The ultimate guide of free or cheap activities for special needs kids

 

activities for children with special needs

Summer has crept up on us yet again! My goodness, that went fast!

Having the kids home all summer, yet again, comes with the great responsibility of finding things (anything for that matter) to keep them busy. Personally, having a child on the Spectrum makes this just a little bit more difficult. It can be very difficult to get Elijah motivated to do things that don’t involve his Kindle or video games that allow him to focus on just that one thing and tune the world out. I would like for him to explore, see new things, find joy and excitement; rather than isolating himself whenever he gets in a quarrel with the few friends he does have in the neighborhood. On the other hand, having a child on the spectrum and a disabled husband, it is not always easy to find things to do that doesn’t involve spending a lot of money we don’t have.

It can be very difficult finding activities for kids, particularly special needs children. It can be even more difficult finding reasonably priced or even free activities to do. Considering that it Autism, for instance, comes with a slew of hidden costs to the family, it can be difficult to just pack a lunch and go to Six Flags. The average additional financial costs for a family raising a child with Autism is on average about $4,000-$6,000 a year per child. That’s just for medical expenses alone!

You also have to look at what state you live in, because apparently your ability to provide medical and behavioral treatments depends on your state of residence and their guidelines for Medicaid eligibility and other state resources.

So with all the stresses of parenting and caregiving, it would be nice to have the ability to enjoy some much needed family time without having to worry too much about the expenses.

If any of this sounds familiar, please feel free to check out this ultimate guide of things to do this summer for some great ideas.

I have been researching this for a little over a month now and would like to pass it on to y’all.

66 great summer activities for children with special needs
Completely FREE activities

All of these activities are completely FREE, generally can be done close to home and often times involve things you may already have in your home.

1. Go for a walk

It doesn’t get anymore FREE than this! Walking can count towards your daily exercise, but can also encourage your special needs child to explore things like the wind between their fingers, grass, rocks, sounds, etc. I have found it be a great sensory activity for my little one. And, it’s FREE!

2. Arts and Crafts

Have you heard the phrase Art is always right, Art is never wrong? Anything can serve as the basis for an art project. Simple things like colored pencils, paper, glue, glitter, paper scraps, buttons, fabric pieces, straws, and food coloring can turn into some really amazing art. Plus, it’s great for sensory play! Sarah over at How Wee Learn has compiled a list of different Hand-print arts; which are absolutely adorable!

3. Practice fine motor skills

While arts and crafts can help with imagination and creative play, it can also help foster fine motor skills. Laura over at Lalymom has some great ideas for fine motor skills crafts.

4. Sensory Play

Sensory play can be something as simple as filling the bathtub with water and letting your little one play in the bath. Or grab a bucket of sand and have her play with the sand. Or use different sized, shaped, and textured items you have laying around the house, put them in a box and let her play with it. You could also check out Learning 4 Kids and their Sensory Play page. Pinterest is an amazing place to find ideas for Sensory Play, Fine motor skill play and arts/crafts tips!

5. Create a Time Capsule

Grab a clean bottle, or a box, or anything you have laying around that has a lid or can be closed. Find, make, write, or draw anything you’d like to place in the time capsule. Set a date on which you will open the time capsule, i.e. one year from now, or two months from now. Whatever time is right for your family. Place all the items in your time capsule, close it, place it in a safe space and mark the date on your calendar! 🙂 Imagine how much can change within a year.

6. Apps

Technology can be quite useful. It can also be educational and entertaining. With half the U.S. population using smartphones and 101+ million people owning tablets in the U.S., free apps for these devices are plentiful. Best Apps for Kids, is a website I’ve used for some time now to find great apps. Their Free Apps for Kids section is, in my opinion, one of the best places I have found so far to find FREE apps!

7. Home lessons

Pick any topic you’d like your little one to learn about and look for books, apps, printables, or websites to find information on teaching your little one something new. This summer we are planning on teaching Elijah how to write cursive. Places like National Geographic Kids and PBS Kids have so many different resources, games and even videos that are informational.

8. Safety Day(s)

Use a time during the summer to either create or brush up on a family safety plan. Fire exits, 911 calls, emergencies, natural disaster plans and evacuations, stranger-danger, address and phone number reciting, etc. All are examples of topics that could be talked about on Safety Day(s). You could also visit your local Police or Fire Department. This may also help with improving relationships within community and create an awareness in the community about special needs children. Check out Safe Sound Family for some great tips and ideas to get you started on Safety Day for your family.

