Money is tight for a lot of families this summer, but having fun with the kids doesn't have to cost a fortune. Most communities have a number of free or low cost options available. The following are just a few of the fun family activities my household enjoys.
1. Summer Reading Programs â€“ My children actually participate in the summer reading programs at two different libraries. One library gives them prizes for every three hours of reading. That library also hosts amazing guest speakers and performers. Some of our favorites have been Silly Safaris (scientist/comedian who brings exotic animals into the library), a ventriloquist, a magician, and a puppet theater production. The other library has children log the title of every book they read, and everyone gets a prize and a pizza party at the end of the program. Many libraries also offer story times and craft days throughout the summer. Information about events at a local library can often be found online at the library website or by simply calling the number listed in the phonebook.
2. Exploring State and National Parks â€“ State and National Parks have loads to offer. Many have swimming areas, fishing areas, nature trails, and other outdoor offerings. The State Parks in my state charge $5 per carload for daily entrance for in-state visitors ($7 for out-of-state). Entrance to some National Parks will cost closer to $20 a carload, but entering the Great Smokey Mountains National Park (my personal favorite) is free. This site gives a listing of the fees for most.
3. The Kids Bowl Free Program â€“ Parents can sign up at www.kidsbowlfree.com. Participating bowling alleys give children two games of bowling free per day. Some exceptions may apply to particularly busy days and times or during scheduled leagues. Most alleys still charge a small fee for shoe rental. The shoe rental costs $1.50 for both games at our local participating alley. Parents can buy an add-on for $25-$30 that also gets two games of bowling per day for up to four adults. Since we live out-of-town, we often bowl on the same day we go into town for the summer reading programs.
4. Park Days â€“ We do Park Days with several other families. We designate a day of the week to be Park Day. We usually choose Fridays from 11am - 1pm, but the day and time are really a matter of preference for the particular group. It's a standing day and time for the entire summer. We advertise this event on our local homeschooling message boards, but any group of parents could set this up with a few phone calls, emails, or Facebook posts. There's no obligation to come on any particular week, but whatever families can make it meet at a local park. Everyone brings their own picnic lunch, and the kids play while the moms chat.
5. Summer Baseball Leagues â€“ Most cities and towns have a Little League diamond where they offer summer leagues at a fairly reasonable cost.
6. Vacation Bible School â€“ For families with religious leanings, Vacation Bible School can be a fun opportunity for the kids to get together with other children for music, Bible lessons, snacks, and crafts. Most churches that host these program have the dates and times listed on a sign out front.
7. Backyard Camp-out â€“ It's not necessary to pay expensive hook-up fees to have a great time camping. Pitch a tent in the backyard (check Craigslist and other sites to find one cheap). Invite a few friends to sleepover. Roast some hot dogs and Smores over a small fire while singing goofy camp songs. Okay, so my kids have never actually lasted the entire night outside in a tent (and neither did I when I was a child attempting the same feat), but it's still a fun evening even if the living room floor is full of sleeping bags and giggling children before the sun rises.
8. Local Festivals â€“ Many towns and cities host some sort of summer festival. These might include a parade, fireworks, a farmer's market, a talent contest, and so on. Although buying tickets for rides at these fairs and festivals is usually very expensive, some do offer a deal (usually on a slower night during the week) where visitors pay an up front fee for an armband that gets the wearer onto any ride.
4-H County Fairs â€“ Being a 4-H member is not required for one to enjoy the county fair. Anyone can walk around and look at the animals and projects, view the horse shows, and pick up an abundance of free pencils, rulers, notepads, etc. being given away as advertisements at the promotional booths. Some of the county fairs in my area charge a small parking fee, but others charge nothing at all.
This list is not conclusive by any means. I find that my children often have the best ideas for cheap, fun activities. Brainstorm as a family. Often what makes an activity fun is the simple pleasure of enjoying it altogether as a family.