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Inexpensive Activities to Do with Pre-Teens During School Breaks

preteen activities during breaks

Having a pre-teen child you need to keep busy throughout the summer and during school breaks can sometimes be a real challenge. They are maturing and their idea of fun is changing compared to when they were younger.

The summer vacation in America is usually about 10 weeks long, which can really be a challenge for busy parents trying to keep their children occupied until they head back to school. In particular, working parents can really struggle if they have only limited vacation time.

Weekends are also often taken up with chores rather than family fun. But when the weather is nice, it’s only natural to want to make the most of the great outdoors. One of the biggest battles is to get them away from their computers, TVs and cell phones and out into the fresh air and wider world.

For many parents summer is a challenge because they also need to keep their children busy all day for the next 10 weeks or so without breaking the bank.

How can you keep a teenager entertained?

Here are some suggestions. Even the most restless and demanding pre-teens will enjoy these activities.

Summer Camp

Summer camp is often the best solution for working parents in the summer. Children will get to do all sorts of activities, including sports and arts and crafts. The YMCA has many affordable camps around the country. Compare the facilities. Some have a pool and the children will be allowed to swim every day, compared with only once or twice a week in other places.

Summer camp is often the best option for working parents. Most camps run by the Y, or perhaps a local school, are affordable. There will usually be a small additional fee per week for early drop-off and late pick-up, but it will be a lot cheaper than hiring someone to do it for you.

The Y also offers scholarships. Parents need to apply early. Summer camp is usually a balance of physical activities, and arts and crafts. 

Your child might also be old enough for sleep-away camp (various age restrictions apply). The YMCA runs two-week sleep-away camps in various locations. Private camps will be more expensive, but they can be worth it if working parents are really under pressure when it comes to full-time childcare in the summer, and the camps will include room and board.

Camps will help your child make new friends and become more independent too. They will also often learn valuable lessons such as orienteering and survival skills such as making a fire and putting up a tent.

preteen activities during breaks

Become a Tourist in Your Own Town

Most of us get stuck in a rut and do the same things over and over again. Dig yourselves out of that rut by making a list of all the local things you’ve never done before. Make a list of all the places you would like to go to. Consider working in a circle up to a 30-mile radius from your home to see what fun things you can find.

Head Out for a Day Trip

Once you’ve exhausted all of the possibilities in your local area, or just want a change of scenery, choose a nearby town for a day trip. Check online to see if there are any special events you would like to attend, a museum you want to visit, and so on.

Check Out the Latest Events

Check the local paper for any free or cheap events coming up that your family would like to attend. There are often barbecues in public parks, craft days at museums, build your own item days at Home Depot or Lowe’s, and so on.

preteen activities during breaks

Go to a Free Concert in the Park

Cities and towns nationwide put on free concerts in the public parks in the summer. It’s a great way to introduce kids to various types of music and how to sit and listen to live performances without getting too bouncy.

Check Out Theater in the Park

Summer is the time for open air theater. Grab a blanket and a picnic, and discover the wonders of Shakespeare and other greats. Many areas also offer theater camps where the kids put on a performance at the end of the summer.

Cook as a Family

You can teach children a lot through cooking, such as numbers, measurements, science,  chemistry, and more. It’s also a great survival skill that will help them become increasingly more independent.

preteen activities during breaks

Start out with some simple but fun things like cookies and muffins. Work your way up to pizza dough, and let your children create their own individual pizzas. Offer them an array of toppings –  cheese, pepperoni, sausage and so on, and see what they come up with.

They might enjoy this so much it could become a weekly Friday night family tradition.

Try out some of Grandma’s family favorite recipes so that some food traditions will continue to be shared in the family.

Teach Them a New Hobby or Craft

Can you sew? Do you like to scrapbook, collect coins or stamps, or do genealogy? Why not teach your child as well? Or, if they want to learn a craft, why not try it together?

You can spend quality time together as you learn something new.

preteen activities during breaks

Small studios offer a range of crafts, such as pottery, ceramics, making robots and more. There is usually a small fee for materials, and the lessons are either free or inexpensive.

A Day or Night at the Museum

Check your local listings for anything special going on at the museums in your area. They might include a sleep-over night at the museum for the whole family. Prices will usually be per person but include food, snacks, private tours and lots of educational information.

Staying with Relatives

Working parents might consider having the children visit grandparents, or aunts and uncles, for example. Or one of those relatives might be willing to come visit and stay to help out. Going to visit will usually mean them getting to explore a whole new area, while a staycation at home can mean making a list of all the local things to do that are cheap but fun. This includes the park, country walks, and other things that get kids out of the house and away from the TV and/or computer.


Camping is always great fun and teaches children a lot of different skills. You don’t even have to buy a lot of equipment or go very far. Camping is available at state and national parks; some parks are more equipped than others, so you might only have to bring food. In large cities, there is also often overnight camping that comes complete with tents and food, including símores. Reserve ahead of time and check the weather before you go.

preteen activities during breaks

If you have a back yard, let the kids camp out there. Or let them turn the living room into a fort. Get in some snacks and tell stories.

A Board Game Tournament

Get out all the family board games and take turns playing them. Keep a tally of who wins what and award prizes.

A Card Game Tournament

Get out the cards for go fish, rummy and more, to see who comes out the winner. Keep a tally and award prizes.

Cheap Movies

See free or cheap kids movies. Many movie theater chains show them early on weekday mornings in the summer. Also, check out your local listings to see what is being offered. Some public parks show movies in the evenings. You can bring along a picnic. Your local library may also show kids DVDs.

Make the Most of the Library 

Speaking of libraries, it’s good for all children to keep up with their reading over the summer. Teachers will often give a reading list and expect a brief book report on each book that the child has read. If not, ask your child’s teacher for some recommendations and head to the library.

Also borrow DVDs. See if there are any visiting authors scheduled to give talks, or any other special events that are age-appropriate for your child.

Make the Most of the Sports Gear You Already Have

It’s time to dust off the bats, balls, bicycles and all the other sports equipment you have. Dig in closets, basements and attics. Sort everything and try to use them all over the course of the summer.

Take a Hike

Nature walks are a great way to get kids outside to appreciate nature. Bring rubber gloves and a range of trash bags as you go and you can also pick up any rubbish and recycling that other people have left behind. If there is a recycling program in your area, have the kids redeem the recycled items and let them have the money.

Go Bowling

Many bowling lanes offer free bowling for kids in summer. You just have to pay for the shoe rental. Families usually have to register and are allowed two free games per day at certain times of the day. Check the rules at your local lane.

preteen activities during breaks

Try these ideas to keep your pre-teen child occupied during the summer or school breaks without breaking the bank. They will also create family memories that could last a lifetime.

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