When it comes to summer break, I have a love/hate relationship. Love because my kids and I are on a more relaxed, alarm free schedule. Honestly, who can tell me you don’t enjoy sleeping until you are actually ready to get up? There’s no homework to battle through and the weather is warm and inviting. But, remember that laid back routine I just mentioned? That’s also where the hate portion of the equation comes in. The minute breakfast is finished; that dreaded two word phrase makes its way through the air like a swarm of gnats buzzing incessantly around my head: “I’m boooorrrred.”
Now let me first say that I am in no way immune to simply opening up the back door and telling my kids to take a walk and find some fun. After all, that’s how we handled our care free days when we were kids. Trees became forts and neighborhood friends were the bread and butter that made it all fun. Summer is long though, (if you’re a parent that is) and there are definitely days where you all may want just a bit more entertainment than the humble abode is capable of offering. Enter the free/low cost activity list.
Here’s a list of activities that we enjoy doing when we’re looking for something a bit more than neighborhood playtime:
1. Parks and Splash Pads. I know this is probably a given, but I still feel like we sometimes forget all the fun our local parks have to offer. It’s not just about the swing set and the slides. There are tennis courts, splash pads, lakes with fishing, Frisbee golf, soccer…. The list goes on and on. Don’t limit yourself to your reliable neighborhood park either. Branch out and see what additional outdoor spaces your city has to offer. Visit a few you’ve never been to before and see a whole new corner of your local world.
2. Geocaching. In this family, we love our geocaching. There’s always an outing waiting to happen and the best part is that you can take it with you wherever you go. All you need is a GPS (or a smart phone), some small, inexpensive toys for exchanging and a sense of adventure. Geocaches are hiding in every little corner of the world. We even investigated a handful located underwater in the ocean! The best part is that you can do it for free. If you want to upgrade your experience for a few extra greenbacks, there are some amazing geocaching smart phone apps available (we like groundspeak) to get you started and on your way. Simply type geocaching into your app search and find your favorite.
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3. Museums/Zoos. Now I realize that a family trip to the museum or zoo can potentially be a bit pricey all things considered, but our family remedies this problem through the purchase of the all mighty “membership card”. Almost every museum, science center and zoo has one and while it might be a small investment up front, trust me when I tell you that it quickly pays for itself in spades. Most memberships only require about two trips to recoup their cost. Add that to the fact that if you stick with a public center vs. a private one, you will most likely also be granted reciprocity to any other museum, science center or zoo across the country. Read huge dollar savings. Last summer our family vacationed in Chicago and we were able to get in free to the History Museum, the Science Museum AND the Planetarium all with our $60 Nature Center Membership, which we also use at our local museums. Without that card in our wallet we would have spent close to $200 for all that entertainment. Money well spent if I do say so myself. Lastly, do yourself a favor and research all your local centers before buying. Not all passes cost the same amount and you may find that it’s more affordable to buy one from the zoo rather than the science center even though you can get access to both facilities no matter where you make your purchase.
4. Hiking/Biking. Getting out into nature and away from the city is something our family really enjoys. Whether it’s taking a day trip to the mountains or simply piling all the bikes in the car for a ride on the local greenways, we make space in our schedule to get some outdoor exercise at least once a week. Figure out where your closest hiking/biking trails are and head on out for a little reconnection with nature.
5. Movies/Bowling. For those rainy days when playing outside simply isn’t an option, we head to our favorite indoor venues. While I’m certain there are additional summertime deals to be had, movies and bowling are the two we enjoy most. Several of the big movies theaters now offer free or low cost kids movies during the week throughout the summer. For two dollars or less per person, you can watch an entertaining children’s flick on the big screen. Grab your bag of popcorn and you’re ready for a visual feast. AMF Bowling has a similar deal where you can sign your kids up for three free rounds of bowling everyday all summer long. All you need to pay for is the shoes.
Stash a few of these additional activities in your back pocket and hopefully you can take the kids from “I’m boooorrred” to “awesome idea mom and dad”!