“School’s out for summer” — four words kids love but parents fear.
We’ve consulted with parenting experts to get their takes on cheap, entertaining summer activities and to get some suggestions for coming up with great ideas of your own. If you’re wondering how to keep your kids busy during the long summer days, check out the following nine tips.
1. Splash in the summer sun
When the temperature climbs, the time is right to play in the water. Fortunately, there are plenty of fun ways to cool down your kids and spend hours outdoors without spending much money.
“A sprinkler, a hose, water balloons — if you’re in the sun and wet, it’s fun,” said Jasmin Terrany, a psychotherapist and author of “Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life’s Most Important Job.”
2. Take a hike
Summer is an ideal time to help your kids develop an appreciation for the outdoors.
“A wonderful summertime for kids includes time in nature and time with friends,” said Faith Collins, a parenting coach and author of “Joyful Toddlers & Preschoolers: Create A Life that You and Your Child Both Love.” “Luckily, both of these can be done for free or cheap. Just go onto Meetup.com to find groups that meet in parks or that do simple hikes together.”
3. Hunt for treasure
What kid doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Take it to the next level by giving geocaching a try.
“Think of this as old-school Pokemon Go,” said Jann Fujimoto, a speech language pathologist, parent educator, and owner of SpeechWorks. “By using a GPS system or a free app available at Geocaching.com, ‘cachers’ locate hidden caches and log their finds. Finding caches takes people to new places, and it’s like a treasure hunt.”
4. Head to the park
“Different parks have different offerings, so get out and explore,” said Fujimoto. “You and your child may be able to play disc golf, ride bikes, hike, throw a frisbee, play volleyball, have a picnic, shoot some hoops, or fly a kite for little to no cost.”
If you live near a national park and your child is a fourth-grader, Fujimoto also suggested taking advantage of the Every Kid in a Park program, which gives all kids in fourth grade free access to national parks across the United States.
5. Plant a garden
Starting a garden and putting your child in charge of upkeep is great way to give them some daily responsibilities. “Plant sunflowers, squash, or other easy-to-grow-from-seed plants and water them each day,” advised Collins. “Radishes will grow from seed and be ready to eat in only three weeks.”
An added bonus? Your kids may be more excited about eating vegetables they’ve grown themselves.
6. Set up camp
If it’s too hot to spend much time outside during the day, enjoy the outdoors in the evening. Your kids will have a blast if you plan a nighttime adventure.
“In the evening, you can set up a makeshift tent in the backyard with some sticks, rope, and a sheet,” suggested Raffi Bilek, a family therapist and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. “Ghost stories are a camping favorite, especially if you toss in some s’mores. You can build a small fire pit in your yard, or if that’s not practical, just toss them in the toaster oven for an easy treat!”
7. Hit the library
In virtually every community, parents have a great resource to entertain their kids and expand their minds: the public library.
“Most [libraries] have summer reading programs and activities to keep readers engaged each summer,” said Fujimoto. Kids will enjoy spending time with other young people during group activities, and they can find fun books to keep them busy until their next visit.
8. Catch a flick
Going to the movies can be expensive, but you can bring the movie theater to your kids much more affordably.
“Play movie theater,” Terrany suggested. “Make popcorn and ticket stubs and stay up late to watch a flick with the family.” If you can find an inexpensive projector to hook up to your computer, project the movie onto the “big screen” using a blank wall or white sheet. It’ll make the experience even more special.
9. Give back to your community
Summer is the perfect time to teach kids about the importance of helping others by finding a volunteer project to do together. Terrany suggested focusing on volunteering with the elderly or children or helping your kids start their own philanthropic project based on their areas of interest.
Find other fun activities to do with your kids
More formal activities, such as summer camps for kids, are often expensive, but you can have plenty of fun by planning activities to do on your own.
While the list above is a good starting point, you have many summer days to fill. To find other fun and low-cost activities:
- Check for free events in your area. Many local newspapers and township websites publish event calendars.
- Ask your kids. Urge them to suggest activities they’d enjoy doing during their summer vacation and help them accomplish their bucket-list items.
- Look for special programs. Many museums and cultural centers offer discounted admission or have summer programs for kids.
Taking the time to brainstorm activities and make a plan for summer fun is worth it for parents. “It can be easy to just to give our kids a screen and call it a day, but interesting experiences make interesting people, so try to think outside the box,” said Terrany.
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