowling fun, a family pass that allows up to four adults to bowl with their kids for the entire summer is $30.

2. Summer movies

Movie theaters across the country offer free (or cheap) summer movies for kids and their families on select weekdays. Some larger chains who offer a summer movie program are AMC Theaters, Cinemark and Regal, but it's worth searching for your own local theaters.

3. Vacation bible school

A summertime favorite of this writer is vacation bible school (VBS) at our local church...or churches. Because churches typically offer VBS for free or a small registration fee as a way to help out in their communities — a Google search of your nearby churches can reveal several weeks of summer where kids can get out of the house for a few hours for socialization and fun in a safe environment.

4. Volunteer Match

Volunteering together as a family can be a great way for kids to learn about the importance of helping out in their community. With Volunteer Match, parents can search for opportunities within their zip code and even filter their search to activities that welcome kids.

5. Target community events

Parents in some cities can find listings of free or inexpensive events sponsored by Target on the retailer's community event website. From free admission to the Miami Children's Museum on select Thursdays to family fun days at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, the potential for fun just may inspire a summer family road trip.

6. Home Depot building workshops

Visit the Home Depot website to get a listing of — and pre-register for — free kids' building workshops offered on select Saturdays. Workshops are for ages 5-12 and kids who attend get to make their own wooden project and take home a certificate of completion, workshop apron and commemorative pin.

7. Kids Skate Free

Similar to Kids Bowl Free, Kids Skate Free allows kids ages 10 and under to attend free roller skating sessions in their area. The site does charge a small administrative fee per child at initial sign-up in some areas.

8. Summer reading programs

A great way to encourage kids to read over summer vacation is to enroll them in a summer reading program. Kids who complete a summer reading journal at Barnes & Noble earn a free book and Chuck E. Cheese's gives kids ten tokens for completing their reading chart.

9. Pottery Barn Kids story time

On Tuesdays at 11 a.m., Pottery Barn Kids hosts a kids' story time with book readings and children's activities. Kids who become members of the Pottery Barn Kids Book Club receive a special surprise after attending five events.

10. Six Flags reading program

Kids in Kindergarten through sixth grade can earn free admission to any Six Flags theme park by completing six hours of recreational reading in the summer months through the Six Flags Read to Succeed program.

11. Bank of America Museums on Us

Bank of America cardholders get free admission to select museums on the first full weekend of every month. Families can save money on visits to places like the Newseum in Washington, D.C. or the Children's Museum of South Carolina in Myrtle beach by presenting their Bank of America cards on qualifying weekends. Note that since kids typically do not hold bank accounts, parents will be responsible for purchasing children's admissions.

12. Every Kid in a Park

Families lucky enough to have a fourth grader can get free admission to national parks — from Acadia National Park in Maine to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska — with the Every Kid in a Park program. Kids take a quick quiz on the program's website and then print out their park pass. Current passes are valid for kids in fourth grade during the 2017-2018 school year and expire on August 31, 2018.

13. Public libraries

As always, your local public library is an amazing resource. Libraries frequently host book clubs, crafts and special performances during the summer months for kids of all ages.

14. American Girl in-store events

Popular doll makers American Girl offers both free and paid events for kids in their retail stores across the country. In July, stores will host a special event for the 2018 girl of the year, an outer-space-loving girl named Luciana, featuring science demonstrations, crafts and more.

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15. Technology camps

Kids who love tech may enjoy camps offered by retailers like Apple and Microsoft. Apple Camp, a program for kids ages 8-12, is a free program that teaches skills like movie-making and coding, while Microsoft's YouthSpark Summer Camps teach kids ages 6 and up about everything from robotics to the popular video game Minecraft.

16. Camp Creativity

Michaels craft stores will hold Camp Creativity classes for kids throughout the summer from June 11 through July 27. Advance sign-up is required and classes cost between $2 and $5 depending on the age of the child. Classes will feature a camp-themed set of crafts each week, with the exception of Fridays, when kids create their own slime.

17. Kids in the kitchen

From Junior Chef classes at Williams-Sonoma to kids' cooking classes and events at Whole Foods, inexpensive summer cooking lessons mean someone besides you could be making dinner in your house.

18. Groupon

Searching Groupon under the "things to do" tab for your zip code will reveal a list of local attractions like trampoline parks and petting zoos, all of which offer a discounted admission through the deal site.

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