Thursday, May 09, 2013

Summer fun for kids --- 9 activities on the cheap

Cheap or free fun is something every parent wishes for when it comes to summer activities for their children. Day camps can be pricey, and away camps even pricier.  What's a parent to do when they don't have a lot of spare cash for entertainment?

1.  Tour local businesses.  Do your kids love the local pizza joint?  Drool over doughnuts?  Ask the business for a free tour.  They may require you to be part of a larger group (such as Scouts), but it doesn't hurt to ask.  A local Krispy Kreme once told me they welcome scout groups for tours and I remember going on a free field trip to a Pizza Hut in 2nd grade many years ago.  Ask a local farmer if he wouldn't mind you stopping by for a tour because kids benefit by knowing where their food comes from.  If you need a larger group, ask around in the neighborhood to get a quorum of kids involved.

2.  Organize games.  Kids spend too much time glued to the tube and computer over the summer months if they're not active and actively engaged in outside activities.  Pick a set day each week and have it as a standing date for shooting hoops or playing soccer, football, or volley ball.  Better yet, ask parents to rotate hosting an event in their back yard and make it a different game each time.  Be sure to introduce the game, the rules, how score is kept, etc.   Croquet or Cricket aren't games kids in America play often and aren't generally games they learn in gym class.

3.  Host a cooking class.  If a traditional cooking class isn't something in your budget, consider hosting your own with kids in the neighborhood.  Kids love to cook and there are a lot of simple, kid-friendly recipes that are cheap to make.  Even if it's something as simple as teaching them how to properly cook a box of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, it's a skill well worth learning.  Some ideas might include salad preparation (include a large variety of veggies to toss in with salad greens), cuts of meat (and how they're cooked), or a spaghetti dinner.  Plan to discuss nutrition, healthy choices, proper measuring tools, and kitchen safety. Thought to remember:  Schools don't teach home economics much anymore.  Does a neighbor have an awesome garden?  They may be willing to allow the use of some of their produce in exchange for some weeding.

4.  Cheap science projects.  Growing mold is easy to do, though kind of gross to us parents who have to look in the fridge.  It's definitely not the type of experiment I'd want my kids doing!  Some less gross, cheap science projects to consider would be a baking soda and vinegar volcano (recommend you performing this Mr. Wizard experiment outside); growing salt and vinegar crystals; or glowing jello.  I recommend the Chemistry section for lots of cool and cheap science experiments.  Introduce kids to the Scientific Method, and let them work out what they think will happen vs. what actually does.  Encourage them to think about other experiments they might try after your experiment is complete.  Don't forget to wear goggles!

Squares donated to comfortghan project
5.  Teach your child how to knit or crochet.  I didn't know how to knit until two years ago and learned how from a YouTube video tutorial.  Having sat at many a Girl Scout activity, I can tell you that having out a crochet hook or knitting needles got the girls' interest.  They really wanted to learn how and their leader took notice of this interest and spent a few weeks teaching them the basics.  Knowing how to knit or crochet is a spring board for many things --- making hats for cancer patients, knitting squares for comfortghans, or even making home made gifts for Christmas or birthdays.  Yarn is cheap --- Red Heart's Super Saver retails for about $3 a skein and single crochet/knitting needles retail for about the same amount.

6.  Vacation Bible School.  My mom sent us to several of these per summer.  One week it was at the Methodist church, another the Baptist.  Enriching your child's faith is also a worthy goal this summer.  Check local churches to find when their VBS is held.  Stop by the older local churches in your area to admire the stained glass and architectural style, and perhaps learn a little about the historical significance if it's a very old church.

7. Photography.  A photography class might be out of reach, but there are many tips and tricks offered on the net for free via camera websites or even YouTube.  Find some helpful tips and then encourage your child to try them out.  This teaches them not only to do their best (by taking the best photo possible), but also teaches them about trouble shooting problems.  Have them take photos all summer and them put them into a PowerPoint slide show at the end of the summer.  You may be surprised at how adept your child is at PowerPoint as they use the program in school and computer skills are always in need of polishing.

8. Set a Google Alert.  What's better than cheap?  Free.  Set a Google alert for "free activities + name of your city" and have Google continuously search for free things for you to do this summer.  YMMV on this option, but chances are there are some free events that you'll receive notifications for that might be of interest to you or your family such as free concerts, fun days, and admission to historical sites.

9.  Pitch a tent in your back yard.  Camping fees can add up fast, so why not save a little money on fees and spend it on s'mores instead?  Pitch a tent in your back yard and camp out there instead of going away.  Can't sleep on the hard ground?  There's no shame in an inflatable mattress.

Fire up the grill and cook dinner outside, grab a board game, and banish electronic devices from your "trip".  Catch lightning bugs. Identify any trees in your yard for your kids.  Make this time as family-centric as you can and don't forget the flash lights!

It's always more fun to sleep in a tent, don't you think?

What free/cheap plans do you have for your kids this summer?  
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