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Free and Low-cost Ideas for Summer Activities with your Kids.

May 23, 2006

What to do with your kids all summer?!

In just a few days my three sons will be out of school for the summer. One part of my brain is cheering loudly, because I'm looking forward to the more relaxing pace our schedule will take and I enjoy my kids, it's fun to have more time to spend with them. Then there is this one corner of my brain that is about to go into full-blown panic mode. What will I do with them all summer??

I know from past experience that the first two weeks are pretty cool, we're all happy to debrief and take it easy. Then that wears off and it gets BAAAAADDDDD. The kids start bickering, they get restless, bored, the trash is accumulating in front of the TV, there are dirty socks on the kitchen table & I'm at my wits end. But there is good news! It doesn't have to be that way. After 15 years, I've picked up a trick or two and I'm happy to pass them along to other stay-at-home parents for the sake of everyone's sanity. These tips are intended for elementary to junior high aged kids.

The Summer Box This started as an accident. One summer I was working a part-time job for some much-need extra money. This meant that my 10 & 13 year olds were home alone for 3 hours each morning. This was a concern to me since I'd been a stay-at-home mom until that point. Several months before school was out, I began to collect inexpensive games, books, small gadgetry items, older movies re-released on DVD, & snacks and stashing them in a box in my closet. I raided dollar stores, clearance racks at Target and Wal-Mart, and I discovered Dover Publications. Dover sells nearly every classic book known to man in paperback form for very low prices. They have many puzzle books, logic books, brain games, paper dolls, sticker books, mazes, etc, etc. Many of their items are under $5.00, often as little as $2.00. Another great source of inexpensive summer fun stuff is

By the time school was out, I had quite a collection. Since I started early, I could budget it out so as not to have a large expense at any one time. I brought it out and presented the Summer Box to my sons the first day they were home. They were thrilled and since then, every spring, they ask if I've started the summer box yet, even though I'm now working from home again.

Museums & Zoos In our area, the museums have a free and/or discount day each week. Call your local museums to see if they have the same thing. Our Zoo doesn't have a free day, but they do have a membership you can buy for a year, that will allow you to make unlimited visits for one flat rate. In many cases, you only need to visit 3 or 4 times to start getting "free" visits. Some museums do this as well.

The Public Library and Book Stores What a treasure the public library is! Not only can you borrow books all summer long, they have extra activities scheduled for many age ranges over the summer months. They have reading clubs that offer prize incentives to get kids to read more. The library represents a change of pace. It's quiet (mostly), relaxing, and gives a break from TV & electronics.

On the subject of books, I'm a huge fan of the style of book store that encourages sitting and reading books inside the store. My family has spent many afternoons in Borders and Barnes and Noble. I find a book to peruse and sit nearby while my youngest plays in the children's section. My older sons browse books, games, music, and visit the coffee shop.

Churches Vacation Bible Schools, Summer Bible Clubs, Kids Camps, Day Camps, etc. Your local churches will be looking for ways to help you keep your children from getting bored this summer. This is a cross denominational phenomenon. Many of these programs are free to the public. Check out your local Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Lutheran, etc church. You'll probably meet your neighbors there & your kids will most likely see friends from school.

Co-op With Your Neighbors & Friends We don't have a swimming pool, but my neighbor does. She doesn't have a trampoline, but I do. One of my other neighbors had a really cool backyard jungle jim. We would co-op kid entertainment. One day the kids would all swim in her pool, the next day they would come to the trampoline, then they'd all go to the swings & slide. When it got too hot to enjoy the trampoline, I would go with the kids to her house and watch the little swimmers so she could continue to get some work done. Eventually, we had 4 families involved in this "kid exchange" and everyone got some time off. The bonus was we also go to know our neighbors better.

Don't Be Afraid to Schedule Be purposeful about your time with your kids. Don't be afraid to have a plan of activities & stick with it. Do certain things on certain days: Monday is Museum Day, Tuesday is Pool Day, Wednesday is No Electronics Day, where you read, play games, go to the library. You get the idea. I find my children really enjoy having an idea of what to expect.

Set reasonable bedtime and get up times for the summer. Don't let them stay up until very late at night. We add an extra hour on to their school bedtime as a general guideline. There are, of course, exceptions for special occasions or just for fun. It is summer after all!

Expect them to help you more around the house. They're out of school give them some criteria for home behavior. I ask my kids to make a sweep of the house every night and pick up all the cups, plates, snack wrappers, socks, shoes, and the like that have accumulated during the day & put them where they belong. Trash to the trashcan, dirty dishes to the sink, laundry to the hamper. It really helps my peace of mind & I'm much less apt to get frustrated.

I hope these ideas help spark some creative ideas of your very own. Go enjoy those kids! They'll be gone before we know it.

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Jean Horst lives in Texas with her husband of 25+ years. She has many years of experience in small business and office management. Her interests include travel, music, reading, writing, and family life.

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