Thursday, May 7, 2009

Warm Weather = Affordable Fun!

Summer vacation is an exciting time, but quickly leads to “I’m Bored Syndrome” without a few fun things to do. My kids are only allowed to be indoors if it is raining (and even then, they usually want to play in the puddles if it isn’t storming!) Since we don’t have cable TV and I insist on monitoring any time spent on the internet, that leaves them with the responsibility of creating fun or what used to be known as “playing.” Below are some ideas for occupying time that don’t have to cost a lot of money.

1. Picnics-My kids love to pack a picnic lunch and eat it anywhere outdoors. We often take day trips and they always expect a picnic lunch to be included. I keep it simple and cheap by taking foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese and crackers, grapes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, pretzels, popcorn, Rice Krispies treats, chocolate chip cookies or brownies.

Rather than spend a fortune on individual juice pouches or soda, we bring along a recycled milk jug filled with water, lemonade, or iced tea and some cups.

Last year, I discovered hot dogs are another good portable food—to keep them warm, after boiling them, I poured them (and some of the water) into a thermos.

2. Walks-While we walk our dogs around our neighborhood, sometimes it is fun to walk to the library, the park or playground, or to a friend’s house instead of driving. A favorite walking trip is going to our local ice cream shop for a frozen treat. Fun and environmentally friendly at the same time!

3. Sidewalk Chalk-The possibilities are endless! Tic-tac-toe, hopscotch, four-square, and roads for Hot Wheels cars can all be drawn with sidewalk chalk. We have made maps of our town and family portraits that take up the entire driveway. Two years ago, our road was re-paved---the perfect canvas kept my boys and the neighbor kids busy for hours.

4. Bubbles-My kids have loved bubbles from the time they were babies. Now that they are big enough to use them without assistance, they have fun with contests. It’s always a challenge to see who can blow the biggest, smallest, double, triple, and longest lasting bubble. Bubble solution can be made with dish soap and glycerin also, but I have never tried this since I am able to purchase large jugs of bubbles at Wal-Mart of under $2.

5. Learning to do a “grown up” job-Summer is the perfect time to teach kids how to do something useful. Mowing the lawn, grilling a hot dog, watering the garden, washing the car, weeding flower beds, using a compass, reading a map, building a campfire, and setting up a tent are all jobs that kids are able to learn pretty easily.

6. Have a Yard Sale-A lot of work and planning goes into our annual neighborhood sale. Collecting items to sell, pricing them, setting up tables, and spending a day managing a yard sale is time-consuming, yet rewarding. Kids can set up a lemonade and cookie stand to keep them occupied during the sale (TIP-if your children aren’t old enough to collect money and interact with customers, make sure you get extra help from another adult or older neighborhood child since the yard sale will keep you busy by itself!).

7. Camp-I am not a huge fan of camping, so my husband and kids camp in the backyard at least once a year. If you’re fortunate to live in a neighborhood with lots of kids, as we are, invite them over to set up camp and it will be just like you’re at a campground. They set up their tents, build a campfire, and stay up late playing tag and hide-and-seek in the dark.

8. Library-Our local library has an annual Summer Reading Program that allows kids to earn prizes for reading. Entertainment, such as magicians, comedians, petting zoos, scientists, and musical performers are scheduled throughout the summer months for kids enrolled in the program. Prizes range from an “I Heart Books” pencil to tents and scooters.

9. Concerts in the Park-Our town sponsors Concerts in the Park, allowing residents to bring their lawn chairs to a local park to enjoy a free concert each Wednesday evening during the summer. The music varies from week to week, but draws quite a crowd.

10. Scavenger Hunts-My boys have always enjoyed a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt on a lazy summer day. When they were younger, I would purchase plastic dinosaurs or army people and hide them in the backyard, like an Easter egg hunt. They loved finding the toys and then playing with them afterward.

Now that they are older, the excitement of searching for small, plastic toys has lost its thrill. Instead, I create a scavenger hunt that will allow them to work together to find things on their list in order to receive a prize. Armed with a digital camera to capture “evidence,” they set out into our neighborhood looking for the house with a red garage door, a car with a B on the license plate, a flowerbed with yellow flowers, a wind chime, a driveway with a crack in it, a dog, two smiling neighbors, a lawn mower, etc. Once they have checked off everything on the list and taken a picture of it, they head home to collect their prize/reward, which can be anything: a batch of cupcakes, a campfire in the backyard, a trip to Plainwell Ice Cream or a video game rental.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Creative Entertainment

Winter can seem to last forever! Below are some ideas to keep you and your family entertained without blowing your budget.

Go to your local library. This is a great place to read the latest books, magazines and newspapers without spending a cent. You can also borrow CDs and DVDs, often new releases that would typically cost $4 at a movie rental store.

Go sledding. If there are no hills in your backyard, take a short drive to find some. Lots of local parks, schools, or other public areas have hills that you can use. Have contests to see who can sled the farthest distance, shortest distance, backwards, on their belly, or how many you can fit on one sled. End the day with a cup of hot cocoa and marshmallows at home.

Play with snow indoors. If it's too cold to go outside, bring some buckets full of snow inside and dump them in the bathtub. Let the kids play with action figures, cars, and plastic animals in the snow until it melts.

Play board games. Use the games you already have and make a night of it. Invite some friends or neighbors over, pop some popcorn, and make it a party! Pictionary, Uno, CatchPhrase, and Mad Gab work well for groups and most any age can play.

Read. There's nothing better than curling up in bed with your kids and reading a good book. If your kids can read, take turns reading a chapter book together. Reading a family devotional is also a great way to get everyone involved.

Make a craft. It doesn't have to be something fancy. Check out for great craft ideas, many of which are simple to make with kids.

Make Play Doh. Use your own recipe, or try my mom's famous recipe at:

Have a talent show. Wow each other with a magic trick, playing an instrument, singing a song, cool dance moves, a knack for speed-reading, or whatever your special talent may be. If talent is lacking in your household, have a bubble gum blowing contest or see who can hold their breath the longest.

Bake cookies. Cut out cookies are always a hit, but try out other recipes. Share them with friends, family, and neighbors.

Play Hide the Thimble. Take an ordinary metal thimble and show your kids what it looks like. Have them leave the room and hide it in plain sight (on the tops of lamps or on a curtain rod are great places---try to make it look like it belongs there). Call the kids back into the room and have them find it. Whomever finds it, gets to hide it next. Surprisingly, finding it is harder than you'd think!