9. Safe Touch

While Safety Day could also cover Safe Touch and what it means to differentiate between a person touching in a bad way and what kind of touch is safe. Considering that children with special needs are anywhere between 4-10 times more likely to experience abuse, it may be very important to try and explain Safe Touch to your little one. You may be able to find some great resources online, at the library, your child’s school counselor, the state health department or your county’s behavioral health department.

10. Play some music

Grab a CD, your iPod, a YouTube channel, or go old school with a radio, turn up the music and sing, dance, laugh or just be silly!

Play and instrument or listen to music

11. Better yet, play some instruments

If you are musically inclined, pass it on to your little one. 🙂

12. Cooking and Baking

Of course, I am not advocating for you to let your little one cook a gourmet 7 course meal on a Gas stove all by themselves. Things like pouring liquids or dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, cutting out cookies, stirring cake batter, etc are all cooking and baking help you may be able to get from your little one.

13. Sprinklers and Pool

Aside from being great sensory play, it is just plain and simply fun!

14. Build a tent

All you need is a few chairs and a big sheet. Lay the sheet over the chairs and you have yourself a nice little tent. If you want a bigger one, grab some clothes pins and pin a couple of sheets together. Just think of all the stories that could be read or told in this super-easy tent!

15. Pretend play

Pretend play is a great way to foster that imagination. We adults could sometimes use a much needed time away from reality. It is times like these that our children will remember as they grow up.

16. Create a video

Grab your old video camera and start rolling. Capture as much of your family’s fun and create some amazing memories with a simple video. Let the kids do some of the filming. The next day, look at the video together.

17. Don’t have a video camera, but you still have that digital camera you bought yourself for Christmas 4 years ago?

Use that old thing and give it to your little one. Let her take pictures of her room, her family, nature, etc. and then you can show her the pictures she’s taken on your laptop/pc.

18. Have a Friday Fun Night

If you have board games or card games at your house, you can dedicate an hour or so after dinner for a game of UNO or Dominos!

19. Create a schedule for the summer

This is an important part of our summer (and I am super late on creating one). My plan for this year is to get Elijah involved in the process of creating our summer schedule. I am hoping he will help me arrange his morning and night time routine. Hopefully, this way, he will be more flexible with the rules; as he is the one who helped come up with the schedule. If you are planning on creating a schedule or more consistency, consider having the kids help you with it.

20. Create a journal

Grab an unused notebook or get one from Dollar Tree or Walmart and let the kids decorate their new journals.

21. Create your own book

Colored pencils, paper, stapler and imagination is all that is needed to create some great story books written or colored by the little ones. Check out Kidspot for some inspiration.

22. Make postcards to send to family and friends

You can use index cards to create your own postcards that can be sent to family and friends. Let the kiddos write or draw a special message on one side and use the other side to write the address. You could also check out these blank postcards you can use.

23. Teach how to count money

Money makes the world go ’round, right? Well, sooner or later they will have to learn the value of money. Why not use the summer as a great opportunity to keep those math skills up, while teaching the value of money? Have the kids tell you how you could pay for the drinks you just bought at the store. Have them do the math and let them pay for small items.

24. Teach how to tell time

It seems like everything is digitized nowadays. It’s so much easier to read a digitized watch than it is the good ol’ thing, right? Why not take the summer to learn how to tell time…on a plain-Jane clock!?

25. Vocabulary of the day

Find, read, and/or write a word of day online, in a book, or in the dictionary.

26. Go on a scavenger hunt

Create a scavenger hunt for the kids, or go on one with your singleton and have some fun hunting for clues and finding little trinkets. You can either go out to the Dollar store and buy small items there or look through some of the old toys the kids don’t play with anymore. Suddenly, that old dinosaur your little one got 2 years ago looks amazingly exciting again. 🙂

27. Make mud cakes

Do you remember playing in the dirt and making mud as a kid? Why don’t we let our kids do these things nowadays, I wonder?

28. Have family movie night

Once a week come together as a family and watch a movie. Every week a different family member gets to choose the movie. You could even add everyone’s name to a list or calendar that shows whose turn it is for the week to pick the movie.

29. Create and obstacle course in your backyard

Boards, boxes, balls, hula hoop rings, water, or just about anything you can find can be used to create an obstacle course in your backyard.

30. Have a garage sale

Do you have stuff piled up in your garage from all that spring cleaning you did a few weeks ago? Have you thought about having a garage sale? Why not let the little one have her own area with stuff she wants to sell? The money she earns could go towards her savings/piggy-bank.

