12 Ideas for Summer Fun on a Budget

The budget might be a little leaner this year, but free summer fun is flowing! With a little planning and a willing family, you can skip expensive programs and far-off vacations and still have a summer to remember.

Before the kids get out of school, take a little time with your summer calendar. Use the following suggestions to pencil in some ideas. Before you know it, you will have months filled with cost-free fun.

Stop by your local library.

Libraries aren’t just for reading. Most offer story hours, craft projects and entertainment events. Some have movies, music and other non-reading materials available.

And many area libraries will participate in the Collaborative Summer Library Program, a summer enrichment program for children with a theme this year of Be Creative! Participating libraries will offer programs and projects to inspire kids’ imaginations.

Take a few minutes to speak with your children’s librarian and learn about the wealth of free family offerings.

Look into area parks.

Many have picnic areas, playgrounds and ball fields. Some have public swimming pools. Several outdoor recreation areas are included in our annual Ultimate Family Resource Guide updated for 2009-2010.

For a bigger adventure, check out the National Park Service Web site at www.nps.gov for state parks. The site lists which parks offer swimming, biking, hiking, fishing, camping, birding and more. Check the park’s calendar of events, which may list demonstrations and children’s programs.

Load up on kid-friendly summer recipes.

No need to spend money on the local ice cream stand. Create your own kitchen fun with the help of some favorite characters. On www.nickjr.com, for example, you can find yummy summer favorites for Blue’s Banana Pops, Ziggy’s Juiced Up Fruit Pops and more. Most of the children’s television Web sites offer healthy snack ideas that are easy for kids to make. PBS fans will enjoy www.sproutonline.com, where tasty treats include Bob’s Build Me Up Berry Shake, Create-a-Color Smoothie and Noddy’s Apple Car Delight. Tie on an apron and have fun in the kitchen this summer!

Dust off the bikes and hiking shoes.

Plan a bike trip with the entire family or find a trail to hike. Information on walking and biking trails by area is available at www.americantrails.org, www.railstotrails.org or www.nps.gov. For local mountain biking trails, check out www.trianglemtb.com. Go over important safety tips, like wearing a helmet, using sunscreen and taking plenty of water.

Dig out your old board games and cards. Do your kids know what your favorite card game is? Can you build a house of cards? When was the last time you played Sorry or Monopoly? Playing games together teaches children more than just good sportsmanship. Many teach math skills (Yahtzee), reasoning skills (Clue) and cooperation (Pictionary).

Have a game day for each family member when that person gets to choose the game. Or invite friends and neighbors for a game night. Have everyone bring a favorite game and set up tables for an evening of fun.

Call local museums and the zoos.

Ask about upcoming free family programs or children’s demonstrations. Some offer free admission at specific times, such as the last Friday night of each month. Ask to speak to someone in the promotions department or education department to find out about any free programs that are being scheduled in your area.

Visit your local bookstore.

Take advantage of free story hours and craft projects. Borders (www.borders.com), Barnes and Noble (www.bn.com), Quail Ridge Books & Music (http://quailridgebooks.booksense.com) and others list upcoming children’s events on their Web sites.

Look through the calendar section of our magazine and Web site. Find unexpected free family events, like festivals, nature walks and craft activities. Look for fireworks displays and free outdoor concerts at www.carolinaparent.com.

Stop into area craft and home improvement stores. Ask about upcoming children’s workshops. Home Depot (www.homedepot.com) and Lowes (www.lowes.com), for example, offer free monthly Saturday morning programs where kids can build things, some in time for Father’s Day gifts. The classes and supplies are free and you can register your child online.

Organize a family movie night.

Always a favorite, movie night is a time to put on your comfortable pajamas, pop some popcorn and snuggle with a favorite stuffed animal. Borrow free family movies, like Babe or Shrek, from your local library or hit a Redbox at select grocery stores for $1 daily movie rentals (www.redbox.com). Invite friends and neighbors and start a “summer movie exchange.”

Plan a backyard camping trip.

Print a free stargazing map from www.kidsastronomy.com and pitch a tent in the backyard. Invite a friend with a telescope. Catch fireflies. Listen to the crickets. Share silly stories. Wake up to the sound of birds. Or just see who can make it through the night!

Share a back-to-school swap.

Finally, enjoy back-to-school “shopping” by inviting friends, family and neighbors to a back-to-school swap. Many families have perfectly good children’s clothes that no longer fit. Ask everyone to come with items that might be reused by another family. Or join together to buy discounted school supplies in bulk. With careful planning, getting ready for back-to-school can be a great lesson for our kids on saving money!

Mary Jo Kurtz is a freelance writer and parent of two boys.

Categories: Early Education, Education, Family Fun, Finance, Food + Fun, Money, School Kids, Seasonal, Seasonal Fun, SK Activities, Things To Do