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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Frugal: Summer Fun with Kids


It's hard to believe summer is almost here; May is always a very busy month filled with school, sports, and family events. It flies by quickly and then...BOOM! School is out for the summer and I have three busy kids (almost 7, 5, and 2 1/2) with me all...day...long.

Don't misunderstand me; I'm thankful that the financial choices my husband and I made long ago (we met after our first year of college and have been together almost sixteen years) about spending, investing, and living a life filled with family, friends, and people rather than with stuff, allow us the freedom to have one dedicated parent at home with our children. I know many people do not have that freedom of choice and/or are working hard to create that freedom for their family. I do not take it lightly.

But I won't lie to you, either; mothering is tough duty. And when you have three children at such different ages and stages with you every day for weeks on end through the hot summer months, it's a good idea to have a few plans in place.

I'm not advocating for creating a jam-packed schedule for your summer where every day is filled with yet another fantastical activity. One, summer break should be just that, a break from the regular routine. And two, fantastical activities are generally pretty spendy. Summer break shouldn't break the bank.

But it does help to loosely schedule your week. One morning a week can be Park & Lunch day. Another day is Trip to the Library Day. Yet another is set aside for Moms Group/Play Group/Friends Come Over Day.

You follow my drift - a flexible schedule of weekly events to keep everyone a little busy, a lot happy, and in a simple routine.

Summer break also allows you extra time to do some fun things that are hard to fit in during the regular school year; the list below is a starting point to spark your imagination as you begin making your own summer plans.

1. Zoos and Museums

These are not always the most frugal choice; admissions are spendy and everyone clamors for a trinket from the gift shop.

Your best bet is to research the museums and zoos in your area and make a list of the ones you'd actually like to visit more than once during the year. Then check the lists of zoos here and children's museums here that offer reciprocity benefits for members.

If you know you'll use a membership to your favorite children's museum or zoo a number of times over the course of a year, it can be a wise investment, especially if it that membership will allow you free or discounted entrance into other zoos or museums you might want to visit.

Memberships usually come with nominal gift shop discounts, too.

If investing in a membership isn't for you, check your Entertainment Book for coupons to local museums and zoos. And ask at your local grocery store; where I live in greater Cincinnati, Kroger often offers discounts on tickets to local venues when purchased at their customer service desk.

You might even be lucky enough to live near a zoo with free admission; check the AZA's list of free zoos here.

2. Free Attractions

A week or so ago, iMommies posted about Free Attractions, a website dedicated to free fun events around the USA. It's worth a look to see what free fun might be happening in your zip code.

3. The Library

I love the written word, so libraries are a second home to me. They're also a great place for summer fun; most libraries have summer reading programs with small rewards for children who read (or have read to them) the required amount of books. There's usually a weekly story time for the little ones. And if you're lucky, you might live near a bigger library that offers great summer programs for kids of all ages.

Find your local library here and check out their website to see what they've got cooking for the summer. And while you're there, find the community bulletin board; you might stumble onto some more frugal fun!

4. Swim Lessons

Summer is the perfect time to schedule swim lessons for your children, from Mommy and Me classes for your youngest all the way up to specialized classes for your older children to learn a new stroke, boating safety, or lifeguard training.

Swimming isn't just fun, it's a survival skill that everyone should learn while they're young. Check the Red Cross and the YMCA for swim lessons near you. And if cost is a factor, ask about scholarships or sliding-scale payment based on your income; both the Red Cross and the Y want children to master this important skill and will help you find a way to pay.

5. Farmer's Markets and CSA Farms

Visit your local farmers market; call your local Chamber of Commerce to find the the location of the ones in your community.

You can also contact your local CSA Farm (Community Supported Agriculture) and ask if they'd allow you to visit with your children at their convenience.

6. Pick Your Own Fruits and Veggies Farms

This is a great way to get fresh fruits and veggies throughout the summer months and is fun for everyone! Check here for local U-Pick Farms near you.

7. State Parks

Summer offers a great time to explore the state parks near you. Click here to find links to state parks in your area.

8. Festivals

Find local festivals of all kinds around the USA at Festivals.com.

9. Give Back

Volunteering can offer your kids a great way to help their community during the summer. Start small; Zoom! at PBS.org has a great list of ideas and links here for kids who want to help others.

10. Camp Week

A week of summer camp may already be on your child's schedule through Scouts, sports, the Y, or other organizations.

You can also make up your own camp week: pick a week where you have little going on and create a themed week of fun for your kids. Maybe it's Bugs and Butterflies or Halloween in July or even something silly like Circus Week. Ask your kids now what kind of things they'd like to do if they were in charge of planning camp activities for a week, then plan for one themed activity a day that week.

Make it even bigger by painting t-shirts with your kids to match your theme. Plan a silly menu of lunches to match your camp theme. If you're lucky enough to have a good friend with children close in age to yours, ask if they'd like to join forces in planning a fun camp week.

Other ideas to spark your imagination when making your summer plans:

*Call your local government or Chamber of Commerce and ask about Fourth of July events and parades in your town.

*Growing container plants like tomatoes and peppers; if you're brave enough to tackle dedicating a corner of your yard to a garden, go for it!

*Plant a row of sunflowers - they're hardy and happy and make great hide-and-seek spots!

*If your children are old enough to work safely under your supervision in the kitchen, let them plan and make dinner a few nights. Give them a budget to spend and tell them they'll need to plan the menu, make a shopping list, set the table, and cook the dinner. You'll be on hand to supervise, but they're in charge. A fun teamwork event for siblings or best friends. Take pictures and be proud of their efforts!

*Bubbles and sidewalk chalk, those two summer mainstays. Sidewalk chalk is a fun way to work on handwriting, letters, numbers, art, coloring, etc, during the summer months.

Remember to take it easy the last two weeks of summer; a new school year is on the horizon with the schedule that comes with it.

Enjoy that last little bit of freedom from The Schedule but don't forget to prepare your child for a back-to-school schedule during those last two weeks of summer. Read here for tips on how to do that with children aged preschool through high school.

And don't forget to give yourself some downtime, too, time away from your children. Whether you join a book club, go for a walk alone, or just take a visit to your local coffee shop without your children, be sure to find time each week to revive, reflect, and rejuvenate.

Happy Summer!

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