31. Donate clothes or anything else you may

Not up for a garage sale or do you just still have way too much stuff you are willing to deal with? Have you little one go through her stuff again and see if she can find some old toys or clothes y’all could take to your local homeless shelter, Goodwill, Thrift Store or Mission. This could help with fostering the skill of decision-making. 🙂

32. Create a Question-jar

Is there anything you have been dying to ask your family members, but for some reason just haven’t been able to ask them? Why not make a game out of it? Have everyone type or write a question on a piece of paper, place it in a jar and use Friday Fun Night as an opportunity to ask these pressing questions! You never know, there may be some really funny questions and very silly answers.

33. Look up at the sky

Whether you’re laying on the grass in the middle of the day starring at the clouds go by, or you’re star-gazing; the sky seems to hold so many mysteries. You could turn this into a teaching opportunity or an opportunity to practice mindfulness and self-discipline.

34. Make stenciled crafts (or tablecloths)

Check out these stenciled crafts ideas. Maybe you could even make a table cloth with stencils.

35. Make silly faces

What a great way to practice social skills and cues. It allows kids to identify different facial expressions and their associated emotions.

36. Read or come up with jokes

Find jokes online or simply come up with your own and have a stand up comic session.

37. Sign up for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

Encourage reading

Have you little one read and log their minutes on the Scholastic website to unlock rewards and a chance to win books. What a great way to get the kiddos to keep reading during summer?

38. Become a Lego Club member

Lego club members can sign up for the free Lego club magazine. They also offer contests and events.

39. Check out Microsoft’s Free YouthSpark Camps

This is something I may be looking into for Elijah. It’s a free camp for kids as young as 8 years of age to learn things like basic coding and computer science. They also offer other camps and programs for all age ranges.

40. Check out Days of the Year

This website lists the crazy, bizarre and sometimes really funny holidays people observe around the world. This could be a great start to find ideas for projects and things to do. Did you know that July 13th is Embrace Your Geekness Day?

Things to do close to home or within your community
41. Attend Bass Pro Shop’s free summer camps

I love going to Bass Pro Shop, not necessarily because I enjoy spending money there *ahem* but because Elijah goes insane seeing all the animal displays. So whenever we are close to a Bass Pro Shop, I try to make a little detour. But what’s even better are their FREE summer camps!

42. Participate in Lowe’s Build & Grow workshops

Lowe’s offers free workshops for kids to learn how to build different things. These are pretty cool workshops. We’ve attended something similar to this, but never at Lowe’s specifically; however, I have heard that these workshops are pretty cool.

43. Enjoy July 4th Fireworks show

Enjoy and celebrate this day by watching a fireworks presentation in your community. The days before and after the fireworks are also a great time to talk and learn about this vital part of U.S. history.

44. Attend a Lakeshore Crafts for Kids Workshop

If you have a Lakeshore store near you, check out their free craft workshops for kids.

45. FREE summer camps

Some towns, counties and states may have summer camps that are specific for special needs children. You may be able to find such programs for free or cheap. In our state, we have the ability to sign up for swimming lessons for less than the regular price or get a free day pass to the Zoo. Personally, I would start to ask at either your local school district or the county behavioral health department. They may be able to steer you in the right direction.

46. Volunteer at your local food bank or Mission

This will not only allow you to get out and meet people, but can be a great way to create awareness within the community and allow your little one to be exposed to social experiences

47. Check out other summer camps

In our local area we have a number of options for summer camps. We do live in a fairly rural community, but we have access to bigger cities all within about an hour to 1 1/2 hours drive. This opens up a variety of camps that places like Museums and Zoos often offer. Our Zoo, for example, offers small summer camp sessions for kids to learn more about animals, their habitat, the Zoo, etc.

48. Library Days

Many libraries seem to give free library cards to locals. Our local library also has summer reading camps where kids are able to join groups at the library and listen to stories being read each week. Check your local library for story times or a free library card.

49. Check out your local YMCA

They may have some valuable resources you can take advantage of, especially if you have a little one that is quite active.

50. Visit your local city park

Visit your local city park. It’s a great way to get some fresh air and meet new people; even if all you do is have small talk with another parent. It is interaction with someone other than yourself 🙂

51. Go to the river

Go to the River

If you have a river close to your home and it is accessible to the public, I highly recommend taking a day or two this summer and going to the river. Sun and water…need I say more?

52. Visit the beach

If you are lucky enough to live close to the beach, utilize this amazing wonder of Earth. Experts have clients envision themselves at the beach as a technique to help them relax and get relief from anxiety. So why not try the real thing?

53. Visit the forest

While the forest may not be accessible to all, there may be some local parks with trees and wheelchair accessible trails.

54. Visit a National or State Park

National Parks are great to go exploring and many are wheelchair accessible! Plus, you may qualify for a discounted or free annual pass. Check your state parks and see if you or your little one may qualify for discounted or free passes to your state parks.

55. See if your National Park offers the Junior Ranger program during the summer

The Junior Ranger Program is a great program where kids get to participate in activities and learn about the forest, marine life, or animals living in the forest. The kids get badges, stickers, and even a passport that allows them to keep track of the different activities they’ve completed.

56. Go GeoCaching

Kelly over at The Centsible life shared this idea a few years ago. I love her Blog, she does some amazing things for women and has been a great example of encouragement for myself. Basically Geocaching is an outdoor version of a scavenger hunt within the community. It is free to sign up, but you do need to have a phone or device with either the Apple or Android platform, so you can download the app. Either way, if you’re an outdoorsy person/family, it may be something worth checking out.

57. Visit your local Police or Fire Department

I mentioned this earlier for Safety Day(s), but such a trip can also be a fun outing for the family. You may be able to call the Police or Fire Department and ask them about bringing your child down to the station for a visit. From personal experience, we’ve been welcomed to the local departments many times. I must say that it has been far easier to do this in smaller towns compared to big cities though.

58. Go camping

This may be a bit more time consuming and nerve-wrecking (well, it is for me anyway), but it can be a fun way to connect as a family and find ways to leave technology behind for just one night. If you have a backyard that is big enough for a nice sized tent, just set up shop in the back yard and have fun.

59. Go fishing

Check your state’s fishing regulations. You may be able to get a free or discounted license for the kids if they are under a certain age. Yes, this does involve spending some money for the equipment, but there are a few different ways this can be accomplished: 1) Check out garage/yard sales 2) check out local Thrift stores, 3) check out sales and discounts at your local stores, 4) look at potentially renting some of the equipment, 5) ask family and friends, and 6) check your local Facebook Sales-group page.

60. Check out Respite Care

Technically, this is not a family activity; however, Respite Care can give you a much needed break in order for you to be able to continue being a Super-Parent/Guardian. Accessibility and availability to Respite depends on many different factors. But you should be able to find information for your area or state resources with a simple Google/Bing search or a visit/call to your local Health and Human Services Office; as they may be able to help you with state programs. Regardless, it is something to consider; especially if you don’t have a lot of family or friends in your area who are able to help you.

61. Get a membership to the places you visit most often

Yes, technically this can get quite expensive, but you don’t have get memberships to every place in town. We have a year’s membership to three different places that we bought throughout the year. When we look at the amount of times we go to these places, having a membership is very cost effective. Elijah LOVES to go to the Science Museum. We’ve been there 4 or 5 times this year alone and I paid about $100 for a year’s membership. Considering that regular entrance costs about $10 for him and $15 for myself, we just about made our money back. The same goes for the Air & Space Museum, which is pretty much the only place we can go as a family because there aren’t necessarily that many people that go there. And it’s only about 15 minutes from house; which cuts down on anxiety! So, if your family really enjoys going to the Zoo or the Museum, getting a membership may be beneficial.

More cheap activities to consider
62. Ride the train or street car

If you have access to a local train or street car station, you may be able to get a monthly pass at a discounted price. This will allow you to ride the train as many times as you’d like without having to pay every time you want to take a trip. Our local Metro charges about $30 for a monthly pass for individuals with disabilities. Compare that to the regular $100 for a monthly pass! Of course, you plan these trips during times when there is less traffic. You could potentially get this information by calling customer service or asking at one of the info stations.

63. Visit historic sites

Some historic sites may be very interesting for the history buffs in your family. But they are also kind of cool to go see just to be able to say you did it. Plus, you may learn new things about your community.

64. Plant a garden

Check out your area’s growing season for veggies, fruits and flowers and plant some seeds or plants. This may help teach things like responsibility and self-discipline.

65. Pick your own Fruit

If you don’t want to plant a garden or can’t wait for a delicious batch of berries, then try to check in your local area for Pick your own fruit places. Here you can literally pick your own fruit right in the fields. I used to love doing this as a little girl with my mom and sister and have been wanting to take Elijah to one of the places in our area. Can you say: fun, fine motor skills, self-discipline, and far cheaper fruit for far better quality?

66. Go bowling

Bowling could be a great way to work on those motor skills. Plus, it’s fun! You could ask about free bowling days or discount rates to see if you can make this outing less pricey.

What will you be doing this summer?

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Disclaimer: Everything I share is solely based on my personal experience and is for informational purposes only. This post include affiliates links. For more information, please view my disclosure policy.



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